Should Marketers Trust Their Gut or Data?

Discussion
Aug 15, 2013

Is marketing art or science?

Former Apple CEO and Pepsi president John Sculley famously said, "No great marketing decisions have ever been made on quantitative data."

On the other hand, there is a growing chorus in marketing circles these days which asserts that the explosion of personal information on consumers makes data driven decisions the only way to go.

So, what are marketers actually doing? According to a recent study published by IBM, Marketing Science: From Descriptive to Predictive, 80 percent of marketers are making decisions based on their gut instincts. This, according to John Kennedy, vice president, marketing at IBM, is a mistake.

In a column on Forbes.com, Mr. Kennedy asserts that the rise of mobile technology, social networks and other digital channels has resulted in consumers "interacting and communicating" in new ways, which has lead to the expectation that brands will respond in more personal and meaningful ways.

To connect with consumers, Mr. Kennedy says marketers:

  • Must use data to appeal to consumers on an individual basis
  • Need to develop a scientific approach to their work
  • Must make use of cognitive computing.

Taking the scientific approach, Mr. Kennedy asserts, means analyzing and acting on data from different sources, such as purchasing history and call center records. Marketing needs to share this data with other parts of the business to create a better overall experience for each shopper.

Consumers are willingly sharing data with companies, but frustration builds when marketers fail to do anything meaningful with that information. While it might be comforting to fall back on gut instinct as a response, it isn’t an adequate substitute for properly analyzing the data shared and acting.

Where do you come down on the gut instinct versus data debate when it comes to marketing?

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23 Comments on "Should Marketers Trust Their Gut or Data?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Trust your gut—but test it.

Tom Redd
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Gut-driven decisions are no longer the same as the old days. There are two types of gut marketing approaches.

Gut-Binary: Binary-based gut considers the data and metrics to influence the marketing decision, but adds a layer of “feel” to the decision that is human and relates to real experiences in the select marketplace. This is most used in established markets, where brands are expanding.

Gut-Visionary: The Pure Gut or Gut-Vision approach says, “Who cares about the metrics? I am going with my gut feel on this.” The Gut-Vision approach can be successful, but also can be of higher risk. Best used for totally new concepts. Angry Birds is a Gut-Vision example. iPhone is also one.

There are many others the deeper you go in retail—around the tech side—but that might bore you.

The gut is still the best way to make a decision, but it needs to leverage more proof samples than in the past. Why? The market is moving so fast that many times its direction cannot be understood by normal, stable marketing people (like me).

Ian Percy
Guest
8 years 9 months ago
We have to choose? When will we ever understand that it’s all one thing? If you insist. First, data is always historical, always about the past. So if you want to stay in the past your motto is “Give me data or give me death!” Intuition (a better word for humans than ‘instinct’) is the receptor, the channel, of what is not yet known. About the future, in other words. We all have it, but some of us are better at it than others. Just as a BTW, many corporations have secretly hired “corporate intuitives.” So we have these two levels of the human experience—in the language of this article ‘data’ and ‘gut instinct’. In my book “Going Deep” I creatively called them the First World and Second World respectively. Immanuel Kant called them ‘phenomenon’ and ‘noumenon’. Physicist Dr.Bill Tiller calls them ‘D space’ and ‘R space’. Maestro Ben Zanger refers to them as “The World of Measurement” and “The World of Possibilities.” Science is slowly shifting from seeing the world of measurement (data) as… Read more »
Zel Bianco
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

If companies are not using data in their marketing as well as corporate initiatives, they are thinking wrong-headed. George Anderson is absolutely correct: consumers are frustrated when companies don’t pay attention to their preferences, or utilize their data in a meaningful way.

If consumers are telling you what they want and how they want it, why wouldn’t you pay attention? Gut reactions coupled with sound research and data makes those reactions that much more actionable. Before launching any product, companies should speak to customer service teams as well as marketing teams to understand how consumers use the product, what their issues are, and how to provide better service. The customer experience is what drives sales, so if you’re not catering to that experience, what are you selling?

Denise Yohn
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Like all business leaders, marketers should be data-informed and idea-led.

David Zahn
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Ian Percy’s comments resonate and provide terrific insight. Data is not sufficient alone any more than just solely intuition can be trusted. How to blend is the trick.

Dave Wendland
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

This is not a mutually-exclusive choice. The best decisions combine the insights gleaned from data with instinctive human nature. Bottom line: continue to study the numbers, but always trust your gut.

Lee Peterson
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

The true answer is classic consulting-speak: it depends and a little of both. The minute you rely too much on data is the minute someone like Apple blows by you and the second you go gut (think orange juice packaging) is the second you get slaughtered by irate consumers.

You have to be smart enough to understand when to use which, and it’s never easy. Fortunately, there is no formula.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

An informed, educated gut is the ONLY way to go. Massive data is valuable in having a better understanding of the crowd, and that crowd understanding is nearly invariably at the foundation of good marketing efforts. We could multiply witnesses here, but Sculley is as good as any.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

While reading this, I am reminded of Earl Weaver, the late great manager of the Baltimore Orioles. He was one of the first managers in baseball to use player statistics to determine pitching or batting changes as well as defensive player positioning. He won many games using accumulated data. That being said he also won games based on gut instinct.

Taking this to retailing, data and statistics are important for the overall shelving needs. But local customer preferences also have an important role in choosing correctly so that sales remain high.

Lee Kent
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

This is not an either/or unless we are talking about going totally with gut when it vehemently disagrees with data. That, my friends, is called risk!

There is another form of gut that goes along with years of experience. If you have read the book, “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, you know what I’m talking about. In a sentence, with years of experience one can get to the solution with far less data but it has to be the right data.

But even this is not the whole picture here. Our consumer today wants personalization in some cases. This is all data and the gut comes only in the way it is presented.

So I think it is safe to say that both data and gut play roles in marketing today. Years of experience…priceless!

Shep Hyken
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

The companies that can combine the use of data with intuition will win. Companies that focus only on data are working with information that their competition also most likely has access too. Getting creative with that data, or using gut instinct (intuition) to make changes, design new products, etc., will win. Gut instinct by itself, if it works, is about getting lucky. Nothing wrong with getting lucky, but I don’t want to leave success to chance.

Joanna Beerman
Guest
Joanna Beerman
8 years 9 months ago

On a strategic level: Data helps the user ask the right questions. Then the user should rely on his/her gut.

On a tactical level: Data. All the way.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Is this really an either/or? I read the linked article—it seems weird to refer to a Vice President John Kennedy, but I digress—and while it was marvelously brief, it didn’t expand much on the “brain vs. heart” conflict suggested in the title. What it DID seem to call for was greater personalization in marketing, and I think we all know where that is going. Yes, it can be nice to get a “suggestion” from some seller, when it’s truly relevant…but so often they aren’t; and the intrusiveness necessary to “really get to know someone better” raises concerns about privacy…quite rightly. “The best kind of marketing doesn’t even feel like marketing,” he wrote, but now that the jig is up, how does one avoid creating that feeling?

Tony Orlando
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

The greatest marketing people in the world have always relied on their gut instincts for the great ideas and products we buy today. However, they also used historical data on previous successes and failures in order to build their new mousetrap.

R&D people kept the innovator somewhat grounded in the reality of bringing their new ideas to market, by testing the product, in order for it to exceed anyone’s expectations, and create demand as well.

It is a team effort of innovation, gut instinct, practical know how from R&D, and historical data to bring something great to the marketplace, and even all that doesn’t guarantee success. Working together to create great new products is exciting—and exhausting—but the rewards can be great!

Verlin Youd
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Both of course! The more experienced a marketer is in the specific area where the decision is being made, the more one should consider “gut.” However, that isn’t to say the “gut” is always right and should be followed at the expense of data. A good, experienced marketer will integrate good data, including trusted sources with a future outlook, along with their gut in order to drive both decisions and actions that will be pursued with passion.

Related Note: I highly recommend the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, an insightful look at intersection of decisions and expertise, and a quick read.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
Martin Mehalchin
8 years 9 months ago

Trust the data until your gut tells you to question it.

This reminds me of the mortgage meltdown 5 years ago. If some of the quants on Wall Street had gone to Florida in the mid 2000s and looked at some of the properties that were underlying those mortgage backed securities, they would have realized that what their models were telling them was wrong. Lesson: always verify with first-hand observation.

Mr. Kennedy is right on target; consumers are expecting more from brands and retailers and marketers need to make the best use of data to deliver. None of this, however, should replace first hand observation. Don’t just rely on what the systems and the CRM data are telling you, continue to get out into your store and observe consumer behavior first hand.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
8 years 9 months ago

Retail (and marketing) requires a blending of art, craft and science. Data, and quantitative analytics, is the science.

To convert data into information and then into actionable knowledge requires judgment, experience and intuition. To the degree that data can answer questions, the art and science is to frame and ask the right questions.

Put another way, one of the great failings of mass-market corporate retailing, in my opinion, is that in an effort to drive efficiencies and turn retailing into a science, the art and craft of the merchant has been lost — which is why there’s so little real differentiation in mass-market retailing.

Brian Fletcher
Guest
Brian Fletcher
8 years 9 months ago

Data and intuition must work together to effectively grow a business.

Data is essential, but it often doesn’t tell you the ‘whys’ behind consumer behavior. One must leverage intuition to dig deeper to get at consumers’ motivations and truly understand their behavior drivers. Only when those behavior drivers are understood do you have an opportunity to influence purchase behavior.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

There are simply more than enough effective tools available today that were not available in recent years that truly eliminate the need to drive marketing via gut feel. There will always need to be a human element, however, the traditional gut feel needs to go away… quickly.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
8 years 9 months ago

The “art” of marketing must never die, but it also must be supported (usually) with excellent appropriate data analytics. The exiting thing is that with more and more active conversations happening around the web, sophisticated analytic tools can make sense of the current conversations vs. only historical data. These current conversations can be used by marketers to understand sentiment which offers immense predictive value for the next big marketing decision. But never should the marketer rely solely on data, no matter how current and predictive it becomes. Art + Science = excellence.

AmolRatna Srivastav
Guest
AmolRatna Srivastav
8 years 9 months ago

This is not an “or” question. Both of course are important. Humans take decisions, data “helps” in taking those decisions. Data lets you know what you may not have known before. So gut instincts (which are actually manifestation of experience and wisdom) and data driven insights go hand in hand.

Bryan Pearson
Guest
8 years 9 months ago

Successful companies will use data to create customer intimacy. That’s what’s at the crux of what we call “enterprise loyalty.” Companies that practice enterprise loyalty can see their revenue increase by as much as 20 percent according to COLLOQUY. (Free report titled “Big Bang Theory of Customer Centricity” at http://www.colloquy.com)

For many companies, the standard thinking has been that loyalty program data, as a marketing tool, should be sequestered in the marketing department. But in reality, all departments of an organization, from finance to legal to merchandising, can benefit from these insights because they reveal what is relevant to the consumer. And the consumer will benefit as well, in ways that are evident.

Surely there’s still some art along with the science. But data is at the heart of it all.

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