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Human intelligence: that ‘gut feeling’ in the age of data marketing

Dealing with that 'gut feeling' in the age of data

Data marketing seems like an answered prayer for marketers everywhere, with hard numbers and facts to prove why a campaign might work or an idea might not fly to the business and finance units.

Yet, while data marketing might be the best thing since sliced bread, the human factor still remains one of the most critical parts, according to Elissa Fink, chief marketing officer, Tableau.

“In part it is more critical because it is so easy to be fooled into thinking data holds all the answers, it doesn’t. It can inform us and help us make better judgements, but at the end of the day it is the humans that have to make the decision and calls on where to invest, what markets matter and how to use resources,” said Fink.

“I think now more than ever the human element is more important, because the data does not tell the whole story, you need human judgement to interpret, understand, compare and contrast, to make decisions,” she added.

Instead, data should be used to help marketers mature, imparting knowledge to a marketer to make better judgements, as well as deepen their experience.

“I do think that data has a critical role in informing a marketer’s judgement and intuition, the more you explore the data around your business, the better your judgement becomes. A lot of times people may be thinking they are making a judgement call, it’s based on experience and data I think can give you raid experience,” said Fink.

“In my day, when I was starting out my career, there wasn’t that much data, and you had to work and learn from experience. But one of the beautiful things nowadays is that data gives you the opportunity to see all kinds of conditions and things that are happening, whether you are there or not, and lets you see it fast and quick. I think it really matures the marketer’s mind by using data, and the marketer’s mind is the critical decision making interpretation tool, as well as the creative part of it as well, data can’t be creative, you have to be creative,” she added.

I’ve got a feeling

In this day and age of data providing the cold hard facts for marketers, often decisions are made due to a “gut feeling” that senior management or c-suite might have about a campaign or approach.

This “gut feeling” happens all the time according to Fink, and can lead to deeper questions and developing a more sophisticated point of view.

“Where we’ll be doing testing and there’s the A/B spilt, and you’re looking at it and going, ‘my gut says B, why is A showing up as significant?’ What is does is let you ask questions about it, what you know and think to be true in the context of this data trend or pattern, helps you ask deeper questions about how both can be true,” said Fink.

“So many time I myself have looked at data and said, ‘that seems crazy, I think this,’ then I start thinking ‘but what if this?’ Then I see how two facts that I thought were contrary actually can co-exist and there’s a sophisticated point of view that shows why that’s the case. It’s a great way for marketers to call into question their own beliefs and judgement but also increases your sophistication and understanding of patterns, trends and your own beliefs, you’ll have a better idea of what’s going on, and what’s the right decision to make,” she added.

Asking the wrong questions

While data is great as providing evidence for a hypothesis, Fink is also quick to mention that often reality might not match the simulation, and marketers should be flexible to modify the campaign or approach.

“One thing that has always been true is the reality of the test when you go full scale execution, never quite matches the test, so you have to be willing to be flexible and open to the fact that despite significance testing and prediction, sometimes the world changes by the time you bring it to market. The competitor introduces something, prices change, the global economy change, you have to be willing to go forward with your test results, you also have to be willing to modify or have a back-up or continue to pursue something else,” she said.

Fink notes that sometimes the test results could also be testing what you weren’t intending to, and marketers need to be savvy about that.

“In fact sometimes the treatment to the market that you want to do is not what you actually tested, and you need to be smart about that. When you look at A versus B, did you really test the right thing, are you getting A being stronger despite B being the right thing to do because it wasn’t quite the right test, it wasn’t really about the question you asked.

“I find that happens some times too, you’re focused on the wrong thing. So you have to get out there and trust your gut and intuition, but make sure its informed by data and test, make sure you can ask good questions and have facts behind you. The best thing is when we feel like it was the right gut decision, intuition told us that and the facts supported it,” she added.

Citing an example where Fink was testing pricing impact in a previous job, she notes what they tested, “were not right, we didn’t test the right things, we didn’t shape our tests well, and we got the right results for the question we asked, but it was the wrong question.”

“So when we went to market and we were working through the final execution plan, we realise that something is not right. Data was telling us to do this, but everything, from our judgment to our gut was saying something else. When we went back and thought about what we tested, it wasn’t exactly what we tested,” she added.

Marketers thus need to be open that not everything can be tested, but should strive hard to find the data, according to Fink.

“You can’t find data to support every conjecture and hypothesis, when you can it’s a great thing, you should try hard to find the data to give you the background, context and experience. Don’t be afraid to admit sometimes that I don’t have the data to answer this question, but I still got to find the answer.

“That’s why human intelligence is so important, data, analytics and software should enhance your intelligence, not to replace it. I think sometimes people make the mistake of ‘A/B test, B said to do this, judgement says A, but let’s do B because the data said so,’ that’s replacing human intellect, what you want to do is resolve it and enhance your intellect, and come to understanding why B or why A when the data said B,” she added.