Instincts, Not Data, Will Push You Forward in 2014

Here are three reasons why marketing officers should think of people first.

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By Ian Lurie

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For nearly 20 years, digital agencies such as mine have been trusted with consumers, brands and marketing dollars. Chief marketing officers, however, have taken the majority of the risks and the responsibility that helped build digital marketing as a discipline. And in return, agencies have pushed over reports filled with clicks, likes and an avalanche of other data, but very little valuable insight.

The hard truth is that many digital agencies have left clients feeling confused rather than confident about digital marketing. Even though CMOs continue to be the biggest advocates of digital, it's clear that those I've spoken with have lost trust in digital agencies. As a result, digital is still dwarfed by traditional marketing in terms of overall spend. Meanwhile, Google, the Federal Trade Commission and others are beefing up regulations to restrict the way brands communicate with consumers online.

As I mentioned in an open letter to CMOs, it's time to come clean and make a confession: too many digital agencies have wrongly convinced CMOs and their marketing teams that data offers guarantees rather than providing guideposts in marketing.

For 2014 to truly be a transformative year for digital marketing, CMOs need to trust their instincts more than data points and lead big ideas. So before CMOs spend a dime on digital marketing this year, here are three of the limitations of data that digital agencies might not tell you about:

Related: Content Marketing and SEO: Proceed With Caution

When data's in the driver's seat, it's driving with its eyes closed. Over the years, many agencies let data drive the campaign, which makes digital marketing seem like a sure thing. But risk is based on reality, not reports. It's subjective, and data alone won't measure it. Data alone can't make strategy, because customers aren't algorithms. They're people, and they're not always predictable.

An over-emphasis on data marginalizes human talent. When we push data first, we marginalize talent -- your talent and mine. We ignore the fact that all the data points in the world will never replace the consumer insight of a great CMO, his team and his agencies.

Paralysis by analysis kills the creative process. Creativity must take us beyond the data, not to it. When we become hyper-focused on data, we become handcuffed to client reports, and we give up our creative freedom that can captivate the hearts and wallets of consumers. Marketing is much more than a numbers game.

Although I love data, all the spreadsheets in the world won't ensure your company's future. Sure, data is the ingredient we've always been missing, but when we put spreadsheets before people or big ideas -- we fail at marketing.

Related: Why the Rap Genius Story Is Really About Google

Ian Lurie


Ian Lurie is the CEO and founder of Portent, a Seattle-based internet marketing company. 

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