David Phillips explains why you should never, ever have a data strategy.
In this age of big data it's easy to believe that we inevitably understand more and more of the world around us. In fact, the opposite can be true. We can become blinded by the data we have to the realities not covered numerically. So how do you uncover your blind-spots, how do you use data smartly, and why should you never, ever have a data strategy? Here are my thoughts.
Having worked with data for a long time, both with our clients and also within our company, I know data’s limitations and I’ve noticed how we have come to have a weird relationship with numbers: they cause us to have blind spots.
"Marketing is not a science like physics where there is a right and a wrong answer. It's more like weather forecasting - there are patterns of behaviour from which we can learn" (Sam Gaunt, Head of Media, Lidl)
3 reasons why you shouldn’t have a data strategy:
1. Data strategy is not a thing
It doesn't make any sense as a concept. It's like saying you have a 'sockets and wrenches strategy' when faced with a broken-down car.
Data is a means to an end, not the other way around.
2. Blind-spots are the downsides of a data-first mindset
We’ve moved to an era of ‘data or it didn't happen’. We need to recognize that all data is limited, in that there are things it cannot tell you. Or, more frequently, it creates the impression of being a holistic picture whereas in actual fact it isn't. Take the 2016 US elections where Trump surprised the entire world by being elected the 45th president of the United States. All the data pointed to Hillary Clinton but the data wasn’t showing us the complete picture. (You can read about my thoughts on this here.)
The problem is that once you prioritize what you see, you de-prioritize what you don’t see, causing blind-spots.
This has become even more evident with the growth of digital data where reams of data are quickly available. We focus on things that give us data, rather than on what our customers want, as highlighted in this Marketing Sherpa article.
3. A data-created brand crisis
Not only are we potentially missing the complete picture and prioritizing the wrong things, we are creating our own brand crisis by focusing on (the wrong) data. With the growth on online activation, the rise of white-label products, with the reduction of purchasing friction through online shopping and voice assistants, branding has become more important than ever. When almost any product can be delivered to your door within a day or so just by talking into a speaker, getting someone to say your brand vs. someone else’s (or Amazon’s own brand) is vital. And yet, blinded by data, too many brands are doubling-down on short-term thinking and harming their brands and their businesses as a consequence.
So, what should you do?
1. Choose a business strategy over a data strategy
Identify which parts of that strategy can be informed by your data assets and then see where you have blind-spots. Determine whether the blind-spots are in strategically important areas that would be helped if you had more data. This will help you overcome 'number bias', where we think something must be true because it's a number.
2. Realize what it is, emotionally or politically, that data is actually providing
We need to be very conscious of the role that data can play when making decisions. The role of data is to help us make decisions, it does not make the decision for us. We have a tendency to automatically consider data to be facts, making it difficult for us to contradict an argument that uses it. And yet we know – at least at some level – that not all numbers are factual.
Not getting too caught up in the data will help you balance its relative importance around any decision and instead provide you with a better perspective.
3. Fix the blind-spots
As mentioned before, the key is not to pretend blind-spots aren’t there, but instead to identify them and find a solution. Once identified, you can get the data, tools or support you need to address them.
We’ve been working with brands, broadcasters and agencies for ages, so if you are having a hard time convincing your team to focus on a business strategy vs. a data strategy, or not sure how to fix the blind-spots, we can help.