Marketing Data and Instinct: How to use data without losing your instinct

Proof has always been the tough part for marketers.  How can you prove that a marketing campaign is working?  How can you prove that your idea for a campaign will be successful?  Tapping into digital marketing data would seem to be a logical answer.

But now, a new study by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) suggests that even with the advent of digital marketing data, Google analytics and the infamous click through rate, marketers still struggle with proof.

According to this study, marketers rely too much on their instincts, don’t understand statistics and are easily distracted by insignificant findings.  After reading the data, it can sound like marketers have the proof they need, but don’t know how to use it.

As a Director of Marketing, I’d suggest that while some may have this problem, good marketers not only understand the importance of data, but also know when and how to use it.  Just as 20 years ago, a good marketer wouldn’t change their marketing plan based on one focus group, a good marketer now wouldn’t change a marketing plan based on one week’s worth of data from their Facebook page.

At my company we are currently pulling in what amounts to a firehose of marketing data.  Instead of trying to jump on every trend we notice, we have created a best practices system, built on the rules of thumb that have always existed with any good marketing department:

  • - Determine your ultimate goals
  • - Find the best metric to measure success
  • - Listen to your instincts – but check with the data


I am a very firm believer in instinct in both my personal and professional life.  I think that at their core, every great marketer has a gut instinct that points them in the right direction, but that they check with the data before acting upon that instinct.

Without a good internal compass, a marketer is just someone reading the data trends and acting after the information has rolled in.  A great marketer can instinctively sense where the trends will lead based on their knowledge of people, their industry and their experience, but also knows the importance of giving themselves a gut check by referring to the data.

Within the marketing world big data and instinct can live in harmony, but, as the word harmony would suggest, only if you have a balance of the two.

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