Too much data can be a hinderance to great marketing

by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded

Research is a great tool. I’m a believer in its power and insight. If used properly, it can generate overwhelming momentum that can sweep the competition. In today’s world of real-time analytics and access to mountains of data, I see many marketing efforts becoming stale, uninspiring, and as a result, reduces the brand to a commodity. Because if everyone has access to the same data, then everyone is going to look the same, sound the same, and offer the same things. Doesn’t this scream “commodity!” to you?

I feel one of the misconceptions is that marketing is a science. In reality, it’s not. It’s about soul, emotion, and human connection and we all know that human emotion is anything but logical and scientific. I understand that Google and Amazon makes a living at gathering enough data about you that they probably know more about who you are than yourself. What that leads to is you really don’t go past your comfort zone and are only fed the same old things since Google only feeds you more of what you asked for and nothing new. (But this is an issue for a another time.) Data is useful, but too many have come to only rely so much on the data that they become parrots squawking the same things as the other thousands of parrots. Marketing and brand is an emotional game, not a scientific one.

Forrester Research has looked into this trend of “nerds” taking over marketing and branding away from the creatives. (How’s that for an ironic twist?) Here are a few of the discoveries:

• Brands that are managed by tech or research types have lost the ability to anticipate customer needs or spot unique trends. Because it hasn’t been done before, it’s hard for analytics to predict something that doesn’t exist. This is what contributed to the subprime mess. Too many investment banks depended on computer algorithms to predict default rates. Since there has never been a default rate in America more than 5% since the depression, the computer said there is no risk and housing values will continue to rise as it always has been.

• Brand managers should be called Brand Advocates not Brand Managers. Advocates are proactive and are driven more by emotion than by data. This clearly sends the message that brands and marketing should be put back into the hands of the creatives and not the number crunchers.

• Data driven brand managers have weaker branding and marketing skills. This is the result of their solutions are only half measures since they base decisions completely by the numbers. That’s okay if you are looking at the cost of raw materials, but brands are not commodities, but living entities.

More data is not better data. Again, this is a myth. If Howard Schultz did market research to find out if Americans wanted a French sidewalk cafe experience to have coffee, I doubt if he would have continued with the Starbucks concept. The numbers told a different story in 1987. Coffee consumption was still on a 25 year decline. Research showed that people were starved for time, so who would wait 2 minutes for their coffee? Convenience was the new currency at that time. Based on this data, Starbucks should not only have failed, but not even been started.

One other danger of having an imbalance of data driven marketing and branding – data tends to lead to mediocrity. If the numbers don’t support it, then you don’t do it, even though you see an opportunity in the market or spot a trend that’s not fully developed. Just look at Big Pharma. Many of the main players are buying up smaller, entrepreneurial labs as their insurance in filling the pipeline for new and breakthrough drugs. It’s not because these smaller companies are better, they are driven by finding a niche or need and then setting out to fill it. And, often, they develop something else by accident that turns into the next block buster. Large, data-driven, pharma can’t seem to bring itself to act more on their gut and less on stats.

In the article “Marketing Myopia”, the author describes the risk of a technology-oriented management structure and “the bias in favor of dealing with controllable variables.” Engineer-managers want to focus on “what they know and what they can control.” Consumer behavior is not a controllable variable. Instead, he wrote, consumers can be, “unpredictable, varied, fickle, stupid, short-sighted, stubborn and generally bothersome.” This completely goes counter to a data-driven marketing effort.

In the end, I guess that’s why humans have two sides of the brain and not just one. If you make marketing and branding decisions based on data only, then you’re really operating on half a brain.


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.


  1. Promotion Complete » Blog Archive » Best Promotional Products For Your Company - March 28, 2010

    […] Too much data can be a hinderance to great marketing « Bebranded's Blog […]

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