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In An Age Of Big Data, Have We Lost Our Guts?

There is no doubt about it, big data is revolutionising marketing. In the past, we have been forced to work backwards, analysing information retrospectively. However advances in technology has enabled us to collect and process data in real time, with great efficiency.

New technology can recognise patterns, far beyond human capabilities, to make purchase predictions, analyse consumer behaviour and importantly test our concepts before going to market. For marketers this saves much time and money, and reduces the risk of failure. However, whilst algorithms can test concepts and identify trends, they aren’t good at imagining new possibilities. There’s also the worry that months of analysis can lead to lost opportunities.

Undeniably big data is incredibly useful for learning more about our customers, however it loses that human element to marketing which helps us base decisions on our experiences and intuition, and it only reveals part of the story.

But, with the industry focusing increasingly more on data driven marketing, have we lost our guts as marketers?

A former lecturer of mine at Ulster University, Fiona McMahon, introduced the concept of “relationship marketing” to me, whilst supervising my dissertation.

Before I skipped ahead to statistics and past research, she always encouraged me to take a step back and remember that marketing is about building relationships with real people, and that understanding the behaviours of these people is key to that. Data doesn’t have empathy for others, nor the communication skills, or the creativity, which we possess.

This has stood me right so far throughout my career and given me confidence in trusting my gut feelings, as well as the data.

It might sound fluffy, but neuroscience has proven that neurological recognition is often outpaced by our emotions and their biological underpinnings in our decision-making. In other words, gut feelings are real… and great marketers thrive of them! If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have the Ford’s or Apple’s of the world.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

— Steve Jobs

How can people tell you what they want if they haven’t seen it before? Steve Jobs deliberately avoided market research for this very reason, as he felt his customers didn’t know what they wanted until he showed it to them.

Creating meaningful experiences is what separates the good companies from the great, and you won’t find out how to do this from a spreadsheet. Therefore, understanding human behaviour and making educated assumptions on why, is so much more important than chasing your customers digital footprint.

In a lot of industries, particularly tech, you’re building for a future market. So, whilst data can be used to help drive your model (Blockbusters failure to respond to the market allowed Netflix to move in) without human intuition, where is the innovation?

I didn’t get into the industry to tell the same story as everyone else, and if I wanted to follow a predictable guide to marketing I certainly wouldn’t have joined a start-up. The environment can be unstable, much of what you are doing is for the first time, and there just isn’t enough data to make decisions off initially. You have to be gutsy, and I love that, though admittedly it’s not without it’s flaws.

When we go with our guts we put the power in our hands, based on our own experiences and instinct. It feels good, and therefore we have more confidence in it.  However, our guts don’t always serve us best. There have been some spectacular failures where this has encouraged bad decisions. Coca Cola’s decision to change the formula and rebrand it to “New Coke” despite being the market leader, for example, or N-Gage, a mobile phone/handheld game system released in 2003, that was neither effective as a phone or game system. I’ve tested theories myself with social media, where I thought I knew what my audience wanted me to share. However, when the performance was measured over time, I was wrong.

I love tracking our customers online activity, and getting a better idea of them. This has helped me communicate much more effectively with them, and earned me the office “creeper” title. However, none of the data gave me the creativity or skills to communicate our message. Marketers are not robots, and we never should be. As I said, relationship marketing is key, and without that human element to it, the relationship will die.

So, have we lost our guts as marketers? I hope not.

Human intuition and big data can coexist, but we need to learn how to integrate them both successfully so we can keep  humanity at the heart. I’m looking forward to a new year of marketing, where I can continue to focus on tracking my efforts more precisely, however I never want to drown out my own gut feelings in the data.

As you look towards the future, will you rely on your marketers intuition more or will you make decisions based on data and analytics? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Blaise Perse

Blaise Perse

Blaise Perse is an accomplished content creator and strategist known for her captivating work at getinvited.to, a premier online platform for event organization and engagement. With a degree in Communications and a minor in Creative Writing from Boston University, Blaise has spent the past six years carving out a niche for herself within the events industry, focusing on creating immersive and engaging content that not only draws attendees in but keeps them talking long after the event has ended.

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