Data's 7 Deadly Sins

Photo of Cliff Courtney
Date: 2015-07-10 13:42:30 // Categories: Advertising, Retail,
By: Cliff Courtney
Date: 2015-07-10 13:42:30 // Categories: Advertising, Retail,

While not quite as egregious as sloth perhaps, marketers are selling their MBA souls for numerical support, lest their gut be their downfall. And so data, and especially big data, is the new silver bullet. But whether silver, copper, gold or brass, a bullet is not the only weapon in the marketers’ arsenal. And a bullet not aimed properly can do more damage than good. Even the silver bullets are often best never fired.

Yet asked which is more important, gut or instinct, the most recent survey results say that 87% go with data.

Plain sinful, here’s why:

DATA DOESN’T GIVE YOU ANSWERS: What data gives you are clues. For instance, 76% of shoppers turn right upon entering a store. But that’s not an answer. It doesn’t tell you whether to put the high margin goods on the right, negating half your store, or the left, to increase your volume, to go with a center aisle, or to create a Kohl’s-like track. The fact is that you need four more data points (clues) to piece the story together. When using data, it’s a sin not to use multiple clues to tell a story.

DATA LIES: 14% of people will admit they searched for a photo of Caitlyn Jenner last month, but Google knows that number is really higher than 22%. Store traffic counters will tell you that Old Navy had 1,000 people cross the lease line yesterday. But isn’t that 300 shoppers plus 600 reluctant kids? When using data, it’s a sin not to question the gospel.

DATA REVEALS, BUT DATA CONCEALS: Chicago Bears quarterback, Jay Cutler, averaged 254 yards per game last season, only 3 less than Super Bowl winner, Tom Brady, and 37 more than the previous Super Bowl winning QB and this year’s runner up, Russell Wilson. What’s hidden? Jay Cutler led the league with 18 interceptions, more than Brady and Russell combined. The famous “Got Milk” campaign came to life when intuitive researchers realized that even when a low number of people admitted they drank milk, almost all of them really did, i.e. coffee and cereal, i.e. hidden data. Marketers get myopic about KPIs, but KPIs don’t live in a bubble. It’s a sin not to be a lot more Sherlock and a little less Watson in your approach to data.

PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS RUNS AMOK: Amazon scraps 90% of its pilots and projects. But it sure doesn’t stop them from trying. Lots of smart people, with lots of smart data, is always the fastest way to fight inertia. In 2007, the music industry hesitated on YouTube sensation Justin Bieber, allowing wunderkind, Scooter Braun to swoop in and sign him without a second of pause. Ironically, in 2011, Scooter, now only 34 but worth $50M, hesitated himself in signing K-Pop sensation, Psy who blew by Bieber to become the number one YouTube star ever with 2.3B views for his Gangnam Style video. It’s a sin not to remember that done is better than perfect.

MARKETING > DATA: In 1983, when he was a sprite 64, then unknown Sidney Frank decided to import Jägermeister into the US. Every bit of data suggested it would swiftly fail. The world wanted vodka, not brown liquids. Sex In The City had set the tone and for college kids it was tequila or dark beer. But Sidney designed the Jagerettes (shot girls) and created a college phenomenon and national Gen-X love for the so-called “liquid Valium.” Then, at 78 years old, when Absolut ruled the vodka category and the data said $17 was the ceiling per bottle, Sidney boldly doubled it and invented Grey Goose with a simple value proposition: Super-premium means made in France (by artisans) not Russia (potato farmers); shipped in wood crates like fine wine, not in cardboard containers like cheap rot gut. Sidney sold Grey Goose to Bacardi seven years later for $2 billion. In cash. Hello. Hundreds of stories like Sidney’s all point to the irrefutable fact that it’s a sin not to believe in the power of marketing to fly smack into the face of data.

INSIGHT > INFORMATION: Even big data, and especially big data, delivers thin data: She has blonde hair, three kids, and drinks pinot noir. But that’s all based on correlation, not causality. Big data doesn’t know what people feel and people are feeling irrational more often than not. Less and less they fit into a data bucket that is one of the reasons traditional segmentation is failing to help brands focus. A recent Accenture report revealed that only 20% of companies had a link between “what they measure and the outcomes they are intending to drive.” It’s a sin to drown in data and starve for insight.

WE HAVE A SUPER COMPUTER ON US AT ALL TIMES: The human brain is the most sophisticated cruncher of data. It can process, assimilate, re-program itself on the fly, learn what’s important faster than artificial intelligence, and factor in the human condition, i.e. emotional intelligence. The problem is, when it comes to data most people just use half of their brains, the left half, analytical, linear, rational. Imaging the right use for data, ideas for activating data… that’s right brain all day long. It’s a sin not to use both our right and left-brains in processing information.

Here’s the deal. Whether you’re crunching 20 gazillion bytes of data a day, i.e. 20 petabytes as Google processes, or a single byte (equivalent to one character of data), breakthrough ideas in merchandising, operations and marketing are generated through insights that can’t always be quantified or come from that part of your head called your gut. The sum of your wisdom, your experience, and intuition and yes, data clues that tell a story… that’s the way to win and win big. Anything else is just… sinful.