The Gartner data-driven marketing survey indicates 69% of marketers believe most of their decisions will be quantitatively driven by 2017, so that means we’ve officially entered the era of the data-driven marketer. Welcome. My daily conversations with marketing leaders, agencies and vendors confirms this shift as everyone grapples with how to operate in this new data-driven marketing world.

The focus on data-driven marketing, the pressure to deliver ROI and the promise of a hyper-quantified marketing universe is driving a significant and disconcerting marketing myopia. Many marketers believe that enough data, computing horsepower and artificial intelligence capability can solve virtually any marketing problem. The assumption being that everything you might ever need as a marketer is living somewhere in data, either data you have, data you create or data you buy. Data-nirvana devotees believe this dedication to data is the proper response to the long-running emotion-led, “look at these beautiful/clever/funny things we created” style of marketing.

The problem with being overly data-centric is that we humans are still very emotional creatures. Until we are augmented/altered/replaced by something else, marketing to humans requires connecting at an emotional level. A purely data-driven approach misses this critical piece.

Data is largely blind to human emotion. Data doesn’t understand the fear and trepidation of a marketing leader tasked with making a huge agency, media or technology decision. Data doesn’t capture the passion of a newly appointed CEO with ambitions to reinvent their company. Data doesn’t appreciate the profound love of a new parent or the anticipation and fear of a patient walking into a hospital for cancer treatment. Every decision from buying new business software to choosing the right paper towels involves a series of interconnected, evolving emotional drivers. Data misses these aspects of customer experience.

Clearly both data and emotion are important, the challenge is how to think about the interplay of the two. Maybe a metaphor would be helpful…

Data is a raw material, digital stone with the potential to be sculpted into David or remain a simple chunk of rock. To create something of value from the material, we need to first understand its properties. What data works best for which types of situations? How difficult are different types of data to work with? Should I be working with granite, marble, wood, ice? Understanding and making good decisions about material is foundational to rendering something beautiful.

Beyond materials, we need to master the proper tools and techniques, selecting the right digital hammers and chisels and learning the craft of using them effectively. The right tools in unskilled hands or inadequate tools in experienced hands both fail to create credible, inspiring work. We need the right tools and mastery of the techniques to use them.

But the right materials, tools and techniques are still not enough. There must be artistic vision, that intangible, difficult to define but essential element capable of converting a piece of stone into something that evokes a visceral emotional response. No machine is capable of tapping that kind of uniquely human connection.

Data-driven marketing requires mastering materials, tools and techniques AND connecting those skills to an emotional, human narrative. The most progressive organizations are working to maximize the potential of data “materials” but not lose sight of the very real emotional aspects of customer experiences. Tomorrow’s business winners will crack the code on creating holistic, contextual, data-driven, emotionally-connected approaches to customer interaction. This isn’t easy, but creating a masterpiece never is.

  1. December 19, 2016 at 4:50 pm
    David H Deans says:

    You said “A purely data-driven approach misses this critical piece.” — There’s another aspect of this phenomena that I’m seeing, it’s the ‘Performance Marketing’ agenda being used to mask the fact that many folks would much rather measure mediocre content than invest the effort to create truly substantive content.

    It’s the same kind of rationale that was used to launch those now-defunct ‘content farms’ on the web. That said, I’m hopeful that Google’s ongoing quest to find and rank the real quality content will eventually put an end to the Corporate Communications drivel. Perhaps Gartner will champion a ‘substance-driven’ marketing movement in 2017, and thereby establish a meaningful performance objective with associated metrics that matter.

    • December 19, 2016 at 8:47 pm
      Chris Ross says:

      You bring up a great point David, performance marketing can create an environment overly focused on the micro-elements of marketing vs the wider view. Still important but critical to not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *