How technology won the Rugby World Cup



A small part of me dies every time I go to a conference and someone says how important “Big Data” is. It’s as if the size of the data alone is interesting. It’s not. Data without context means nothing, like a flickering LED on a server.

What is interesting is the insight that any data gives, or as Cindy Gallup puts it: “Big data is people in disguise”.

Gallup was speaking at DigitasLBI’s UK New Front event alongside ex-England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward. Clive’s presentation was on Big Rugby Players and data which provided useful social media metaphors with a compelling presentation on England’s preparation for, and its win at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Clive’s mantra is “talent alone is not enough”. All of his competitors had talent too – so do yours. So if talent alone wasn’t enough – then what was? Clive’s insight was that data was going to be the difference.

When he came onboard as a coach only a small percentage of the England team could use a laptop. He decided that this needed to change and he was going to use data to innovate the way he managed his players. He couldn’t do this alone, he needed his team to come on this journey with him. So he made a bold claim. If a player wouldn’t learn about new tech they wouldn’t be on the team.

Clive quickly incorporated Prozone technology which tracked the exact movement and position of each player on the pitch at all times. At the end of each game each player was given a CD with a record of their game on it and told to spend two days studying it. After this, each player had to present to Woodward an analysis of their game, their teams’ game and crucially, their opponents’ game.

This technique was revolutionary in rugby and played a key role in England’s victory. He was able to show his players what they were doing and not just tell them.

How often do we tell our clients and colleagues what we think and how often do we show them the value? Are your teams fluent in the technology that gives you the insight into your customers? Or is it someone else’s job?

Agencies now can learn from Clive’s attitude back in 2003. His attitude to gathering data and understanding what it means resonates with our approach to our client work. Our Research & Insight analysts work quantitatively to provide our teams with an understanding of communities and their behaviour. Our community managers give qualitative feedback based on the daily observations of conversation dynamics. Our strategists use these insights to ensure we’re reaching consumers in the most effective way. Everything we do is based on analysing data and using it to inform our next steps.

Technology is improving, changing and developing every day and while (hopefully) everyone in a marketing agency is now proficient with a laptop, we’re kidding ourselves if we think this is going to be enough to stay ahead of the curve and best service our clients. This is why we make sure our team is introduced to the latest technologies available. It may be a fad, or it may be as revolutionary as the smartphone.

Clive showed that there can be a beautiful synergy between teamwork, data and being open to innovation to achieve the best results possible – we agree.