When evaluating big data analytics, it pays to remember the old saying, "Figures can't lie, but liars sure can figure." While data analysts rarely deliberately lie, it's not unheard of for the data to simply lead everyone in the wrong direction because (for whatever reason) the data is just skewed.
Tablet Sales Astounded Onlookers and Skewed the Data
Such is the case with the unbelievable sales of tablet computers, which just happened to coincide with a lull in sales of desktop computers. For some time, the data made it appear that tablets (and similar touchscreen devices) were slated to overtake the place formerly held by the desktop PC. Tablet sales grew by triple digits per year, while PC sales remained stale, and at times, actually declined for the first time since the personal computer became mainstream in the 1980's.
Other Unrelated Factors Kept PC Sales Level or in Decline
Meanwhile, businesses and marketers went with what the data indicated. In fact, the debacle that can be called Windows 8 was a direct result of misunderstanding this data. The issue was never tablets replacing PCs. Tablets were an entirely new market, and sales grew and grew until market saturation was achieved, as is always the case with a new product. PC sales remained stagnant because most people who need desktop computers for education, work, or business purposes already have those. These customers simply buy a new PC when it's time to replace the old one. The issue also happened during an economic downturn, meaning neither families nor businesses were investing in replacing stuff unless it actually needed replacing.
Tablets Were Never Slated to Replace the Trusted Old PC
The data made sense, until it didn't. Tablet sales leveled out, and now that market is settling into its own: tablets for home computing, tablets for kids, tablets for entertainment and/or gaming, etc., with a modest single-digit growth rate. The market for PCs remains as it has been for decades: computers for work, computers for school, and computers for the home or family.
Takeaways for the Marketing Professional
What are the lessons here for the marketing professional?
• Look for other possible explanations when the data indicates an incredibly strong trend that goes against common sense. (Realistically, there are too many things a tablet can't do that a PC can, meaning there won't likely be an end to the need for desktop computers anytime in the foreseeable future.)
• Check the data against other data and known factors, such as market conditions and current and future technologies.
• Wait out the trends that aren't proven. Otherwise, you can invest a tremendous amount in something that inevitably has to be scrapped (Windows 8).
• Get to know your customers personally through the data. This helps you avoid being yanked here and yon by nebulous data factors that could affect your perceptions of customer personas.
• Use the data, but don't ever let the data use you.
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