Dancing with Data: Numerical Data + Human Data

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Following is the inaugural address given by Subramanyeswar (Subbu), Chief Strategy Officer – APAC, MullenLowe Group, to the students of Post Graduate Certificate Programme in Digital Strategy and Marketing Analytics (DMA).

I’m honoured to speak today in the presence of all of you as it’s a very special moment in the inspired journey of IIM Nagpur.

As I started thinking and putting my notes together early this morning on what I can share with you as you begin your 9-month gestation period of the Certificate Programme, I picked up 3 points from your brochure.

1) In a post-pandemic world, marketing—the link between businesses and their target customers, plays a pivotal role in bridging the knowledge gap.

2) Post COVID-19 there is an uptick in the marketing ecosystem; now, businesses rely on digital marketing more than ever. By the year 2023, the number of active Indian internet users will reach approx. 666 million. Therefore, when companies know this data, they understand the importance of the internet as a channel of marketing.

3) The digital marketing analytics job market is one of today’s fastest growing, and the supply of skilled professionals is falling short of demand. Here, the working executives need a growth opportunity to cultivate and build their skill-sets.

As an industry practitioner, I’m in complete agreement with all of them.

That also gave me the thought for my speech this evening.


Here’s my perspective on this …

Violent disruption in the world of marketing has become the new normal and the change is no more gradual but exponential.

Over the last decade-and-a-half or perhaps two, both marketers and consumers have become more informed and intelligent, technologically adept, price-smart, and also conscious of the impact of having a good reason beyond the economic unit of transaction they do from brands.

Technology has reset the value equation across the spectrum of audience engagement.

Power has decisively switched from the supply side to the demand side of commerce, disrupting the one-way brand model that focused on winning minds for long.

Technology with creativity is transforming every industry – be it retail, finance, logistics, manufacturing, energy, transport, food, education — delivering power and amazing wonder to the audience at digital speed.

The tech-led empowerment of customers will only grow as the IOT rapidly connects everything to everyone, driving down the marginal cost of production and distribution, just as technology has done with the supply of information.

The AI revolution, I believe, is still in the early stages of evolution, scraping the surface.

Marketing has the most to gain amongst all functions from AI as it advances.

But I dare say that, emotional fulfilment, beyond technology, will be the standout offering of a winning brand or business.

Even after biotechnology gets fully integrated with information technology, leading machines to understand us more than we can ever do about ourselves.

People like technology – but people mostly really like other people.

The more digital life gets, the more people will value being understood, touched and involved by other people. Because machines are very good at stimulating, but not at being.

The brands or businesses that win will be real and personable — whether it’s a live person on screen, a physical store interaction or the mass intimacy of a stadium event, from football to a rock show.

And data? Is it the new nirvana – the perfect marketing moment?

But data, the massive numerical data, to be precise, needs to be fused with human data or human emotions too, because algorithms will never read and respond to humans the way humans do.

The ultra-performing data machine can read the lines, but not between them.

Relevance is one thing, irresistibility is another altogether.

Numerical data can turn up at the perfect moment, but not ignite it.

It can spit out stories based on what came before, but it can’t dream the difference and feel the empathy that builds multi-crore loved brands or businesses.

Anything that cannot be digitized or automated will become extremely valuable.


Human only traits such as creativity, imagination, intuition and emotion will be even more important in the future.

We have to start engaging more with what might be not just with what is.

Our future doesn’t just happen, the future gets happened.

The new way to work is to embrace technology but not become it.

So the future is in technology. Yet the bigger future lies in transcending it.

The future is about holistic engagement.

How do we live and lead from here?

Let me share with you six keys or six ‘I’s for businesses and brands to get to that future.








Anywhere in the world, cultures that have the most ideas are best-placed to win, because imagination has unreasonable power.

Ideas have talking power, reframing power, sharing power and leading power.

The old-world power of scale and money have been eclipsed by the velocity of ideas.

Winning as a brand or business demands an environment where creativity can thrive, where diversity is standard, and where ideas fly in all directions all of the time.

Invention and innovation are in everyone’s job description, and as Steve Jobs said, the crazies and misfits are the ones who will get a seat at the decision table.

Everyone on the production team gets responsibility, learning, recognition and joy in equal measure.

Being inventive is all about making connections and while technology can augment and enhance this, it can’t replace human creativity.

Even soft skills like empathy are by their very nature creative skills; uniquely human abilities enabling greater connection.

Data without empathy is meaningless.

We need to be able to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes or anyone we wish to serve or connect, if we’re to deliver exceptional experiences.

This is the blueprint for Inventive or Imaginative leadership at all levels.

So rise up to be ‘inventive’ in whatever you do during your process of learning here and the application thereafter.


The more that brands or businesses bring their customers and partners into their secret garden, the greater the rewards that will flow back in, and the bigger the garden will grow.

The new ROI is return on involvement, and the fan base is critical.

Fans are not usually a numerically significant percentage of a brand’s overall buyers, but they have outsized impact on building a winning brand.

This is about influencers, shared values, inspiring community, word of mouth, creating movements, co-creating and story sharing.

To reorder a classic line of the late great Steve Jobs again – Amazing! Click! Boom!


So rise up to be ‘involved’ in whatever you do during your process of learning here and the application thereafter.


More than half of the cortex — the surface of the brain — is devoted to processing images or visual information.

Images, Instagram and infographics are becoming hot properties in the information-tsunami for good reason.

People today are aesthetically adept.

They process images thousands of times faster than text, and they love to share cool imagery.

We are drawn to beauty and universality.

In a world where attention spans are short and time-constrained, are we missing an opportunity to engage our audiences more quickly, effectively and emotionally?

By working harder to express a complex data analysis or concept as a fixed or moving image, can we capture the essence of the content in a way our people can connect with more successfully?

Evolutionary theory confirms that over the course of human existence, our visual system has evolved to process multiple images in parallel.

Text, which appeared much more recently in human history, must be scanned one character at a time.

Those characters must be recognised and pieced together into words, then sentences – all before being processed for meaning.

So rise up to be ‘imagery’ in whatever you do during your process of learning here and the application thereafter.


Priceless value arrives on time, and whether we’re talking about curing killer diseases like COVID-19 or simply feeding the kids, there is less time available for people than ever before.

Across production, distribution and communication, brands have a need for speed.

Tom Peters summarizes the way to win – “Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.”

Today it’s not the big that eats the small, it’s the fast that eats the slow.

Think of Tesla and what it had done to the established players.

So rise up to be ‘instantaneous’ in whatever you do during your process of learning here and the application thereafter.


Irrationality or the emotion that stokes it is the primary key to winning on the road ahead, and in the technological century, the potential for a brand to deliver on heightened emotional demands is greater than ever.

There is extraordinary capacity to understand people, interact, customize, personalize and touch lives.

The irony is that while loyalty was never easier to lose, it has never been easier to win for brands that are irrationally tuned, irrationally capable and irrationally executed.

The commercial opportunity is not just to drive repeat sales but also to command premiums, build share and extend range.

The head is fine for calculations, and even better at coming up with explanations for why you did something. After you’ve done it!

Trouble is most of the decisions we make aren’t rational at all

They are emotional.

Once you figure this out the world changes shape.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask the teachers who taught you science or engineering.

People have been awarded Nobel Prizes for this stuff.

I love what brain scientist Donald Calne says – reason leads to conclusion; emotion leads to action.

He’s right.

Your heart is the compass that points to your happiness.

Make the small decisions with your head; the big ones with your heart.

When my head has bullied my heart, I’ve made mistakes.

And I remember all of them.

Be clear about what you value in the life of the customer you serve or in your own life too for that matter.

In your heart, you know – or you will know – what will make you or your customer happy.

Take responsibility for getting there.

Brands are becoming human relationships, and the strongest relationships have deep intimacy built in them — the stuff we care about.

The more empathy, magic and love that brands stream out, the more that comes back in a multiplier effect.

This is about more than irreplaceability.

It is about irresistibility, a brand with loyalty beyond reason, based on a belief or a point of view.

When you do that, they are no more brands.

They become stands.

Brands to Stands.

That’s what you should aim for.

So rise up to be ‘irrational’ in whatever you do during your process of learning here and the application thereafter.


My last idea is be an inspirational player.

It’s a personal message to all of you whatever you do, be it during the process of learning here, applying it later in your job or in any context of life.

I believe everything we do is a self-expression of the things that we see, connecting our experiences and blending new perspectives.

All this boils down to being the best you can be.

Personally, I’ve wanted to be the best I can be since I was a kid.

Being average can get really boring later on.

Being the best you can be, in your mind not in anybody else’s, is a cool thing.

It means you don’t get frustrated, you don’t get bitter, you don’t get cynical and you don’t get jealous.

If you know you’re giving it all you can give, it feels great.

No-one can ask for more.

You feel upbeat, positive, optimistic and seriously happy.

To be the best you can be takes a higher road than leadership.

It takes Inspiration, which unlocks your potential, and the potential of everyone you touch.

The greatest thing you can do with your life is to be an inspiration to others.

To help them do the things they thought were just beyond their grasp.

Your parents, favourite teachers, your best friends lift you in this way.

That takes courage – but in turn transforms your life with fun and adventure, passion and commitment.

None of us is as strong as all of us.

A fundamental truth I’ve lived and breathed all my life is that the only limits people face are the limits they impose on themselves.

I believe you’ll find here at IIM Nagpur the inspiration you need to be the best you can be.

All of you come from or belong now to the city of orange.

They say that orange is a colour of liberation.

Liberation in thinking.

Liberation from constraints.

And liberation from fear or insecurities.

To channel orange is to be truly free, to be you, and to be an idea for yourself and the world.

So rise up to be ‘inspirational’ in whatever you do during your process of learning here and the application thereafter.

God bless you!

God bless IIM Nagpur!

Thank you!

– Subbu