TikTok, Manufacturing and Data Analytics
If you’re not familiar with TikTok, trust that your kids are. This extremely popular app allows users to create short 15-second music videos and looping 3- to 30-second videos, and share them with the universe. The topics of these run the gamut. How to make shrimp fried rice, a man feeding marshmallows to an alligator from a boat, crazy pet tricks, crazier human tricks. You get the picture. One video right after another, delivered to your device in succession with no apparent rhyme or reason to the order.
The app is incredibly addictive. This column took me twice as long as usual to write because I kept getting sucked into the vortex of interesting (though oftentimes stupid) snippets each time I opened the app. Several sources indicate that the average TikTok user spends 52 minutes each day thumb flipping through video after video. And there are tons of users with about 80 million active ones in the U.S. alone. TikTok was the most downloaded nongaming app through mid-June of this year.
TikTok, owned by Chinese internet technology company Bytedance, makes its money by selling highly targeted advertising. What users may not know as they mindlessly sit glued to the glow of their phone or tablet screens, is that all the while the app may be gathering hoards of data on them. A recent lawsuit accuses the app of collecting users’ personal contacts and those of their social networks, email addresses and biometric data, among other personal information.
Think for a moment about the value of the data available to TikTok. Using highly advanced data analytics algorithms, the app not only knows who its users are but who their contacts are, where their users live, where they travel and when they use the app. Even more valuable, it knows what kind of content they consume. When a video about dogs comes up, do they linger and watch the whole thing or quickly move on to the next video? Do they dwell on videos about sailing? Cooking? Pop culture? Travel? Cycling? Do they have a tendency to tap “like” for certain videos or follow certain “TikTokers” versus others? Which videos do they share and with whom? If one user shares a dog video with a contact who is also a TikTok user, TikTok not only knows that the first user likely has an interest in pets but that their contact may too.
All of this leads to the opportunity for extremely targeted advertising on an individualized basis and has created a company purported to be worth about $78 billion. Brilliant and scary. So scary in fact that the U.S. Army has banned the use of TikTok on government-owned cell phones for fear that the data derived by the app could compromise national security and leave Americans open to foreign surveillance.
Foreign espionage aside for the moment, as manufacturers, wouldn’t it be awesome if we had TikTok-grade data about our customers available to us? What if we could know what they order, when they order it and how much they order. What if we could know who our customers’ customers are?
What if we knew which customers or markets were paying on time and which ones were delayed? What if we could know, through their order behavior, which customers were gravitating toward certain machining processes, if tolerances were getting tighter or if certain types of finishes are favored? What if we knew which customers were decreasing lot sizes and ordering more frequently? Wouldn’t it be amazing to know which of our customers were working on interesting engineering projects involving new machining methods or processes, or which trade shows they had attended? Think about how valuable that information would be.
The uses for this data would be virtually limitless. Customer order data could be used to predict future production volume and adjust capacity accordingly on a proactive basis. A slowdown in order volume for a specific customer combined with a delay in the timeliness of payments could portend rough times ahead for a specific customer. Multiple customers in the same industry exhibiting this behavior? Perhaps their whole industry is slowing down. A specific customer opening multiple blast emails on a specific topic? Maybe they are considering a growth strategy in that area. The list goes on.
Having this data would be amazingly valuable, if only it were available to us. Wait. It is.
Review the preceding paragraph. All of this information is available from the systems we use to track orders, systems we use for financial management, systems we use for customer relationships, engineering projects, blast emails, web activity, our customers’ social media posts and the anecdotal information collected by our teams.
We already have access to all of this. The question is, in your company whose job is it to analyze this information — to draw connections between and conclusions from that information, and to summarize and report the conclusions derived therefrom? If the answer is nobody, then you now know where to start.
Small to midsize manufacturers have scores of data available to them and can leverage it in much the same way that billion-dollar conglomerates do. They just need to use it.