Are Marketers Blinded By Data?

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Data is the new oil. Big data means big dollars. Your customers are your data. Every week now, it seems there’s a new mantra about big data and its potential impact on marketing.

But, are marketers tuning in? Are they beginning to take advantage of all that big data analytics has to offer?

Based on the latest research, I’d have to say the answer to those questions is, unequivocally, “Not yet.”

As eMarketer reports, a recent study revealed that most marketers find less than half of all the analytics data they collect is actually useful for decision-making. Only 10 percent thought a strong majority of analytics data was helpful, and less than one-third said somewhere between half and three-quarters of all data was useful.

Another study from the Corporate Executive Board reached similar conclusions, prompting bloggers Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird to declare that “marketers flunk the big data test.”

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The CEB found that on average, marketers depend on data for a mere 11 percent of all customer-related decisions, signaling what could be construed as a stubborn dependence on gut instincts –an unwillingness to change that can be disastrous in today’s marketplace.

“. . .in today’s volatile business environment, judgment built from past experience is increasingly unreliable. With consumer behaviors in flux, once-valid assumptions (e.g., “older consumers don’t use Facebook or send text messages”) can quickly become outdated,” Spenner and Bird write.

So, does that mean gut instinct and experience are now completely obsolete? Should marketing decisions be made solely on the basis of big data analytics?

Absolutely not.

I’ll concede this point: Marketers may be “flunking” the big data test now. But, I’d hate to see the industry become so obsessed with data that next year, marketers end up flunking the art of marketing test –that would have disastrous consequences, too. After all, the key for drive business growth today is to strike a balance between the science and the art of marketing.

Sure, technology is critical to improve performance and processes so marketers can offer relevant, integrated campaigns that enhance the customer experience and deliver higher ROI. But even so, experience and creativity play critical roles, as well. Marketers still must understand prospects and customers as individuals, each with their own individual preferences and behaviors. Technology is a tool to help you do that job better.

Even Spenner and Bird caution marketers not to become “dangerously distracted by data.” To them, successful marketers need to hone these three key qualities, which as I see it, blend both science and art:

  • comfort with ambiguity
  • ability to ask strategic questions based on data
  • narrow focus on higher-order goals

“Together, these traits help (them) filter out noise and apply only the insights or data points that truly matter for long-term success,” they conclude. “As marketers get better access to raw numbers and big data keeps growing, the importance of this filtering ability will only intensify.”

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