Data is more readily available to marketers than ever before. Age-old conversations about demos, compositions, ratings, rankings, impressions and CPMs are on steroids.
But if we don’t make an effort to create the space away from data that is required to cultivate bigger ideas and truly engage audiences across all channels, we’re more at risk than ever of falling into the rabbit hole.
Take one quick look around the Internet, or a trip to a local bookstore. There are at least 10 popular books on data to choose from.
It is too often that I sit in meetings where the first few questions about a campaign or communications strategy revolve around data. Cost, reach, composition, historical benchmarks, programmatic capabilities, viewability, etc., etc. The data is the thing talked about first. And it truly doesn’t need to be.
Data is actually working itself out pretty well. The tools available to manage it are working better than ever. Sure, we still have homework to do when we embark on a campaign: researching opportunities and methodologies; digging through client data and syndicated research tools; setting up KPIs and ensuring that the campaign is in place to best manage against them. But overall, the long-coveted data roadmap is pretty much in place. The data is at our fingertips, and there are 800 books and articles telling us how to use it.
So instead of continuing to delve into it first thing, wrap ourselves in it, talk and write about it to death, let’s put the data down for a minute knowing that if we treat it right, it will do its job. (And I’m not talking about “set and forget.” You do still need to keep an eye on things.)
What’s missing from all of the talk is the opportunity that we now have in the media industry to trust that part of the process for a moment so that we can spend more time imagining what else might be possible. How our communications strategies can involve and benefit from a more human touch. Orchestration. Exploration. Curiosity. Intuition. And that requires us to walk away from data to consider larger pictures.
We need to do this because we are simultaneously at risk of forgetting that we are coming up on a generation of extremely influential individuals who value connection, experiences and stories above all else. They value authenticity. They value a no-bullshit, straight-shooting dialogue. And as much as we’d like to think it’s quarantined within a particular age group, we’ve all worked in this business long enough to have seen and experienced how much of these behaviors “halo up” a demo or two — if not take on a life of their own — like wildfire.
Just like every shiny object before it, no matter how well data begins to work for us, eventually our consumers are going to catch on to the tricks and ask us the age-old dreaded question: “That’s great. You got me. But what do you really have to offer?”
Consider this: Data helps us know a thing or two about our existing customers, and learn about and find new ones. It helps us deliver an ad or two and optimize across a few creatives. But if data were really all that valuable, we’d be enjoying some ticks above 1% and 5% performance, right?
Data is only really succeeding thus far in that it’s providing the illusion that marketers know exactly what any one particular individual wants or needs. It doesn’t account for frame of mind, likelihood to purchase at a single moment, distractions or a last minute change in plans. The human touch is what makes our marketing efforts resonate through all of that.
Any successful brand out there will tell you that getting the data right is useful at times, but it will never always be the answer or the thing we point to when looking back and saying, “Hey, that brand did some great stuff.” The “stuff” is never talking about data. (Cases in point: Apple’s innovation; Zappos’ customer service; Airbnb’s blowup of the sharing economy.)
It doesn’t take much. The formula is pretty simple:
Brands that are the most adept at adding that human touch will be most poised for success in an increasingly data-driven world.