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Diets in marketing are akin to diets in our lives: challenging, but ultimately doable when we commit to making the changes that matter. For many companies the beginning of the year is a time to drop the “extras” that may be weighing down their brand’s marketing efforts. But there is an ongoing debate in the marketing world about the best way to streamline marketing programs. Do we, as marketers, improve the customer experience and, ultimately, drive more consumers to our brand through the use of big data or do we rely on good old-fashioned instinct?
Decision-makers weigh in
“The gut is still the best way to make a decision,” says Tom Redd, VP, Strategic Communications at SAP Global Retail Business Unit. “The market is moving so fast that many times its direction cannot be understood by normal, stable marketing people.”
IBM CEO Virginia Rometty has a different perspective; she told the Council on Foreign Relations at the 2013 Corporate Conference, “Data will be the basis of competitive advantage for any organization.” She predicted that, for business, “decisions will be based on analytics and not gut extinct or experience.”
Former Apple CEO and Pepsi President John Scully disagrees. “No great marketing decisions have ever been made on quantitative data,” he says.
Other marketing execs appear to agree with Redd and Scully: a study by the Fortune Knowledge Group reported that 62% of executives feel it is necessary to rely on gut feelings and soft factors such as trust, relationships, and reputation when making big decisions.
2015 is poised to be the year that the “marketing diet” debate may be settled for good. With this in mind, how do we, as marketers, whittle down our marketing waistlines?
Go on a “data diet”
No marketing professional would ever dismiss the need for data and analytics when evaluating the best way to drive consumers to your brand. But, like dieters who go on a pure-protein diet and find themselves gaining pounds after an initial weight loss, too much of a good thing can be, well, a bad thing.
According to research, the volume of available data for any given category grows at 60% a year, thanks to ever-improving ways to collect, evaluate, analyze, and process information. Marketers can be overwhelmed by the facts and figures raining down on their desks—in fact, just 38% say they can make effective decisions based on the overwhelming number of facts and figures. This increased complexity, along with the huge increase in data, means that some marketers are suffering from analysis paralysis.
In a field like marketing, in which flexibility, creativity, and the ability to keep moving forward are absolutely essential, all this has made decision-making increasingly intricate and exhausting. So what’s the solution? Cut the fat—the data fat. Be strategic about establishing your own benchmarks. Take a close look at the data that addresses your brand’s specific goals. If it doesn’t directly apply, set it aside. When you test pieces of your marketing plan, hold yourself to the single variable rule. That way, you’ll know exactly what work, how well it worked, and how to reproduce it.
Strengthen that Gut!
So now you’ve cut your data down to size. But there is a very important part of your 2015 marketing diet that in recent years has taken a backseat to the perceived importance of obtaining ever-more complex data. That is instinct. Better known as “your gut.” Your gut is your ability to understand the aspects of marketing that can’t be quantified by mere numbers.
Data will tell you that this month’s Facebook contest was more successful at increasing consumer engagement than last month’s, but it won’t tell necessarily you why. That’s where your gut instinct, your understanding of human nature, is enormously valuable. Since you understand what makes people tick, you can extrapolate from the data that people liked the Facebook contest more because of whatever reward your brand offered. Your interpretation of the data is key to future successful Facebook contests.
Don’t be afraid to use your gut instinct—its usually right. In fact, a June 2014 study of 720 senior-level business leaders from a range of fields showed that executives are increasingly relying on emotions to make decisions, even while data is more available than ever.
In the study, “Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions,” researches found that 60% of execs surveyed said that human insights must precede analytics when making decisions.
“In this day and age of things happening so fast,” says Phil Saifer, President of Vertical Marketing Network, “more and more companies are relying on gut marketing as their new marketing diet versus longer term research studies to predict marketing performance.”
Twenty years ago, Saifer points out, when a new product was introduced it went through several steps before it was rolled out to the public: first the concept test, then the focus group, then isolated controlled store tests, to test markets, a 10% roll out, and so on. Each subsequent part of the process created more information that needed to be taken into consideration. “The process could take three years or more before the product was launched to a national market,” he says.
Nowadays, shorter product life cycles, simultaneous global product launches and increased focus on multi-channel, integrated campaign management make that impossible. That’s why utilizing gut instinct to guide you through the maze of data is more important than ever.
The Right Balance
Anyone who has had success losing weight over the long term will tell you there is no quick fix, no secret formula. Likewise in marketing. Data and analytics will not magically turn your marketing campaign into the stuff of future college courses. Nor will it on its own help you create an innovative campaign that captures the hearts and minds of consumers.
And gut instinct by itself won’t either. Data gives you a starting point and can buttress what your instincts have already told you. In fact, one study of 600 American and British companies determined that 75% of companies able to blend intuition with big data analytics were more effective than those that used data analysis alone.
Ultimately, the key to streamlining your marketing efforts is to combine both hard data and gut instinct, and then you make decisions from there.
So what do you think? Should marketers go with the data, or trust their gut? Weigh in below in the comments section.
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