CMO View: On Always Working in the Zone of ‘Now What’ Opinion

By Will McInnes on September 29th 2015

Some things just make sense immediately, don’t they?

Sometimes they’ll hit you like a wall of warm agreeability. Others might be more like an ‘aha moment’ in the shower, or they can gently slot into place with a satisfying click, leaving you with the feeling that everything is now in its rightful place.

I had such a moment hosting one of our webinars with one of our clients, Steve, who works for a great beer company. We were talking about getting to the stuff that really matters from social intelligence.

You know, getting beyond a PDF that nobody reads. Doing work that moves the dial and leads to change, rather than just producing a pretty but inert chart, or continually looking back in the rearview mirror.

Steve came out with a simple triptych that I’ve pretty much dined off ever since (thanks, Steve!).

He said in his line of work there are three levels: the What, the So What, and the Now What.

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The trio of ‘Whats’

The What is just the thing – the reporting, the data, the refined and manipulated information, but is lacking that ‘aha.’

This is no use to our internal stakeholder, our customer or boss, or to our own next steps. It is the number of mentions of a given keyword yesterday, or the number of unique visitors to our website.

The So What is the insight – it’s the consequence, the What applied to some context or other data, and refined a level further.

This is useful and interesting. This gets heads scratched and beards gently manipulated.

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It is the trend line month on month in Net Promoter Score, or the sudden new anomaly in one specific retailer location’s sales performance.

But So What wasn’t enough for Steve, and all too often people stop here.

The Now What is the decision that gets made, the action that leads to new, changed outcomes.

This, this is the key to unlocking the real value in our work in research, in analytics and in social intelligence.

This is the land of informed decisions – the new decision to drive that unprofitable customer segment to online-only channels or to rapidly shift staffing of social customer care channels based on demand.


We can always do better

Somewhere along the line I connected this in my head to a model another Steve (this post could alternatively be titled ‘people I know called Steve who gave me wisdom about data along the way’) gave me, which is the DIKW model.

  • Data
  • Information
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom

Clearly the purpose of this hierarchy is similar to that of the trio of Whats.

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It is to remind us that we can do better – that in refining data we can make it more valuable, we can work with it like a craftsperson works with the wood they are carving or the glass they are blowing. Data is just data. It contains power but power that is untapped.

As we synthesize and blend it, we improve its value.

And as our work in our organizations continues to mature – as your daily practice with social data evolves, as your stakeholder group grow more experienced with its value and more demanding of it, as they have for so many of our clients, and as our products and people iterate and improve – we would do well to remember these simple models.

Wherever I can, I want to work in the zone of Now What. I want to both consume and to provide Knowledge, and even Wisdom, whenever I can.

I’m guessing you and your stakeholders do too.



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  • Giles Palmer

    nicely done Will

  • Theo Reichgelt

    Great article Will. I’m using your “whats” as example in a Dutch article of mine about social intelligence. I believe it nicely describes what social intelligence is all about. So thank you ;-)