Data as a force for good: A human story

This is the time of year we gather to give thanks and celebrate the holidays with family and loved ones we may not see on a daily basis. My own extended family just gathered for Thanksgiving, and some who had traveled from afar expressed concern at seeing active signs of aging in my parents.

After spending a few days together, everyone had a little bit of time to see things for themselves, and we were able to use some of our time to strategize as a family about how we could better support my parents and each other. We all agreed we would do some research, gather information on services available, etc. and share what we learned.

I decided I would proactively hold up my end of the bargain, and I began researching. I went down medical and non-medical paths. There’s a considerable amount of information available on “healthy aging” and services for Boomers – and there should be. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent. (U.S. Census Bureau, Population Projections.)

But what might be right for my parents? What might be covered by insurance? What might be a fun new activity that would keep them engaged and learning new things? Feeling overwhelmed, I admittedly closed my laptop and poured a glass of wine. And then it hit me:

As a marketer, I could help people like me. For the first time in—well, let’s be honest, EVER—I wished that some great brand or service was tracking my digital activity. They would see my digital cries for help, my frustration, my interest in cool programs I was unaware of before now. The more I searched, the more they would know what I needed. They would see the rabbit holes I went down and would understand that I had hit on something interesting that I wanted to learn more about. If only they were tracking me, they could help serve up information that would help me help my parents.

So as a marketer, but more importantly as a daughter, I beg you: If you have a service that will pick my mom up and take her to a cutthroat bridge game at a new community center or a product that will help my dad’s stiff hands button his shirt more easily, tell me about it. I want to know. In all of my searches, I’ve discovered some wonderful organizations, brands and services that are doing amazing work in local communities.

It would have made my hectic life so much easier if they had been tracking me, learning about what I needed and was interested in. Data is so often couched as a necessary evil in society, but I would argue that it can be used for so much more good than bad, especially when combined with humans who can analyze and interpret that data to learn more about how they can actually help you.

In the spirit of giving, I offer a simple framework for smart marketing:

  • Identify the bits of data that will help you find the people who need you/your brand/your service.
  • Begin collecting data (automated analysis is fine but you will be more successful if you have some actual humans interpret it, too).
  • Learn from the data. And I mean really learn from it. People’s habits, demographics and actions are great, but if you can get down to even a working theory of what they truly want, need and value, you’re doing better.
  • Enlist the help of some creative friends (I might know a few) to craft content that hits the right emotional tone and provides real value to those people, not just platitudes.
  • Test the work; measure everything you can. Then refine, optimize and humanize.

I truly think you’ll see something positive. And if you have a product or service that helps one person, it may just have a positive impact on a family and the community they call home. Like mine.

posted on
December 12, 2019
written by
Wendy Mason