Study the Data But Then Trust Your Gut

Data drives marketing but intuition, experience and judgment are what makes sense of the data.

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By Jim Joseph


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of my clients back-in-the-day had a sign in his office that read, "In God We Trust, Everyone Else Bring Data." Despite the obvious need for separation of church and marketing, I always got a chuckle out of it. His sign even inspired a chapter in my first marketing book, The Experience Effect. The man was always true to his word, and to that sign, at every single interaction.

"What does the data say?" was always his question when asked to approved a marketing campaign.

What does the data say?

Indeed, data is the starting point.

Related: Data-Driven Marketing in 2016: Bigger, Faster, Better

With every piece of marketing, you should research your target audience, understand the marketplace, and have a handle on how your brand is perceived. Your data should lead you to an insight that you, as a brand, can uniquely leverage to make a connection to your audience. That insight should drive your strategy, which should then lead to the messaging that you deliver to your audience. Ultimately, your hope is that your customers will act.

It all starts with data, but then ...

Then something else has to kick in because data alone can't drive the entire marketing process. Data is the match that starts the fire, but it's not what keeps you warm on a cold winter night. Data is not the actual marketing; it's just the start of developing effective marketing.

Once you've used data to provide direction, then your judgment has to kick into gear. While we like the objectivity of marketing and the use of data, it's the subjective side that truly creates the connection with customers.

That's where you come in, and that's when you turn from being a data analyst into a true marketer. This is when your experience and judgment comes into play to produce results.

Related: How to Navigate the River of Marketing Data

This is when it's time to trust your gut. Data may start the process, but it's your instinct, or your gut judgment, that will finish it.

Instinct provides meaning and direction.

Instinct is an interesting trait in business people. Some come into the role with a lot of good judgment or common sense. They just naturally start with a good gut, as my dad would say. All of us, however, build experience and judgment over time. The more experience we bring to the table then the more we can trust our gut.

I'm not sure that when I started out as an Assistant Product Director at Johnson's Baby Products over twenty-five years ago that I had very good judgment. In fact, I would marvel at my mentors' seemingly flawless and effortless ability to review a marketing campaign and comment strategically, creatively, and instinctively on it. I would watch in amazement and only dream that I'd be good one day.

Well I'm not sure that the day has come quite yet, but I'm a good work in progress. I'd like to believe that I have good gut instinct now for what will work and what won't work…but it's still based on data and now years of experience.

I see the new folks to marketing trying to build their judgment. I see them watching and observing their peers and mentors, trying to learn the tricks of the trade. It makes me smile; it's one of the best parts of my job now. I hope that I'm one of those people helping to build their gut instinct.

There aren't a lot of tricks to the trade of marketing, to be honest. Just some good sound judgment along with a whole lot of creativity, all based on some data.

Related: 6 Recent Marketing Campaigns That Were Pretty Awesome

So as you go about your marketing initiatives and you look to build your business, it is important to build a foundation that's based on data-driven knowledge. Then trust your gut, and work to get more and more experience over time because that will make your gut even more trust worthy!

Jim Joseph

Marketing Master - Author - Blogger - Dad

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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