What’s next: How big data can influence consumer behavior

by John Cain, Vice President, Marketing Analytics, SapientNitro
by Rick Robinson, Vice President, Marketing Analytics, SapientNitro

The work we marketers do – designing products, brands, experiences, messages and services – is above all else an effort to change how people behave. 

We want customers to use the new product instead of the old; we want them to think about what they do in a new light instead of in the old light; we want them to change how they wash their clothes, take their medicine, or recycle their plastics.  In other words, every introduction of a new thing into the world is an invitation to change.

As much as marketers would prefer to think of change and behavior as formulaic, a matter of connecting the X of an ad to the Y of behavior, choices and behaviors are more complex than that—and that’s a good thing. Human behavior and the way in which we experience something—even something as seemingly simple as stopping for a cup of coffee—is in fact a messy process that is determined by multiple factors, unclear influences, and a really complicated mix of both habit and intention.

Today, the Internet of Things and the big data that comes along with it are giving us new tools and constructs for developing a deeper understanding of how this messiness of human behavior works, so we can then better influence it.  Simply put, sensors are our future.

The Internet happened and Steve Jobs created iPhones

Sensor technology has things talking.  Pretty literally. The settings of everyday life–homes, offices, retail spaces, public places and even infrastructure (utilities, for example)—all have the capacity to communicate to one another and more importantly, to have all those communications add up to more than just a lot of talk.


The technology at the heart of the Internet makes it possible to deliver huge volumes of real-time data at a level of detail that defies description. Whether it is steps taken on an average Thursday, precise location metadata on that family photo you just uploaded, or the temperature to which you like to keep your smart home thermostat set – this is a powerful new kind of business intelligence.

It is increasingly possible to convert every action into information.  Instead of being ephemeral, the moments of everyday life are becoming digital objects— everything is digitized, collected, transmitted, stored, recalled, and processed.

The question is no longer, “Can we get the data?” but rather, “What do we do with all this data?” 

We have a proposal

As scary as the prospect might seem, we think big data ought to get bigger if we are to get as much out of big data as big data gets out of us.

For years now, we’ve been partial participants in a one-way relationship with the data we collect.  Instead this relationship needs to become a two-sided “conversation” taking place in all the nooks and crannies of everyday life.


People don’t “need” Big Data in the abstract.  They need the help that big data can provide when it is delivered to the moments and the places where and when they interact with the world and all of its complex situations, implications, and dependencies.   That said, we can easily tick off many scenarios where Big Data is ignored, or mis-timed or misinterpreted: credit limits are routinely overspent, diagnoses are missed, plain facts are misstated, and speeding tickets are issued by the millions (35 million of them per year in the US, to be precise).

But when we get the impact of data at a gut level, it’s different.  Let’s take an exaggerated-for-dramatic-effect example.  Let’s imagine that a few big carmakers have started toying with a new dashboard display option that creates an explicit connection between your personal driving habits and the social and economic impact they have on the developing world, far away from your daily commute.  As you drive, massive processing kicks in from a mere subset of the 5,000 or so different sensors in a modern car, connects to the cloud, and computes the second by second impact you are having on global warming, on multi-national economies, and most compellingly, what the humanitarian effects are. The heads up display offers an interactive graphic that, as you drive, shows the water supply of a village (tied to the supply chain for this model of car) growing both smaller and further from the family that is represented in the graphic. Eventually, if you are an aggressive driver of an energy devouring beast of a car, the family becomes emaciated and one by one, disappears.

Alarming, right?  Depressing, yes.  But it would probably change your driving behavior, wouldn’t it?   And so imagine this: every time you ‘round up’ a purchase to the nearest dollar, your bank gives that money to an environmental charity, and every day you see that same family being cared for, being educated, restoring the land around where they live to a balance.  That, too, would change your behavior.

We think this is the right track to take with data: make it real, make it matter, and let people see it at work, all the time. That makes big data bigger in all the right ways.


This post is part of our People’s Insights report Data In. Data Out. Transforming Big Data into Smart Ideas.

People's Lab

People's Lab

People’s Lab is MSLGROUP’s proprietary crowdsourcing platform & approach that helps organizations tap into people’s insight for innovation & change.

4 Responses to “What’s next: How big data can influence consumer behavior”

  1. @iotattack

    #BigData & #IoT can help understand & influence consumer behavior. John Cain and iota_rick in Data In. Data Out. http://t.co/jaDIkdXu36 v…

  2. BYOD News (@byod_news)

    MSLGROUPAsia: RT PeoplesLab: #BigData & #IoT can help understand & influence consumer behavior. John Cain and iota… http://t.co/EzOYcIXVU6

  3. MSLGROUP Peoples Lab (@PeoplesLab)

    Make it real, make it matter & let people see it at work, all the time. John Cain & @iota_rick in Data In. Data Out. http://t.co/vNonqMwtl0

  4. MSLGROUP Peoples Lab (@PeoplesLab)

    Make it real, make it matter & let people see it at work, all the time. John Cain & iota_rick in Data In. Data Out. http://t.co/vNonqMwtl0


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