What Your Data Cannot Show You: A Guide on When to Use Data and When to Use Creativity and Intuition in your Marketing Decisions

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Much of modern marketing is driven by technology and data. We have unprecedented access to data to create more personal experiences and connect customers to their brands and products like never before.

While that data can be used to weigh trends, identify opportunities, and find better solutions, it doesn’t mean that intuition and creativity should take a backseat. Marketers should be data-informed, not data-driven, to create meaningful experiences and gain a competitive edge.

The Problem with Pure Data

Organizations have more data than at any other point in history. New technologies are emerging to capture and analyze data at lightning speed, and the volume will only increase.

Brands and marketers will have a wealth of information to create targeted messaging and make an impact on customers.

The problem is that data isn’t sensitive to context. Marketing is a blend of science and creativity, and it relies on a message that’s keenly attuned to the customer.

The way customers make decisions isn’t clear cut, even if they’re shopping for standard products. Numerous factors come into play, including how recently they ate, how well they slept the night before, the background music – we all filter data and make our decisions based on our experiences.

But rigid data can’t capture every type of information. Each algorithm is relying on a set of variables and assigns weight to them, losing the context in the process.

Customers are also suspicious of algorithms and their online privacy, so there’s such a thing as marketing that gets too personal. When this happens, it borders on creepy more than insightful.

There’s another issue with pure data – it can encourage complacency. If you have tons of data and tools to capture virtually limitless information and insights, you can quantify their behavior, measure their responses, and essentially put them in a “box.” Your intuition has been ignored.

Data should be used to test ideas and assumptions about the audience, purchasing behavior, product satisfaction, and other key information, not to replace the human element. After all, you’re a human marketing to other humans.

What Sets Intuition Apart?

Intuition is the ability to know instinctively, without conscious thinking, if something feels right or wrong and good or bad. Everyone has intuition, but not everyone is attuned to it.

Often, intuition can get lost in empirical decision-making, despite its necessity in brand storytelling and customer experience.

One famous example of this is the Nike commercial, “You Can’t Stop Us,” that left an impact with a message of unity and progress at a time when the country was divided.

Nike has always been about progress, goal-setting, and achievements, so this on-brand messaging delivered a battle cry about overcoming obstacles when we all come together in the face of adversity.

Then, when customers are shopping for sneakers, athletic gear, or new workout clothes to hit that fitness goal, Nike becomes an intuitive brand of choice. Customers feel seen and understood.

Can data do that? No. Intuition is necessary to tell a unique and resonating story, which is your brand story. It taps into the emotions that customers have, not just their logical mind.

Brands that harness the power of storytelling like this have an intimate understanding of their customers and their pain points, goals, and expectations, which helps them deliver the experience that taps into their emotions and make the brand feel like the right fit.

Look at the Big Picture

Here are some strategies to cultivate a human connection in your marketing:

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 icon-angle-right Use Optimization

Automation is valuable for enhancing the customer experience and giving customers access to help from automated messages, autoresponders, and chatbots. That can’t be the only touchpoint or the end of the conversation, however.

At some point, those customers need to interact with a human. These tools should be helpful for streamlining the process and providing better information for the customer, such as screening customers with simple and straightforward questions.

A chatbot can accomplish this, but these customers should have an easy way to speak with a customer and get the help they need.

 icon-angle-right Improve the Customer Experience

Personalization is about providing a relevant and valuable experience for customers, such as personalized product recommendation or targeted content that reflects the customer’s interests.

If you have no idea what your customer really wants, you could be wasting your time and ruining their experience with personalization that continually misses the mark.

Data is your baseline to develop your content strategy – if you use it effectively. Take the data and apply human insights to it to ensure that customers have an exceptional experience with your business.

 icon-angle-right Aim for Personalization

Personalization is a hot topic in marketing. Companies want to provide personalized experiences, customers are expecting it, and the data is a key tool in making that happen. You can’t personalize effectively without the information.

But as marketing gets more competitive, companies are trying to increase personalization in efficient ways and may be missing the human insights. Personalization efforts should always be tailored to the customer and put in context. This isn’t a time to outsource solely to automation tools.

 icon-angle-right Create Valuable Content

Some technology tools can enhance or replace humans, but that doesn’t apply to content. Early efforts to use AI to write content and ads have missed the mark. It could take years before AI writing is decent, if it ever can be.

There’s no suitable replacement for human creativity with creative assets. You need content created by humans, not an algorithm. Use the data to tune into the customers’ wants, needs, and pain points, or to fix grammatical errors, but keep humans at the helm of the creative process.

 icon-angle-right Get Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is important for improving marketing efforts and enhancing the customer experience. Customers can be protective of this information, especially with surveys and focus groups, so don’t be afraid to incentivize.

It may only take small gifts like exclusive content, early access to products, or discount codes to encourage them.

You can also gather feedback from customers on social media. Most people are comfortable sharing their opinions in comments or in messages, and you can gain valuable insights from this information. Both positive and negative feedback can be used constructively to improve the experience for your customers.

Once you gather this feedback, it’s crucial that you use it for something. It’s challenging to respond to every request or complaint, but if customers notice that their feedback is being implemented, they’ll be more likely to provide it in the future.

 icon-angle-right Implement a Multiple-Idea Mindset

Comprehensive data is enlightening on its own, but you and your team can leverage your own experiences and intuition to inform the process. You don’t need to abandon your creativity and insights just because the data is available.

Utilizing a multiple-idea mindset emphasizes a lot of testing throughout the creative process to verify assumptions.

For example, you can try out multiple CTAs to see which is effective – proven by data – rather than going with the one that sounds best to you. These tests will validate your assumptions and ensure that you’re on the right track.

 icon-angle-right Check Bias

Some marketers assume that getting more numbers and following the path the data leads will let everything fall perfectly into place. This is not only complacent but error-prone if the data is gathered without regard for what the numbers represent and how they fit into the larger context.

If you lean on data, it can serve as a form of procrastination and hamper the decision-making process. You’re leaving out human experiences, emotions, and feedback.

Gather the data and then take a breath to ask how these decisions are informed by the data. Data may be objective, but it can still lead to a subjective decision with your interpretation.

 icon-angle-right Accept Limitations

Marketers are known for their ability to think strategically when faced with a problem and come up with creative solutions, which ultimately develops a human connection with customers. But intuition does have limits, just as data does.

Intuition as marketers isn’t the most reliable and repeatable way to approach marketing decisions and may be skewed by different factors. Automated data analysis can help identify trends and patterns that are otherwise undetectable by the human eye because of volume and complexity.

Taking action on data alone is acting without context and lacks the input of human empathy and creativity but acting on intuition alone is essentially a guess.

Understand the advantages and disadvantages of the two, how they complement each other, and how you can use both to promote better outcomes with a human touch to hard numbers.

Marry Data and Creativity for Human Connections

Data and technology tools are important competitive factors in business and marketing, especially for saving time and understanding the customer.

That shouldn’t come at the cost of humanizing your brand and losing the empathy for the customer, however. No matter how much you use technology, it should help and enhance the process – not hinder it.

About the Author!

Kyle Johnston is a Founding Partner and President of award winning brand, content creation & brand strategy consulting firm, Gigasavvy. After spending the last 20+ years in Southern California, Kyle recently moved his family to Boise, ID where he continues to lead the agency through their next phase of growth.

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