The author is the President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations.
The demand for data is stronger than ever, but for some senior communications and marketing executives, trusting your gut may trump the data, according to a new report by the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm. In “Managing the Digital Age: A Dialogue with CCOs and CMOs,” 22 senior communications and marketing executives, from a wide swath of industries, were interviewed to understand their specific challenges and opportunities around digital and data.
The amount of data available to communicators and marketers is astounding. International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts an increase of 12.6% from 2016 to 2017 in worldwide revenues for big data and business. According to Harvard Business School professor John Deighton in DMNews, data-driven marketing spend is a little under 20% of the $1.3 trillion total annual marketing spend in the United States. Sophisticated data modeling and analysis can help determine what components of a campaign or operations influence behavior.
Dubious of Data
But not all respondents wanted to take a ride on the big data train. Some were skeptical of the data or were more likely to rely on their own experience, the customer experience or instinct.
“Big data can be bad; it can become very paralyzing,” said the head of marketing for a food services company. “You’ve got to stay low to the ground and keep a pulse. I’m a big proponent of using gut and instinct as an actual consumer myself. You’ve got to literally be on the ground, thinking and acting like your target audience. So we don’t mine extensively on data.”
One automotive executive takes a different approach. Instead of pulling insights from the data, he commissions the research to confirm his gut instinct.
“I’m doing it a little bit differently,” he said. “I have a gut feeling and say, ‘I think this could be the way. Could you check and prove by media [data] or by some intelligence if this would work?’ And then people will tell me that we can keep it or this way I will not achieve the goal. But if we are on the right track, I rely on the data.”
A communications executive for an automotive company echoed the perspective that a leader’s firsthand knowledge and subjective points of view are essential to understanding the meaning of big data.
“Besides all of that data, we are still talking about human beings and sometimes a gut feeling is still needed,” he said. “I think gut feeling is much more important then [in a crisis]. You need the data, but at the end you have to decide because people sometimes react differently than the data says, especially in a crisis situation.”
Striking a Balance
Some executives we interviewed sought to find a balance between trusting their gut instinct and relying on the increased availability of data.
“We don’t mine on data alone,” said the CMO of a consumer packaged goods company. “I’m a big proponent of using a balance of [data] and instinct as a consumer. The CMO is a consumer.”
Behavioral science was one way that the interviewees tried to get in the heads of their customers to find out what they are thinking and doing. Because of how much data hits organizations daily, being strategic in managing the information was key for some, especially in this rapidly changing digital environment.
No Substitute for Experience
Interviewees also admitted that they needed to improve their knowledge of the customer’s experience. One repeated suggestion from the interviewees was to have executives learn more about their customers’ experiences by having the same experience themselves. One executive from a fresh food products company suggested CMOs should immerse themselves in technology, product, and data because to fully understand how the consumer interacts in the moment, they have to be users themselves.
While this report does not represent all communications and marketing executives, it’s clear that there isn’t one way people are doing digital or managing data. This isn’t to say that not relying on data is bad. Both Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have turned to their gut in decision-making, rather than the data, and we see how well their decisions have turned out with the success of both Amazon and Apple.
Navigating the waters of digital is not easy when you’re sailing on a constant sea of change. As the rate of adoption continues to increase and more customer-driven technologies appear, companies have to stay ahead of the game and ensure a strong data management system in their organizational strategy, while still relying on their gut instinct to make decisions.
To download the full report, please visit http://www.instituteforpr.org/managing-digital-age-dialogue-ccos-cmos/
Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, is the President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), an independent nonprofit foundation that focuses on research that matters to the public relations profession. Formerly, she was an Associate Professor of Public Relations at Appalachian State University. McCorkindale received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in marketing from the University of Southern Mississippi, a master’s degree in corporate and public communication from the University of South Alabama, and her Ph.D. in communication from the University of Miami. She lives in Seattle, Washington.