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Why Will Many CMOs Fail In The Era Of Big Data?
October 11, 2016 News big data Marketing


Marketing is the art of discovering what people want and offering it to them.  The right product, combined with the right message, delivered to the right target creates magic.  It can transform even a mediocre company into a powerhouse and a market leader.

Historically, the best marketers relied on intuition and conviction. Steve Jobs didn’t conduct focus groups to find out what people want. He felt that they don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Henry Ford said that if he had asked people how they wanted to improve their transportation, they would have asked for faster horses.

However, as marketing is becoming increasingly technology-based, Big Data is being hyped and many marketers have taken to worship it as their panacea. But Big Data is not “the new oil” of the digital economy as some would have it. Data simply tells you what “is” or what “was” but you still need intuition to figure out what “will be”.

Data can make us smarter, but not wiser. And when data is applied without judgment and intuition, it can spell disaster: In 1984, Pepsi launched its enormously successful “Choice of a New Generation” campaign. No longer dominant in the category, Coke felt it had to do something radical.

So it began to develop a new version of its iconic formula, one that was sweeter and would appeal to the younger demographic that favored Pepsi.  After extensive testing which involved over 200,000 consumers, it looked like they had a winner.  All the data lined up: The taste tests, the marketing research and the sales numbers.

Of course, we all know what happened next. New Coke was probably the biggest disaster in the history of marketing.  Many might have liked the taste of the samples in tests, but nobody wanted their icon taken from them.  In just a few short months, the company beat a hasty retreat and the old formula was reintroduced.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

While l definitely believe that Big Data can help marketers make better decisions, it is not the holy grail. Data alone is meaningless.  I don’t think it’s a case of data or intuition. Big data, or more specifically analytics, is simply a tool that we can use to help us make decision. Supplemented by intuition it can be gold dust, applied without, it will misfire.

The marketing leaders of the 21st century will not be measured by how much uncertainty they can eliminate, but how much uncertainty they can tolerate. They’ll need to be fast and slow at the same time. React fast, and slow down to find their true north amid all the noise and clutter of the marketplace.

Marketers should become data-savvy, but not addicted to it. Data has its limits. It can’t parse ambiguity, and marketing is often about it. Data can give us the illusion of objective truth but customers seek something else, authenticity. It is this small, but critical, gap between data and experience that gives brands meaning. No data can fill this sliver and and create a powerful emotional connection, only conviction and intuition intuition.

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