Marketing has been shaking its reputation for gut feel, hunches, Mad Men and that 50% of whatever activity it is wasted through an obsession with data.

However, our Editor Ian Truscott has been talking to executives (you can read more about that here) and it seems that maybe the pendulum has swung too far and that all this data-fuelled introspection is stifling creativity and risk-taking.

So, with the appropriate social distancing measures in place (so no, there wasn’t really a fight) we asked our Rockstar CMOs:

How should marketers balance their decision-making between a healthy data obsession and creative thinking?

Robert Rose

Data doesn’t drive – it rides shotgun

Eli Goldratt’s The Haystack Syndrome is a masterpiece I read and refer to often. In it, Goldratt brings up a good point about the purpose of data as information. He says: “maybe we should define information not as the data required to answer a question but as the answer to the question asked.” To clarify, he goes on: “The minute that we define information as the answer to the question asked, it means that information is not input to the decision process, it is the output of the decision process.” 

In marketing, we often ask the question, “How can I use this data to make a decision?” In other words, we use data to set goals. Goldratt suggests the opposite. We should decide, set goals, and then use predictive data, analytics, and the technology that powers those things as the information that helps us ask better questions and set new goals.

As I’ve said before, data shouldn’t be the driver of our decisions. We drive. Data rides shotgun. It finds the great radio stations with us and sings along with us. And it helps us read the maps to reach our desired destination.

Robert Rose is the Chief Strategy Advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, is the co-host of one of our favorite popular marketing podcasts This Old Marketing and founder and Founder, Chief Trouble Maker at The Content Advisory.

Read more from Robert

Jenni Young

One of my favourite phrases is ‘data kills the hippo’ (Highest Paid Persons Opinion) because people can’t argue with facts. The challenging fact for every marketeer is that regardless of where you work – EVERYONE has a view on marketing, whereas I have never seen anyone give their feedback to the CFO as to whether you’ve depreciated your assets over the right number of years or picked a fight with the CTO about the quality of the code.

I do think that marketing has a bit of a bad name as the spend tends to come up front and no matter where you start in a campaign, there is definitely still a leap of faith to be made when you actually launch.

Data should be used to help frame the problem and the size of the challenge, and data should be used to help prove the point and help guide marketers to making the right creative decisions. From A/B testing online through to focus groups – if you’re going to spend substantial amounts of money on a campaign you need to prove it works. You can help mitigate the challenges of launching a creative campaign through internal buy in and demonstrating how you will add additional longevity to your strategy and execution.

Remember that if marketing or any strategic role was JUST about data then humans aren’t needed. We still *currently* (touches wood) have a valuable part to play in the success of a business and probably more so than some departments as marketing is about making human connections and changing behaviours. Not that easy to do – and while data plays a part, it is about the subtle balance of support and back up and creative risk. That’s where brilliance happens.

Jenni Young is CMO of Tappit, a cashless payment platform for event organizers.

Go backstage with her here.

Wendy Bryant-Beswick 

There should definitely be a balance between data and creativity. Today’s marketer wants to utilize data to help make a more informed decision. From my own experience the lack of and restricted access to data has primarily been the problem. Educating leadership and other teams on what type of data marketing uses is always the first step. What’s worked for me, is to either bring in data tools that are designed for marketing or collaborate with the finance and data teams to find a solution that everyone can utilize.

Finding common ground with your internal data team is always a better path to take. That way you can work together to create measurements and goals everyone agrees upon rather than creating these in a silo. I’ve also found myself educating the data team on how marketing looks at data, metrics and behaviors to make decisions and create products. That part of the process is very rewarding and fun because in many ways you are educating another team on what marketing does and how data can assist in product adoption and company growth.

Don’t get frustrated – find ways to collaborate with your peers and you’ll actually come out on the other side with richer data and a better methodology because it’s been agreed upon collectively.

Wendy Bryant-Beswick is an award-winning marketer with 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry. She is currently VP of Marketing at Service Credit Union. Go backstage with Wendy.

Christine Bailey

Most marketers I know have always been more comfortable performing creative tasks than crunching data. This is a vast generalization, but it is one of the reasons why, in the past, the creative side of the marketing role was often prioritized over the more analytical, data side. Now we have more data at our fingertips than at any point in history and it’s the gateway to understanding what makes our customers tick.

There is nowhere to hide anymore and insight and evidence must back up your every move. Marketing has shifted from being a transactional, executional function to being an enabler of strategy.  

The good news is that the democratization of data and technology means that every decision we make can (and should) be backed-up with data-driven evidence. The increasing inclusion of AI in products promises marketers insightful reports at the click of a button. These developments free up marketers’ time so that they can focus on the creative side of their role. In other words, they should have more time to take insight and deploy it rather than spending hours ferreting around in the data.

Today’s marketer needs to have both the attitude to look for and demonstrate evidence while also having enough latitude and leeway to do the unexpected and sometimes think counterintuitively. The power of data and customer insight is extraordinary and is only going to get better, but the power of human intuition and its deployment is still a vital component.

Dr. Christine Bailey is CMO of Valitor, an international payment solutions company headquartered in Iceland. Forging a career in the tech sector, she’s led European marketing functions for Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems and was recently voted #1 woman in tech by B2B Marketing.

Learn more about Christine in backstage Q&A here.

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