Thursday, March 30, 2006

The death of Excel

This week at a luncheon speech at the Direct Marketing days in Chicago, I talked about the continuous democratization of Customer Intelligence. This trend describes the fact that marketers proliferate their data driven insights in more ways and to more constituents than ever before. I expressed my belief that this is one of the most hopeful trends to improve not just the quality of the marketing services industry but that this will improve the relevance and quality of consumer marketing, too.

One of the key disruptive forces that fuel this trend is what I call: The slow death of Excel. The description of this disruptive force got very strong reaction, positive and negative ones. The mixed audience of academic members and executives of marketing services firms responded that strongly because my observation goes into the crux of how data driven insights are utilized within the service industry and on the client side. The death of excel gets positive response from marketers who are tired of the endless rows of metrics and numbers that they have to look at without clear correlation to a relevant marketing action. It gets negative response from marketers who continue to believe that we have to train even more marketers in how to use statistical methodologies (or just how to understand plain numbers) to get to a more scientific truth of marketing. I sympathize with both reactions.

To understand this trend and my bipolar sympathy for its supporters and opponents, let me dive a bit deeper into Excel’s slow mortality. Just to be clear, Excel is definitely not dead, it is currently used by millions of people, not just marketers, to build basic or very complex data sheets. Additionally it is utilized for a multitude of mathematical functions (sometimes it’s just about additions) to make better use of the input data variables. On the other hand the extensive usage of Excel in almost any business context has created a strong backlash, especially amongst young marketers. This growing antipathy towards Excel starts to hinder the distribution of data driven insights.

For me it’s not about Excel or its slow death but about how we can distribute more Customer Intelligence to more people in the most interesting, interactive, and intuitive manner. And this is where Excel fails. It’s still too complex, too cumbersome, too counter-intuitive to get a broad enough and smart proliferation in the marketing community. I plead to develop more visual, interactive, and intuitive applications that enable the user to play with data to see pattern, not to dig (or better suffer) through a never ending stream of data to identify trends.
Excel is not dead, but maybe we should be more actively looking for alternatives for the marketer community. The constituents within the marketing industry are consumers, too, who would like to have a more iPod like experience when they discuss numbers. Who will develop the iPod of the Excel dominated discourse? I know it will come, it’s probably already here, I just haven’t seen it.

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