It’s easy to get ‘paralysis of analysis’ in marketing by focusing too much on data. While analytics is important, you can’t let it overrun your ability to make good marketing decisions that take into account the human element.
A big part of marketing is creativity, which is by nature subjective, so there needs to be a good balance between art and science components in marketing. Science alone cannot rescue a marketing campaign.
The Problem with Science and Marketing
Too much data is not a good thing. We might start out with basic information: email opens, click-through rates, repeat customers, etc. But there’s way more to data in marketing now, and new measurement possibilities are added all the time. Each new social media platform gives a chance to study new metrics, new ways of engagement, how conversions vary between platforms, different types of people that engage on each platform. Even the way ads are purchased on different platforms provides different data points.
And then there’s the potential distraction of vanity metrics—things that can make the decision-makers in an organization feel great or bad about their business, but might not relate to any growing market share or revenue. Maybe your organic web traffic is impressive, your latest campaign has more clicks than any previous campaign, or you’ve suddenly seen a rush of people signing up for an email list. These data points can feel like a success, but they may not have any use besides distracting people from the real work of creating brand loyalty and converting subscribers to buyers.
These challenges are compounded when there are too many KPIs to track. Data scientists can spend extreme lengths of time creating methods to track KPIs, then gathering all the data they’ve created access to and looking to see how it all relates, often leading to true analysis paralysis. Knowing how everything is related is one part of data science. Another part is explaining it to others. As Marc Herschberger writes, “If you’re just learning the ropes of inbound marketing or are reporting to someone in that position, hammering through 30 pages of campaign metrics every other week is the best way to cause a panic attack.”
Chief marketing officer Nick Utton shares with Amanda Taylor for Marketing Mag
that it’s challenging to sift through all the information available to marketers to find the meaningful action points. Another marketing officer, Craig Harkness of V Energy sees the marketing manager’s roles as focusing on the data that’s based on repeated, measurable effects, instead of allowing data to distract you from areas that need intervention. With too much data, especially data void of real meaning, the human component and creative input get lost.
A marketing campaign that focuses solely on the data is doomed to fail. Numbers, statistics, percentages, and ratios don’t compel people to buy into your brand. It would be like a toothpaste commercial that posted phrases about the percentage of tartar reduction and how many dentists recommended the brand and nothing more. There would be no human connection—an essential part of how advertisers leave their mark on customers every day.
Stories, Not Numbers
The data certainly shows when an ad campaign is working, but it’s the storytelling that is most often the ‘secret’ behind those numbers. How interesting is your ad? Does it evoke emotion? Can the reader easily understand the point? If an ad is only data driven, these important aspects may be missed.
You need a story that connects with the customer. Even when the data indicates a problem, the solution comes from creativity and storytelling—and of course, make sure the storytelling reflects your brand voice and promise.
This idea of looking for the story through the number is a common theme in today’s best marketing practices. In the best working environment, data analysts and creatives work together, using both skill sets together.
These data and creative teams need to determine how well they know their audiences, whether they are offering personalization at scale, and how this plays into marketing experiments.
Where is Science Most Helpful?
Science, data, and analytics are still an important part of marketing, so we’re not going to throw them out. What we need to do is identify what data we absolutely need, and creatively leverage that to rescue our marketing. As Mina Nacheva says in an article for adverity, “Creativity without data is a shot in the dark.” Data science provides “rich insights into highly targeted consumer groups” and can be creative’s most powerful ally.
Here are some of the most helpful things Holtzman identifies that science brings to the marketing table:
Data highlights what’s working. Where it’s the structure of a landing page, or the time a Tweet is posted, data optimizes creative marketing. Creatives can then use this information to create more powerful designs and posts.
Science uses customer data to create comprehensive and insightful buyer personas. “Guided by accurate data; marketers are guaranteed to identify who their target buyers are, where to find them, and how best to engage them.”
The careful analysis of customers and prospect data leads to the most valuable component of modern marketing: personalization. As Holtzman notes, over 75% of customers engage exclusively with offers that are personalized based on earlier brand engagements, and 87% feel positively about personally relevant branded content. This can’t happen without marketing based on specific data points.
Balancing Creative and Data-Driven Approaches
It seems we’ve swung between the extremes of the all-creative approaches of the 1960s and today’s highly data-centric approach to advertising. As in so many things, we believe there’s an important place for both art and science in marketing. The challenge is finding that place.
In evaluating where companies stand with their data-centric approaches, Jennifer Harvey writes for Forbes that in 2018, the vast majority of marketing leaders were searching for the right technology for their brand, just over half were planning to hire technical talent, and 34% were planning to add data scientists to their teams. This is part of the problem. Geary Company writes that “New challenges in modern marketing are killing creativity, with the focus on metrics leaving important concepts, such as brand building and customer loyalty, low on the list of priorities.”
While data scientists convert data into actionable insights, it’s still the creatives who are the ones to convert insights into campaigns that engage customers. Harvey notes that it’s marketers who need to find the right combination of technical and creative talent so we can take advantage of both data and creativity.
Create buyer personas using the expertise from both data and creative perspectives. The creatives use the data to establish a persona that’s reflective of a real person.
Use both hard (leads, CTR, revenue) and soft metrics (sentiment, engagement). By its very nature, this inclusion of well-rounded data helps to balance the tangibles that data measures, and the more creative concepts that data can indicate without clear-cut numbers.
Data employed at early stages in a campaign can help identify powerful insights, including the emotional triggers that are drawing out the best performances from a campaign. Nacheva for adverity shows how the combination of data analysts and creatives can “create interesting strategies for evolving marketing campaigns” when they approach their collaboration as a method for taking data and making it into something that consumers can connect with.
Science cannot solely rescue your marketing. But neither can art. The collaboration between the two—both theoretically in an organization’s approach, and practically by having both teams work together to understand each other’s strengths—is what leads to a successful campaign where the data shows what the creatives have achieved. Ultimately, that achievement is a true and meaningful connection with customers that leads to loyalty, sales, recommendations, and growing revenue.