Don’t mistake data for real marketing insight

Marketing Insights

Most marketers would surely agree that insight has an essential role to play in effective marketing. It’s certainly fundamental to the work we do at Leader, and one of the key strengths of our director-led service model.

Unfortunately there seems to be a widespread – and possibly even growing – confusion as to what marketing insight actually is, what value it provides, and how it can be achieved.

And a significant amount of blame for this can be attributed to an abundance – or perhaps more accurately over-abundance – of available data.

The illusion of understanding

Over the last couple of decades there has been an almost unimaginable explosion in the number of data sources available to companies, and in the volume of data these provide.

On the plus side, this has generally helped organisations access more information and achieve greater knowledge than would ever have been possible before.

Unfortunately, insight isn’t really about knowledge; it’s about understanding. And in general, this increased access to data and knowledge seems to have done little to deepen insight and understanding in a way that can deliver real business impacts.

In the best case scenario, companies seem to be little better off than they were before they had the data. But in the worst case scenario, the abundance of data has actually led companies to suffer from an illusion of understanding – mistaking data for insight and proceeding with ill-judged confidence.

Driving fresh insight

One company that has demonstrated impressive and effective insight in recent times is Audi.

A recent article in Marketing Week showed how Audi’s careful positioning of its new launches has helped them outperform the market at a time when the wider car industry is struggling.

The article leads with the role that econometric modelling has played in decision making, forecasting and result tracking. But it strikes me that by leading with data and data modelling, the article runs the risk of undervaluing the really clever stuff – the insights detailed further down the article that are driving these excellent results.

These include the realisation that if you show a driver in the advert then you are pre-defining what an Audi driver looks like. So conversely, by not showing a driver you are creating an everyman / everywoman proposition. Or as Ian Heartfield of BBH puts it in the article: “You are welcome into the brand whoever you are.”

Then there are the decisions to put the product at the heart of the story (rather than a futureistic city scape, mountain path or other auto-ad cliché). To use music which is both familiar and unexpected, as a way to catch attention but hasten connection. And to treat the small car range as a serious, grown up proposition rather than the more common ‘playful’ presentation of vehicles in this class.

But none of these insights were simply plucked from the raw data, nor the research, analytics or econometric modelling.

Instead, these insights were found when talented people reviewed these inputs and added some important ingredients of their own. Ingredients like marketing skill and ability. Such as a qualitative and nuanced understanding of the marketing context – of their customers, the products and the wider market environment. There will certainly have been plenty of experience involved, not just of things gone right in the past but of things got wrong.

Plus – and increasingly neglected in the helter skelter rush to action typical of most modern companies – time. Time for discussion, collaboration and reflection. Perhaps even time to simply stare out of the window without distraction in order to think, generate ideas, make connections, find fresh perspectives and yes, reveal new insights.

Putting insight first

Inevitably data makes a vital contribution to marketing effectiveness. But it won’t do your thinking for you! Data on its own is at best useless, and at worst misleading. As with anything, the key is knowing how and when to use it.

Used correctly, marketing data should be an invaluable input into the insight process. But used incorrectly or over-relied upon, it can quickly become a barrier to better understanding (‘the illusion of understanding’) or effective action (‘paralysis by analysis’).

The truth is that while you don’t necessarily need data to generate actionable and value-creating insights, you will always need insight to turn data into effective marketing.

Turning data and knowledge into understanding and insight is one of the greatest contributions marketing can make to a business – something Audi clearly understands.

Let’s hope more businesses start to follow their example, putting insight rather than data at the top of their own success stories.

You can read more about Strategy + Insight services from Leader here, or please do contact us today to discuss your own marketing challenges

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