The science of marketing is going in two very different directions.
Every day the pages of marketing pubs (like this one) are full of the wonders of big data and programmatic ad buying. Even the most deluded marketing directors a few years ago wouldn’t have dared dream about being able to deliver their messages with the targeting, efficiency and trackability that they can now.
But, meanwhile, a relatively new field of study, behavioral economics, is piling up the evidence on a daily basis that we humans are not a data-driven species. Rather, it is instinct and emotion that guides almost every decision we make to a degree greater than we ever realized.
But data. Oh, data! How we marketers love data.
And why wouldn’t we? It seems every meeting with the media folks or the social media team reveals some new astonishing level of tracking or targeting now available to us. My usual reaction is, “Wow, that’s fantastic…” (followed by the nagging guilt that consumers would probably burn us all at the stake if they really understood just how much like bugs under our microscope they really are).
But most of all we love data because it can be measured. Business people have a deep-seated bias toward things we can measure. And that makes sense. CMOs these days seem to get the ax as often as characters on “Game of Thrones.” So any decision that comes with a suit of armor made of data is hard to resist.
Yet, while the big data analysts and programmatic gurus are having their day in the sun, there are some other very bright people who are quietly discovering amazing things about human behavior. And they are much harder to measure.
The fields of behavioral economics and psychology are revealing remarkable things about the way the human mind works. And while I am a long way from being an expert in this burgeoning field, I can sum up my reading of people like Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler and Dan Ariely this way: Man, we do not think the way we think we think.
We are impulsive, driven by emotion and bias in ways of which we aren’t even aware. Our minds are lazy, instinctively looking for short cuts and easy paths to make decisions.
For me, this unfolding field of research has been a vindication of something that I have known in my gut but could never really prove: Creativity in marketing is not a layer of fluff on top of the information consumers really want; it is actually the driver of the emotions that truly shape their behavior.
Billion-dollar businesses have been built out of feelings. Nike, Dos Equis, the entire fashion industry don’t tell rationale stories — or at least they certainly don’t lead with them. Because they are marketers that understand what Daniel Kahneman said, “We think that we make our decisions because we have good reasons to make them. Even when it's the other way around. We believe in the reasons, because we've already made the decision.”
So, as modern marketers get increasingly data-driven, it is becoming ever more clear that their consumers are anything but data driven.
What are we to do?
Here’s what I propose:
Marketers, I ask — no beg — that you resist the siren call of data and all its “certainty.” It may be a great suit of armor, but you won’t win any battles without a sword. And creative, surprising, hard-to-measure messaging is your sword.
So let’s have data dictate who, where, when and how often our messages are seen. But as for what is being said? I don’t think we should let the algorithms anywhere near the creation of these messages intended to make our audiences laugh, cry, think, feel, react. That must remain odd, unpredictable, nuanced humans communicating with odd, unpredictable, nuanced humans.
Unless your target market is robots. In which case just ignore this essay … .