What Data-Obsessed Marketers Don’t Understand
by Jake Sorofman and Andrew Frank | February 25, 2014
Harvard Business Review
Big data has become the X factor of modern marketing, the hero of every marketer’s story. But it’s a promise at risk of letting you down. You may be thinking that data will magically turn bush-league marketing into a winning “Moneyball” performance. But that’s an artifact of our big data obsession. Data, alone, isn’t what makes marketing move the needle for business.
Data can play a leading role in developing strategy and bringing precision to execution, but it does nothing — absolutely nothing — to stir motivation and create the desire that makes cash registers ring. Data is important, but it’s content that makes an emotional connection.
That’s why we believe today’s data-obsessed marketers are at risk of cultivating only half a brain. Marketing leaders must remember that true brand intelligence lives at the intersection of head and heart, where the emotional self meets the analytical self.
After working with numerous marketers, we developed the Intelligent Brand Framework to provide a structure for thinking about marketing investments across creative and operational disciplines, using a combination of data-driven and human-centric approaches. Its goal is to ensure that marketers don’t blindly focus on any one area without due consideration for the implications and tradeoffs to the organization’s broader goals. The goal is to help marketers find balance.
The Framework spans four domains representing basic marketing competencies:
Data-centric is where data sources come together to help us see patterns, make predictions, take action, measure results, and correct courses to optimize strategies.
Human-centric is where data may play a role, but patterns are discerned and action is taken primarily through human judgment, emotion, intellect, and moments of inspiration.
Strategic is the domain of the “what” and the “why,” where marketers use a combination of data- and human-centric practices to hone in on the best ideas.
Operational is the domain of the “how,” where marketers use automation and human beings to deliver the right offers and experiences to the right customer at the right time toward the goal of optimizing engagement and conversion rates.
But it’s the intersection of these domains that reveal the real strategic leverage points that represent the advanced competencies of the modern marketer. They are:
Observation is where customer behavior reveals new insights. These insights are found through traditional methods such as focus groups, surveys, panel and census data mining, and emerging approaches such as digital ethnography and text analysis.
Engagement is where impersonal brand messages become more authentic human dialogues. Here, marketers engage in social interactions to surprise and delight customers and, ultimately, to humanize a brand.
Inspiration is where moments of human genius are captured, indexed, and harvested for strategic advantage. Marketers use gamification, crowdsourcing, natural language processing, and collaboration to tap into the collective intelligence of human beings.
Automation is where machines allow us to achieve new levels of speed and precision by using data to target offers and experiences across channels and analytics to close the loop for continuous optimization based on measured effectiveness.
P&G, for example, is known as a pioneer in the observation category. It uses focus groups and advanced ethnographic techniques to tune in to the voice of the customer. IBM is a well-known example of an organization that harnesses inspiration with innovation jams that crowdsource the best ideas from the wisdom of crowds. Online retailers such as Zappos use automation to turn deep customer knowledge into personalized experiences as customers traverse the purchase path. Finally, companies such as outdoor retailer REI combine social listening with real-time engagement to build human-scale dialogues on the path to loyalty and advocacy.
Reflect on your collective capabilities as an organization. Where is your power center? Which quadrant represents your unfair advantage by way of capabilities, culture, and organizational maturity? Which quadrants reflect your organizational liability? Where are you weakest today? How are your competitors positioned, and where are they likely to grow and expand?
Begin to inventory your capabilities, investments, and challenges in each quadrant to reveal a picture of your current-state brand intelligence — and to create a playbook for your future-state brand leadership.
Critiquing your capabilities through the lens of the Intelligent Brand Framework helps keep you balanced in an age of short-term thinking and silver-bullet expectations. It’s designed to protect marketers from the unintended consequences of data-driven marketing — where an obsession with theoretical models can lead to misjudgments of human factors, such as overly familiar and frequent engagement or lack of authenticity in messaging.
If you are like most marketers, you may be at risk of becoming like the day-trader who is so dialed in to his data that he fails to see the patterns forming beyond the intraday trading bell. You may be at risk of simply asking too much of data.
Jake Sorofman is a research director with Gartner for Marketing Leaders, from Gartner, Inc. Read Jake’s blog and follow him on Twitter @jakesorofman.
Andrew Frank is a VP and distinguished analyst with Gartner for Marketing Leaders, from Gartner, Inc. Read his blog or follow him on Twitter at @acfrank.