What’s the big data dream for marketers? It’s a question worth asking because it hasn’t really been answered.
If the marketing ideal is communicating a brand to the maximum number of consumers in the most attractive way possible, it’s easy to see that tech has a role to play in making this ideal real. But the industry reality is that tech is often used as a crutch for people who neither really understand how to interpret data, nor how to market a product. For these people, the detail is all-consuming – communicating a simple product benefit or vision to consumers becomes a peripheral objective.
So, data can enable easy decisions, but they might not be the right ones. We only need to look at polling data to see this in action. In recent elections big research agencies have repeatedly made the wrong calls. But what’s also interesting is that some researchers/data scientists (whatever naff buzzword people want to apply to their staff/themselves) do actually call elections correctly, through data analysis – they just mightn’t communicate their message in the right way.
Survation, for example, called a hung parliament in the last general election, but when it came to explaining his forecast, their CEO, Damian Lyons Lowe, was roundly laughed at on Andrew Neil’s This Week. The people who understand the detail of how to use data to forecast events, tend to get lost in the detail when they explain it.
But marketing is different from polling. Creating a brand is really a visionary act, rather than an act of conventional analysis. If I were heading a marketing division for a large company, I’d think carefully about outputs before spending budget on quantitative research. Quantitative research (and here I include data analytics) has traditionally been a diagnostic tool but is now being offered as products that can provide solutions to your business problems. This latter credential is, in some cases, a neural network.
The thing is, we’re asking too much of data, too early on. Genuinely valuable data analytics are produced by very clever people to achieve relatively simple conclusions – what media should I use for a given audience? What kind of messaging works for a particular personality type?
Marketeers need to have more confidence in the basics of brand-building, and supplement that with reliable data analysis that has realistic objectives. Creative thinking is what is going to keep us in work – the here and the now.