Analytics vs. Instincts


Creating an impactful marketing campaign can be a tricky balancing act.

On one side, there’s analytics. Consumers leave a data trail with information about almost all of the choices  they make and actions they take. Searches, purchases, sharing—all can inform a marketer’s efforts. “Analytics, for a marketer, is fundamentally used to figure out what customers want and need,” says Matthew Greitzer, COO of Accordant Media, a programmatic media-buying company. “Analytics help marketers figure out where to make investments and up their spend. It helps cut through the clutter.” In turn, companies are creating vast repositories of data that fuel, personalize, and optimize campaigns. Analytics enable measurements of success, spark innovation, and in essence, decode the human DNA that compels a potential customer to respond to a message.

Then there’s the other side of creating a successful campaign: gut instincts and creativity. “Don’t optimize the soul out of a campaign,” says Jon Gibs, VP of data science and analytics at digital agency Huge. “It’s important that we let the artistic vision and creative vision come to life.” Gibs says that infusing instincts allows marketers to appeal to the human mind and emotions. He adds that instinct simply means interpreting the data with creativity. “Analytics and creativity should not be separated,” Gibs says. “The two should always work in tandem.”

This delicate balancing act, Greitzer says, often comes into play when marketers are trying to evaluate unknowns or new aspects of a potential campaign. “It can be tough. A channel, say for example mobile, may not necessarily be mature enough for the metrics to tell a really concise, complete story,” he explains. “I think that’s where instincts come into play. Your gut instinct might tell you that customers are using mobile more; they’re spending more time researching and interacting, even if they don’t make the purchase on mobile. So a marketer’s gut instinct would say to invest in that channel. And that could be a good thing.”

Certainly with the right mix of analytics and gut instinct, marketers can transform their messages from simple promotion to powerful persuasion. “Marketing is really both an art and a science,” says Mark Josephson, CEO of Bitly, a popular URL shortening service. “It started off as pure art, but the numbers don’t lie. Analytics can—and do—inform your instincts.” Josephson says the most effective marketers recognize that human beings are not simply a collection of algorithms, and know that stats and data help measure performance. “The most successful marketing has always been incredible ideas grounded in truth. Data doesn’t lie,” Josephson says. “And the most successful direct marketers apply incredible gut instinct to data. It’s the difference between good and great campaigns.”

So how can marketers find that seemingly elusive balance? Gibs suggests that marketers change the way that they think about the role of instincts and analytics. “The big thing marketers need to think about [when they’re balancing their instincts with analytics] is that the true purpose of instincts is to test a hypothesis,” Gibs explains. He says marketers should simply put their gut feelings—or hypothesis—in front of the analytics team. “The analysts should indentify the instinct as a hypothesis, and then test it.” He says companies can either prove or disprove the hypothesis, and everyone can move forward with a more informed campaign and actionable metrics. “Just be willing to change what’s not working,” Gibs says. “And for the most part, I’ve found, at in least part, their initial instincts are usually right.”

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