The Earth Is Not Flat. So Why Is Your Data?

Aristotle, Posidonius, Archimedes, and Kyrie Irving!

Kyrie Irving is a basketball genius. As a Point Guard, he has played for Duke, a Southern Ivy, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a Northern Powerhouse. He is a model of Newtonian physics with his moves on the court, however a fiasco at actual physics. 

Kyrie Irving said confidently in February, “This is not even a conspiracy theory. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. … It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” 

Don’t fret, Kyrie. You are not alone. There is an entire group of people that believe the Earth is flat. There is a Flat Earth Society. They are masses who are unflinchingly holding onto a past that science has upended. 

I see the same in the data world. There is a Flat Data Society.

Flat Data is columnar, aggregated data, and data combined from single or combined attributes and kept in summary form.

Most marketing solution providers belong to the Flat Data Society, and all Marketing Clouds leverage solutions that only work with Flat Data.

But they will soon fall off the edge of the earth. 

When data is aggregated, groups of observations are replaced with summary values based on those observations. In marketing cloud implementations, the use of aggregated data dramatically reduces the time to leverage large sets of customer data while sacrificing pertinent details. In other words each customer is a single summary record of limited fields. Hence your marketing customer data is flat, lifeless, non-sequential, and missing behaviors! You know impersonal!

Influencing people takes much more than one measly record!

Advantages of Flat Data are mostly on the technical side and include things like run time performance, load time performance, and ease of use. The problem with one record per customer means that you have to go wide on the number of columns. This slows most marketing cloud solutions down and increases the likelihood of problems with personalization and sending the wrong campaigns to the wrong persons. What we need are marketing solutions that can take advantage of ALL customer data. The technical challenges have been solved with in-memory solutions and user experiences, so no more excuses!

The business challenges are very real when it comes to creating a personalized campaign experience with Flat Data. When data is aggregated details get lost; sequence and timing of events are squeezed out. The rage in marketing these days is all about incorporating behavior data and analytics into churn and personalized next best offer campaigns. There is so much about a customer you can derive through their experiences. Behavior analytics is based on customer activities and events that occur over time. Flattening this data is a mistake and leads to the potential for uncertainty and loss of details which leads to poor campaign performance and marketing ROI.


Behavioral targeting requires you to have a conversation with your data so that your marketing campaigns can effectively speak to your customers. Marketers demand solutions that allow them to take advantage of all of their data for all of their customers. They need tools that render audiences in seconds provided by interfaces Marketers can control. That is exactly what we strive to do every day at ActionIQ. 

Being able to push a personalized message to people in right-time based on behavioral data cannot be done with Flat Data.

So I am sorry, Kyrie Irving, the Earth and Marketing are more like the basketball you’re dribbling and less like the court you play on.


John Thuma

John Thuma

John succeeds when assisting clients in developing solutions that have measurable business impact. With 25 years of field experience, he has developed solutions for multiple industries including: banking/financial services, retail, life-sciences, and others. Before AIQ, John worked for Teradata Aster as a Data Scientist.
John Thuma

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