Scale, precision and proportion: Big numbers and small details in marketing

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big numbers
The scale and numbers at Google are astounding. We don't live in the same space in our own work -- but some underlying values remain consistent.
big numbers
The scale and numbers at Google are astounding. We don’t live in the same space in our own work — but some underlying values remain consistent.

I’m not allowed to share the specific details, but one thing you learn when attend a Google event is that the numbers are outrageously large. Public data indicates the company has something like 2.2 billion users. Even when you break these numbers down to smaller segments, they still are so gigantic it is hard to get your mind around them. So, when I had the privilege of meeting someone at the event who shares with me an exceptional experience, we both appreciated the extreme improbability of our status.

Big numbers, of course, allow many opportunities to test, improve, experiment and improve incrementally — even as funds can be allocated for wild, expensive and totally out of the box moon-shots. Little details mean a lot when they are magnified with several dozen zeros. Massive scale (coupled with incredible speed) provides an amazing laboratory for innovation and profit.

Architectural, engineering and construction businesses generally get the big scale aspect of their work (at least relative to other organizations.) Even small residential jobs still may cost a few thousand dollars — compared to the unit price of groceries, entertainment and the like. If we are building schools, hospitals and office towers, of course, the numbers are even greater. The difference is that the projects are often one-off, with unique variables in time, location, size, design and financing. All of our extended experiences need to be adapted to a new environment every day, and while we can learn lessons and apply them, we cannot iterate on a fixed setting.

The difference for marketing: Well, metrics and simple testing are somewhat harder to execute scientifically. We may be able to pull together pieces of the puzzle, such as traffic volume and hits on our websites, but the correlation of this activity with conversions can be challengingly subjective, at best. (It is unlikely any large-scale builder will ever get enough volume to make statistically valid  conclusions.) Sure, it is good to measure what we can, and to assess our performance as best as possible against bench-marks, but in the end, there is a major element of uniqueness and personal experience and relationships behind our decisions and successes.

That said, even as I rediscovered Google’s scale here, I also appreciated that one-on-one community relationships, a generous spirit, and respect for others still carry much weight in the world of big data. And we can apply (and sometimes measure effectively) these basics, even when the number of transactions we complete is relatively small.

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