When it comes to business and marketing, the thing that always keeps us up at night is the unknown unknowns. They are what we encounter when rolling out strategies. They are what prevent us from achieving our ambitious forecasts.
We do forecasting and set targets on the assumption that our business environment will generally remain constant. But even when it does (which isn’t as often as we’d like), we still have to contend with our competitors trying to outmaneuver us. As we lead our teams with courage and make big moves and take risks, we commit to executing our strategies knowing that unknowns are a real possibility and will critical to whether we succeed or not.
“…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
– Former U.S. Secretary of Defense 2002
While this sounds very confusing, when plotted into a matrix, what’s being said is very revealing.
When it comes to developing marketing strategies and plans, these word combinations have profound implications. The first step is to work out your ‘known unknowns’. Businesses that are able to go on and crack their ‘unknown unknowns’ will have the advantage of moving forward with greater certainty even in a volatile environment. Marketing decisions based on all the ‘knowns’ (data, facts and evidence) will more often do better than those made using hopes, wishes, gut feel and myths. Reduce the blind spots to get to the bright spots.
As companies grow and age, they may stop seeing ‘unknown knowns’. These are forgotten, misplaced, misunderstood or overlooked areas of knowledge. They must be revived or learned again by an organization revisiting its data collection and storage workflows. The data should then be easily accessible to staff through a dashboard and there are many SaaS offerings that can do this. The key to ‘unknown knowns’ is findability, so they do not become a setback.
Where companies see immediate benefits is when they commit to understanding their ‘known unknowns’. Data science and analytics can help businesses find the answers, which will offer valuable information on customers and markets as well as identify revenue opportunities. By mining historical data and using predictive modeling, future outcomes can be forecasted to ensure stability.
The process of forecasting had become simple and affordable for businesses of all sizes. Plenty of customer data resides in both structured and unstructured resources such as search engines, social media, CRM, email, web analytics tools, call centers etc.
Seeing the Unseen is now a Reality
The race to uncover the “holy grail” – the ‘unknown unknowns’ – is on. With a mix of top-notch analytics tools now available, it is finally within reach. Millions of data points, an abundance of computing power, cloud-based data science and increasingly sophisticated algorithms make it possible to see hidden interactions and influences. We are now able to identify data patterns even if we didn’t originally seek them out.
For example, from a digital marketing perspective, we may discover relationships between people, affinities, search behavior, devices used, browsers used, time used to browse digital assets and other critical pieces of information we’re not aware of yet. Web analytics platforms literally capture 200-300 top variables and these variables themselves have their sub trees too. To see the unseen requires investment in data science. Fortunately, you don’t need to employ your own data science team, which can be very costly. Today, there many data science platforms you can subscribe to online and get immediate results.
For example, one option worth looking at is Alavi.ai (www.alavi.ai). It uses data science and artificial intelligence to boost marketing outcomes. It does this by identifying a company’s most profitable audiences so it can strategically invest its marketing budgets. It also allows marketers to better understand attribution, improve engagement and increase lifetime value. Alavi.ai, unlike many other platforms, can be quickly and easily be integrated. It is very affordable and has an excellent Time to Value because it can improve marketing results in just 4-6 weeks. To learn more about MarTech Time to Value checkout my article here.
But even with all these sophisticated tools and immense amounts of data, human experience and the power of reasoning remains irreplaceable. While AI might identify many things, people still need to play a pivotal role in deciding what really are ‘unknown unknowns’. The key to this is setting priorities and have the mechanisms in place to alert stakeholders in real time or near real time. Business leaders today nee to instill a culture of dynamism where teams have the ability to change course depending on what the data shows. This is what will ensure forecasts are more accurate and help organizations get the growth they want.
All these being said the experience of the human and our power of reasoning is still irreplaceable. You still, have to play a pivotal role in identifying “unknown unknowns”, being decisive about the outputs thrown in by AI. The secret is to build priorities and alerting mechanisms to communicate to business stakeholders in real or near real time. Business leaders today should instill a culture of dynamism meaning our teams should have the ability and geared to detour where data points you towards a new course. This is what will ensure your forecasts to be at least near accurate and may your business see hockey stick type growth.