A collaboration between Intel and Not Impossible Labs has brought 3-D printed prosthetics to war-torn South Sudan. (Image: Not Impossible Labs)
A collaboration between Intel and Not Impossible Labs has brought 3-D printed prosthetics to children in war-torn South Sudan.

“Big Data” and “Social Good” may be the yin and yang of tomorrow’s most successful brands. Both are recognized as important components of contemporary marketing strategy, yet they are not typically thought of as bedmates. That is changing.
The growing expectation that brands make meaningful contributions to the world pressures marketers to find profitable ways to do good. The causes they select must align with the brand’s ethos and be seamlessly woven into its business model.
How to find such rare pearls? The answer lies, in part, with data.
According to industry reports, roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily. They capture attitudes, choices, and interactions that cut across categories, countries, and demographics. With mobile technologies as a catalyst, the media and advertising industries are already leveraging this proliferation of information to maximize reach and optimize messaging.
But the power this data offers companies is considerably greater. An abundance of “in-the-moment” information can explain behavior through modeling, pattern recognition, and predictive algorithms. Analysis of this data is opening new doors, enabling brands and businesses to collaborate on more ambitious and life-altering projects than ever.
In recent years, organizations such as the Data-Pop Alliance and DataLook have emerged to tap data for social good. Marquis Cabrera wrote last year about the collaboration between the UN and 500 startups to invest in Big Data for Social Good. One example is Glow, a commercial app that uses big data to give women better reproductive health insights and help them get, or not get, pregnant. Another is IBM’s Canadian Smarter Health study, which aggregates millions of data elements from neonatal intensive care unit monitors to identify warning signs of newborn infections undetectable to doctors.
Only a handful of companies and organizations so far are engaging actively in data-driven social innovation, but the trend is encouraging. Their experiences bring to light three complementary opportunities:

  1. Data as a means to discover opportunities for action or engagement. For instance, Google is using its search engine tools to help match brands and not-for-profits to specific causes. And social listening data helped AT&T to identify the growing sensitivity to texting while driving as a relevant cause and communications platform.
  2. Data-driven intelligence (often open source) to inform design and innovation. Panasonic’s collaboration with 11 partners to create Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, outside of Tokyo, is an exciting example. When the city opened in 2014, its community center immediately began collecting data to evaluate the synergistic potential of various low-carbon technologies in real time. The goal is to generate better predictive models to design and build the sustainable cities of future. Panasonic sees its investment as the best means to stay ahead of the curve while building a reputation for resilient design.
  3. Data analysis to benchmark and track impact. In Bhopal, India, the Panna Tiger Reserve is using drones to detect poachers. Drone data has improved the efficacy of the reserve’s efforts and has proven its positive impact on the tiger population, thus encouraging greater support and funding for their initiatives. Another encouraging example of how big data is used to empower designers and measure impacts is Project Daniel, Intel’s collaboration with Not Impossible Labs to 3D-print prosthetic arms for a 14-year-old. Intel’s data competencies contributed significantly to the technological solution. The video of this initiative captured the hearts and imaginations of consumers worldwide and earned Intel more than a half-billion online impressions.

These and other examples provide an early roadmap for brands that seek to become more powerful social actors by using smart data to guide their strategic engagements. In a world where consumers look to align their socially constructed selves with their social values, purpose-driven brands that show through their actions that they have the right to a place in society take on new meaning.
We expect to see more brands using data to identify the causes that are true to their essence, translating that data into fuel for social innovation, and measuring their impacts to celebrate success and correct missteps. Along the way, they will be building consumer trust and discovering the opportunities that will sustain their businesses well into the future.
Leslie Pascaud is the executive vice president at Added Value, a marketing consultancy. This article was written with support by Mahta Emrani, vice president of Added Value.