Is Data Trustworthy or Just History?

Dave Atchison, CEO, Jove

For as long as we can remember, data and analytics have been known to be absolutely crucial in all kinds of organizations. No questions asked. And, one thing we know for certain – those with money are willing to spend in order to get it.

Back in 2012, Harvard Business Review called the data scientist “the sexiest job of the 21st century” in a headline in 2012, and it's been #1 on the list of’s 50 Best Jobs in America since 2016.

So it comes as no surprise that data scientists are some of the highest-paid professions in the U.S. What is a surprise is that many executives at those same companies don’t seem to be putting their mouth where their money is. According to a 2016 study by KPMG International and Forrester Consulting, only 38 percent of organizations are “very confident” using their data for customer insights.

Okay so, here’s the million-dollar question – why wouldn’t they trust the data and analytics they’re paying so much for?

Drum roll, please…because they’re going with another proven reliable data point: their gut. When facing an endless amount of information and attempting to analyze it, the mind overloads. (If you’ve never experienced this, it’s possible that you may be a robot.) According to researchers, the human mind defaults to “somatic markers,” or gut feelings—whether something feels right or wrong. Scientific research says consistently that judgment is more reliable when it’s blended with somatic markers than without.

When it comes to intuition, under what circumstances does it work best?

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein (Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002) say there are two kinds.

First, to make it predictable for intuition, the circumstance needs to have a structure the decision-maker recognizes. Think of your own experience as a marketer when you’re making decisions about strategy, execution, campaigns and content – all day every day. If that structure isn’t there or you don’t recognize it, you won’t be able to unconsciously draw on experience to create the “gut feeling” that guides you to what path to take. Without that, you’re just guessing — like betting on horses solely by names or sports teams based on their mascot. Fun, but not a serious strategy.

The second factor is a sort of chicken and egg situation: it’s from past experiences that help inform the somatic markers (gut feelings) so if you didn’t get feedback from prior decisions or their consequences, you’re not going to have anything for your brain to work with.

Decision-making on pure intuition is unwise because without other inputs, your subconscious is depending heavily, (or even exclusively) on emotion. It’s quick and often immediate, but there’s little to nothing to analyze so it’s exposed to the pitfalls of personal favoritism and weak biases. To put it another way: it can feel right and yet be very, very wrong. Self-betrayal leaves only you to blame – and who wants that? Subconscious fragments, poor recall, unrelated events, suggestive ideas, selective memories — without a recognizable structure, any of these or similar pressures, can slip in to dominate your thoughts and derail you into an opposite conclusion than you otherwise might have recognized.

For most of us marketers, the chance of this happening is rare. But in the instance that it does, don’t you worry – if you recognize the situation and remember what you did the last time, you’ll get that familiar feeling and know exactly what to do.

Another thing to recognize is that this is equally true for your customers. Trying to induce a sense of loss or fear of missing out (#FOMO) has become a well-worn customer acquisition strategy, based on understanding these same processes in the brain and how they work. Here are some examples: Amazon advertising products others bought or viewed on the same page as the one you’re looking at and Google including sponsored products you weren’t necessarily looking for in its search results is another. Facebook, Instagram and Bing all use some variation of this.

To sum it all up, if you’re a marketer, there’s no reason to rely exclusively on your gut without the data and past experiences to trigger your instincts. We recommend that you first gather your data, study what it’s telling you and trust your gut. It’s a strategy that’s supported by science and actually works, which is why marketers use it.

Marketing is data and performance-driven, and you should be too. It’s the only way to be a successful digital marketer today.