Just a Spoonful of Honey — A conversation with Terry Young, Founder and CEO of Sparks & Honey

In this episode of the Masters of Data podcast, I sit down with Terry Young for an engaging discussion on data, bias and how even industries like consulting, advertising and marketing are utilizing these concepts to understand our culture, scale their companies and expand their reach. Aside from starting a company with one of the best names ever, Terry Young, the founder and CEO of sparks & honey, has created a very different way of approaching cultural trends. Their active learning system, Q, brings top-grade data science and machine learning to the art of trend spotting and understanding how our culture is changing. For this episode, I sat down with Terry at his Madison Ave headquarters in New York City to discuss their brand, their mission and his perspective on the various changes taking place in today’s culture and how sparks & honey is fitting into the picture.

Terry, who was born in Kentucky, studied advertising at UT Austin, where he got increasingly interested in the current shifts that were taking place around the internet. After graduating Terry found himself in the advertising world both stateside and abroad before finding himself settling stateside again. A short time after returning home he found himself wanting to bring a fresh perspective to the industry and ended up writing the business plan for sparks & honey which has now been in business for over 6 years. As we discuss, the name is not just catchy, it’s intentional. As Terry shares, “The idea of the name is the spark is the little spark that you see in culture, something that’s just starting to ignite. And honey, that stickiness between organization and that spark. We wanted to try to look at how you identify something that is first emerging, and then how you turn that into an opportunity for an organization.”

“The idea of the name is the spark is the little spark that you see in culture, something that’s just starting to ignite. And honey, that stickiness between organization and that spark. We wanted to try to look at how you identify something that is first emerging, and then how you turn that into an opportunity for an organization.”

But as Terry reveals, the intentionality spans beyond just the name and into the very purpose and mission of the company. As we discuss, Terry saw flaws in the advertising model in general. The traditional advertising business model was a media-driven model where firms would build out big campaigns. But as he began to see, it really didn’t use a lot of the advantages seen in other industries. At that time, there was the emergence of having access to data that wasn’t available before. He saw the opportunity to capitalize on this which is why two-thirds of their business today is not focused on advertising and marketing. Rather, it’s focused on innovation, where the world is going, and what that means to large Fortune 100 companies.

But beyond spark & honey’s strategy, we also discuss the big-picture ideas of how bias and data factor into the mission of ad agencies and marketing companies, including sparks & honey. As Terry shares, bias has become a very important topic, in particular after the election. Every big brand in the U.S. and even on a global basis asks the question, “Are we making all of our decisions without understanding those groups?”. As Terry shows, the need for making informed decisions and utilizing relevant data is important to long-term success in every industry. As he believes, when you think about culture, culture is representative of all people; culture is what culture is. With this in mind, the mission at sparks & honey is to build systems to understand culture in all of those different iterations. This is where the Q system they have developed comes into play. Terry explains that the Q system consists of layers which combine elements of culture, data inputs to analyze culture and the social sciences part of understanding what’s happening in the world in order to triangulate data science and social science together. As Terry says, “You can train machines to look for patterns. You can also train people to look for patterns. The beauty of sparks & honey is, we bring those two things together.” The end result is a much more accurate and informed way to speak to culture through marketing and advertising strategies. As he and I discuss, because they are using those tools and data inputs to narrow the world of culture into a “cone of possibilities”, they can more effectively identify potential areas to invest in, or what could be the next big product on market.

As the conversation closes we also touch on what’s next for Terry and sparks & honey. Terry candidly shares that because they see themselves as having a different methodology to tackle exactly the same problems of some of the big consulting firms, they want to use the innovation of their Q system to get a greater understanding of where the world is going. But also realizing the ingenuity of their system which has been used by Fortune 100 companies, they also recognize the value in taking that technology and turning it into a product that will be approachable for other varying brands so that other people can use it in order to make sense of what’s happening in culture. And while both strategies are designed to help sparks & honey scale, it also impacts organizations outside of just marketing communications and allows the world to have a more informed strategy at using data and technology for the greater cultural good.

Outbound Links & Resources Mentioned

Masters of Data Episode — Just a Spoonful of Honey

Request Terry Young for a speaking engagement:

http://www.wsb.com/speakers/speaker.cfm?SpeakerID=8732

Connect with Terry on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/terry-young-4600b81/

Follow Terry on Twitter: @terryyoungny

Learn more about sparks & honey:

https://web.sparksandhoney.com/

Follow sparks & honey on Instagram @sparksandhoney

Follow sparks & honey on Twitter @sparksandhoney

Follow sparks & honey on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/sparksandhoney

Connect with sparks & honey on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/sparks-&-honey/