Don’t Ignore Your Gut: Why the “Art” of Marketing is Still Relevant in a Data-Driven World



June 20, 2016

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego. Almost all of the sessions leaned heavily on the concept of data-driven marketing. It makes sense. As marketers, the amount of data points available to us for decision making increases every day. We also have more tools at our disposal to organize and make sense of that barrage of data.

Gartner’s own research backs up this dependency on data. Several analysts mentioned that 69% of marketers they’ve surveyed admit that most of their decisions will be quantitatively driven by 2017. Many sessions heralded the “death of Don Draper” and how making strategic decisions from the gut vanished along with the Mad Men era of marketing.

Should marketers throw away the “art” of marketing now that we’re perfecting the “science” of it?

Not necessarily. One session I attended took a closer look at how art could be interwoven with a data-driven approach to marketing. To kick off the session, the presenter asked the audience:

“Who has watched the show Alpha House?”

One or two people raised their hand.

“Now, who here watches House of Cards?”

Most of the hands in the room shot up. The presenter went on to share the story between the two shows.

Alpha House was one of the first shows created exclusively for Amazon. Being the data-conscious company that they are, Amazon collected millions upon millions of data points developing the show. They tested out concepts and even had a competition between a few finalist show ideas. All of their research pointed towards the desire for a politically-themed series and used that data to develop the type of show it would be. After all, if you have that much perceived consumer intent at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you develop a show using it?

Then there’s Netflix’s House of Cards. Like Amazon, Netflix is a highly data-driven company. They too looked at a lot of research points and discovered the desire for a politically-themed show. The company looked at what made other shows successful, identified the theme and then stopped their data dive. From there, they took a risk and went with their gut to create House of Cards.

Which show is more successful? I think House of Cards’ numerous Emmy awards speak for themselves.

It’s an interesting story about how art and science can work in tandem. How human intuition has the ability to trump the numbers.

When Data Becomes Dangerous

We have so much data now that it almost becomes dangerous. It gives us an inflated sense of confidence. Since we have a deluge of numbers, it’s easy to use data as a crutch and avoid critical thinking entirely.

This is where creativity comes in. Data science shouldn’t be killing the art of marketing. Human intuition should be a compliment to analytics, not a competitor. This case study from Nike+ is a textbook example of how data and creativity work together create an inspiring human experience.

So how do you do balance it all? The Gartner analyst speaking to this subject gave the audience these three tips:

  1. Automate and augment: Use technology to process data faster and with more precision, but use it in partnership with human experience. In the Nike+ case study mentioned above, that team could have simply churned out a lot of charts and graphs summarizing their users’ annual activity. Instead they added a human touch, creating motion stories that inspired their users.
  2. Contextualize and empathize: Layer in the complexities and richness of human experience alongside data. Just how Nike+ used data not only to entertain but also to challenge their users to achieve more distances in their next year’s training plan.
  3. Empower and experiment: Provide access to data at many levels, in many disciplines, and both in-house and with partners. Data is only useful if it is actually being used. It should be accessible between all departments (not just IT or marketing) and viewable by outside vendor partners to help them better serve you as a client. The case study from Nike+ showed how both Nike and their vendor partners shared data to work together to achieve a great result.

While the future continues to point to data-driven marketing, balanced marketing teams should still offer both left and right-brained skill sets equal seats at the table.

If you want to hear more of the story between Alpha House and House of Cards, it is the central talking point of a TED Talk found here.

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