Around the new year I was asked to write a piece for a think piece MEC were creating for their global network. The premise was to pit me (a planner) against a data analyst-type and ask us each the same question(s): why is data talked about so much in the industry, what’s its significance and how is it best utilized in marketing communications?

It’s been published this week as part of MEC’s Review:Preview document, as “A right brain/left brain look at what data in marketing actually meant in 2011”. I thought I’d share my original submission (with the occasional addition) here

Data makes us comfortable, doesn’t it? Aggregating multiple sources and tracking more behavioural data than ever gives us a supposedly complete picture of our communications. Data insight promises to make us optimised, better targeted and more effective.

This application of data insight is still based on the old ‘push’ model of advertising, however. Data is another sphere where control is shifting to the consumer – we operate in a reputation landscape, built increasingly from consumer-created data. Merely honing the old ‘push’ model of advertising with data won’t match the new expectations consumers have, or the new reality of consumer empowerment.

A new paradigm took hold in 2011: ‘pull’ data communications – customer data creatively re-interpreted to add value to others. This means data being used at the outset as a jumping off point for creativity, not just at the end as a measure of success.

This isn’t entirely new. FAQs and Amazon’s ‘people who bought this…’ algorithm prove that people find other customers’ activity useful.

But technology can now make data itself the draw to deeper engagement. Real-time participation data can create congregation points for brands and deeper relationships with consumers: Heineken’s Star Player app enhanced the football viewing experience with match data; in the UK Orange customers voted in the BAFTA Awards using the Flickometer, a data visualisation tool that displayed the support for nominees in real-time.

We’r able to access more personal realms of data, too. Nike products provide feedback on fitness and performance as motivation to keep trying harder. Health-related apps really took off in 2011, too – most notably for me The Eatery, which is building a crowd-sourced picture of the healthiest meals, restaurants and habits from photos, reviews and recommendations.

Such online engagement raises privacy concerns, and data usability might well become the next big issue. The UK Government’s ‘midata’ project asks organisations to return customer data in “a portable, machine-readable and reusable form”. Forrester identifies personal data management as “creating a major shift in how marketers access and use customer data”. And a World Economic Forum report noted that companies “are realising there is money to be made from helping individuals protect, control and manage the information they need to manage their lives”.

The data revolution hasn’t even started yet.