There has been a lot of excitement about Google Now but the real story is about how it opens up a window on users' whole lives. 

If ‘data is the new oil’ then Google just found a much bigger oil field.

I recently gave a talk at Marketing Week Live about what Big Data analytics was starting to do for marketers and how new data sources are massively expanding this.

There’s an analytics revolution going on right now with loads of new analytical toys, a massive increase in board-level interest and lots of new data to work with. This revolution is powering many of the new mobile and social media start-ups.

But do not get distracted by the service when it is what’s under the hood that counts. The really clever thing about Google Now is not the magical but-slightly-creepy-and-telepathic service suggestions but the chance that it gives Google to know you much better and more deeply than any other firm on the planet.

With mobile and social it’s about the data not the service

In articles about new mobile apps and services the focus is usually on what the service does. But the real story is in how to do it because, let’s face it, if a service is good then we want to know how to do it ourselves.

The key to this is in understanding the analytics that produce the service and getting the customer data that ‘fuels’ these analytics.

We all know that social media is spreading along the whole customer journey and up the supply chain into B2B relationships. And we are always hearing about new mobile services and apps. But every new service is also a chance to learn more about your customers.

This is absolutely critical because the more you know about a customer’s life then the more you can personalise your approach, tone, timing, channel, pricing, offer and anything else. The more you know about their individual context, from what Will Critchlow calls ‘implicit signals’, then the more you can make everything that you do and offer fit each and every customer.

So, whether it's more targeted campaigns that reduce wasted resources and use more polished images and messages; or new product features; or just stocking the right inventory, it is very very useful to understand more about your customers’ lives. Because that it what they are buying for.


Every  service touch point in a relationship is a chance to learn more about your customers. For example, financial services firms get a good idea of your financial health and a bit of a clue about your life goals. But not much. The customer data that financial services firms get directly from their customers is like looking at a customer’s life through a key hole.

Loyalty card data is much richer. But it is still just the customer’s shopping life, and just the part which is covered by one card. Customers are only loyalish to loyalty cards – how many do you own?

Mobile is an unprecedented source of customer data

Mobile services that use apps or mobile sites have the potential to give an infinitely richer view of a customer’s life, which a good Analytical Strategy can then convert into a much deeper understanding of what the customer needs, plus why and how they want it – even if they have no idea themselves.

It’s common to hear about how mobile services can give location data and many apps are based on this. It’s also common to hear about how mobile services give real-time customer data (do you ever turn your phone off?) and it’s always a segment-of-one because you personally downloaded the app.

These are incredibly powerful levers to play with if you want to deeply understanding your customers’ lives.

But mobile really opens up the window on your customers’ lives by letting you have two-way relationships that are in-line with customer expectations. Let’s not forget that mobile phones were originally two-way communications devices, so a few prompts and bit of a choice can get you to a much more specific understanding of each customer’s personal context.

And finally, if customers download your app then they expect to have a conversation about your products plus a few related suggestions. Questions and suggestions that are unrelated to the brand that asks them are just creepy. 

The next stage in mobile

So the next stage in mobile will be mobile ‘sat navs’ – like satellite navigation guides. Guides that give you great suggestions which you never would have thought of by yourself and which are based on your life at that moment and your current life goals.

These life goals can be your new kitchen, new house, new career, new marriage or anything else that can be inferred from your data.

Mobile ‘sat navs’ are guides that use recommendation engines  to personalise content marketing in real-time. Like a GPS for your life, they help you navigate through the part of your life that you are in right ‘Now’ – your week, your day, your minute and your social life, your work life or any other aspect of your life.
Sounds implausible? Well take a look at Google Now  (or Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson). Google did a great job of figuring out what interests you from a search box, they built an empire on it. But it was difficult to link separate searches together, although cookies and a Google+ login helped a lot.

google now

Google Now does much better than that. It potentially opens a window on your whole life. There is a lot of interest in these ‘anticipatory data services’ but the real story is in what they tells these firms about you.

We’re using a mixture of Big Data analytics and new data science discovery techniques to develop the analytical strategies which make sense of all this – and it looks like Google Now and Life Sat Navs are going to be significantly bigger than Google search.


Published 11 July, 2013 by Duncan Shaw

Duncan Shaw is Consultant and Lecturer in Information Systems at Nottingham University Business School and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can read Duncan's blog or connect on Google Plus

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Comments (5)

Claire Hunter-Smith

Claire Hunter-Smith, Social Media Manager at Latitude

Goggle? :)

about 5 years ago



You've made some valid points.

But let's face it, in the old days a shop owner could chat with their customers getting to know a lot of intimate details of their personal lives, of course we hope we're treated as a friend so as to avoid the complications of divulging our personal life to someone not thrust-worthy, Google's strategy is more or less the same albeit on a much, much larger scale, hence the 'Don't do evil' motto to give us a little assurance.

Years ago we talked about convergence through smartphone and a big part of the story is LBS, now we realised it is not the device but the company like Google, Apple and Amazon that do data-mining. Services can be made better and customised through the use of big data, the question is, how much do we want to trust the providers? if they're driven mostly by commercial purpose and sometimes national security, it is very difficult for them to strike the right balance. We, as digital marketer may rejoice in finding new ways to segment the market and target customers, but as customers ourselves, need to ask whether we want to sacrifice some more privacy in order to get better service at very low cost or for free. I guess most of time, we have little choice but to say 'yes'.

about 5 years ago


Matthew Ortner

Great going... as Google is on mission to provide more and more personalized experience to their users, they are tracking you overall activity you performing online.

Which collects lots of information about your daily activity, psychology etc. and that data help them to deliver these experience .

about 5 years ago


Giles Bailey

Great write-up. Another key dynamic is who is out there that will really challenge Google's (and the other big 3) in bringing together this wealth of information about the user ? Are we rapidly generating an information oligopoly and is it in our (or their) interest for longer term innovation and data security ?

about 5 years ago


Duncan Shaw, Consultant and Lecturer in Information Systems at Nottingham University Business SchoolSmall Business

AZ: thanks, and yes, you've hit the nail on the head - somewhere between the trusted corner shop owner [a local with local values] and huge and remote firms like you mentioned there has been a loss of the original reasons to trust. Now it's a more tenuous brand issue rather than direct link between keeping customers and treating then right. Still important but more tenuous, less direct, less immediately damaging. I wonder when this will hit the horsemeat/ mobile hacking level of public disapproval - the recent NSA revelations in the Guardian have not tipped it yet.

Mathew: thanks, yes, you can't give a personalised service without being personal - it's just about what else you use the data for ...

Giles: thanks, great insight - who else indeed? You made me think of these 3 as data hubs and then how other platform-type firms are also hubs but connected up in a different way, so they get a different data perspective. Just like how an observer's perspective shows different views when they move, turn their head or focus differently.

about 5 years ago

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