Everyone Wants Data-Driven Marketers, But What About Intuition?
Must. Be Data. Driven.
Everything today is data-driven. It’s undeniable and impossible to ignore. It’s no longer enough for job candidates to be driven — they must be data-driven. It’s hard to believe that this is the reality — when I first learned about marketing in college, we were taught about harnessing our creativity, thinking outside the box, and building impactful campaigns that spoke to the public.
Today, the reality of marketing is that you can’t even send an email without some data-backed evidence to support it. I’ll admit, I’m the last person to doubt the power of data. I work for a data science platform and I’ve seen first-hand the incredible things data can do.
But, what happened to intuition? What happened to empathy? What happened to knowing ourselves and knowing how other people are going to react through pure understanding and perception? As a creative person with strong instincts and empathy to offer, I find I’m not using my abilities to their full potential when I’m asked to be data-driven.
Data is knowledge, but intuition is wisdom.
The Problem With “Data-Driven Empathy”
While there’s no standard definition for data-driven empathy, it’s often described as a model for emulating empathy. Remarkably, nearly 13,800,000 results appear for the term “data-driven empathy” on Google. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, empathy is defined as
“the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
If that sounds complex, that’s because it is. It seems to me that data-driven is the complete opposite of empathy in that its aim is to gain insight into a popular opinion, not an individual’s experience. It is a shortcut to making the effort to understand someone’s experiences or feelings.
You simply cannot quantify feelings. The ability to evoke true empathy requires qualitative research and a natural ability to connect.
I have a hard time grasping the doctrine that data knows better than I do. If I’m unlikely to do something myself, how can I expect anyone else to do it, regardless of the data? Intuition and empathy allow me to understand the motives for behavior.
If I think like a consumer for a moment, I find it hard to accept that my reaction as a customer is being determined by data. Like many, I like to think that I’m an independent person who makes independent decisions. How is it possible that data understands the nuances of my reaction to an ad?
For instance, by nature, I am attracted to the word “free.” Free is an eye capturer and statistically proven to perform better as a subject line. But, if the word free is used in every single subject line for a week, its power will fade. The explanation is simple: Free is supposed to be a special, desired, and uncommon occurrence. Free should be the rare treat that is only offered once in a while. When I receive free offers every day, I start to expect them and the value is lost. Free becomes the standard. The rare gift given with the element of surprise is more powerful than a gift received every day. Data is unlikely to pick up on these nuances.
What drives a business does not drive a human
We cannot be driven by data alone. We must remember that data is meant to give us a deeper understanding of human behaviors.
But what’s the significance of data indicating that we’re more likely to open an email because of the day or time it is received than by scrolling through emails and only looking at those that include our name and a question mark? This behavior is pretty intuitive. When we see an email addressed to us that seems important or personal, we’re going to pay attention to it. An overly data-driven team will blindly follow the data. An intuitive team will recognize when the data doesn’t fully represent the humans behind it and will try something new.
How to Harness Your Intuition
What happened to valuing empathy? Lately, I find I have to conceal my “intuition” amongst data to prove myself. Let’s say I had a customer-base of middle-aged women across the Midwestern U.S. who like to spend time playing online Bingo. How did I get to know them? Not by looking at an excel sheet or another analytical platform to see each human lumped into a piece of a pie chart. I observed their behavior and saw what Bingo themes they loved the most. I observed their conversations in real-time and dug into their minds. Although I’m far from a Midwestern middle-aged woman (I’m a late 20s lady from Boston), I put myself in their shoes and imagined each commenter's life.
From there, I could see what motivated them to play Bingo and what excited them about winning fake coins with no monetary value. I sought to identify with their motivation and found it similar to the pleasure I get when I start a new season of Chef’s Table on Netflix, when I watch hours and hours of motivated chefs that, ultimately, provide me with little-to-no value other than pure entertainment.
Once you tap into what drives and motivates your customer, you can generate messaging that truly resonates and inspires. Even data masters don’t run on data.
Humans run on emotion, stimulation and, you probably didn’t see this coming but…instinct.
What Happens When You Start Investing in Intuition?
My favorite part of data is when it proves my intuition is right. It’s like winning the lottery because I manifested it!
I understand the inherent need to utilize data to better understand the world. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook provide us with all the data necessary to dig deep into people's behaviors. Essentially, it’s our century’s version of the gold rush in the Old West. But understanding customers and people around you — investing in intuition — has just as much, if not more, value.
Every company that acts on the immediate urge to make all decisions data-driven and to quantify everything runs the risk of losing touch with instinct and empathy. They literally risk losing touch with reality.
As I’ve got to know data-driven business leaders and their motivations, my intuition tells me that in a few years we’ll find ourselves going full circle — building solutions to resurrect or recreate instinct. Data will never replace the importance of human instinct.
So, if you’re in the market for some high-quality instinct and empathy optimization, to maximize business insights not provided by the data, find a ENFP or INFP Myers Briggs personality type near you and give them the room to prove the power of instinct. It’s time to stop focusing so heavily on hiring “data-driven,” “numbers people” for every imaginable job and to start attracting intuitive people who have insider knowledge of how individuals really work.
I believe that if corporations begin to invest in intuition, the data would more than prove their worth. Don’t wait for this untapped resource to resurface. Intuition is all around us and has the power to drive data-driven companies further.