Sherlock Holmes – A Data Storyteller
“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia
The famous sleuth may have been a socially detached opium addict who put too much confidence in the ‘science’ of phrenology, but he certainly knew how to observe, how to use data, and when to draw conclusions.
I recently reread Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and, whilst walking up Baker Street the other evening, I started thinking about how well Holmes and his analytical approach would fit into our Planning and Insights Department (if he could at least try to deal with the narcotics dependence).
The quote at the top of this article could easily be a mantra when advising clients on their marketing strategy and activity. Many people still view data and creativity as mutually exclusive, but creative can only be truly effective if it’s backed up with reliable (well translated) data.
In support of this, Holmes understood the value of combining his data with the art of observation and an awareness of perspective in order to reach elusive insights – a central trait of the data storyteller. Whilst trying to uncover the murderer of a wealthy landowner in The Boscombe Valley Mystery he reminds Watson that “You know my method.
It is founded upon the observation of trifles.” (presumably he was referring to seemingly insignificant facts as opposed to custard-based desserts). Observing and understanding the minutiae can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful conclusion, as can your perspective when observing it….
“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”
Holmes was never afraid of taking a leap to test his theories, but he’d only ever draw conclusions when he felt he had the data to back up his observational insights. As he remonstrates in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches: “Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!”
A lot of marketers could learn from his approach, or risk making some ‘capital mistakes’
So what’s more important: data quality or data quantity ?
Now that we have established that data is crucial to back up any creative strategy you are probably wondering what is more important: the data quality or the quantity ?
The short answer is both. You can not gain significant or reliable insights if the amount of data you have collected is negligible. On the other hand you could be collecting and accessing a huge amount of data but it is irrelevant to you or the business decisions you want to base on that data.
Even though the initial cost of acquiring or gathering high quality data is more expensive and elaborate you have to weigh up the opportunity costs for your business. Try to quantify what this is going to gain or save you in the future. You will most likely come to the conclusion that in the long run your decision to invest in high quality data will pay off. Once you have come to the conclusion to gather high quality data you also have to make sure that the data you are going to collect are enough to base your decision on. Here the quantity comes into play. How much you have to gather is a case by case decision and needs to be individually assessed.
If you are struggling with data backed decisions in your creative strategy, get in touch today and we can discuss your requirements.