Don’t let the data drown out your voice of reason: the subtle balance of art and science in marketing strategy

By Ellie Jackson, Chief Client Growth Officer

As marketeers, we have access to more data than ever before. Data on audiences, data on reach, data on engagement. I love it. I believe firmly in data-backed strategy, data-informed testing and data-led measurement and refinement. Data is our critical guide when it comes to seeking out and diagnosing problems and marketing solutions. It helps us gently remind CEOs and founders that they are not the audience. And it enables us to refine campaigns mid-flight so they perform better. 

But marketing is an art as well as a science. And when it comes to human behaviour, science doesn’t always have all the answers. A recent episode of the ‘On Strategy’ podcast with Fergus O’Carroll was a timely reminder that data should never be followed blindly. The podcast followed the story of Replens, a vaginal moisturiser. Bear with me. This may be a million miles away from most of our specialist sectors (with the exception of HealthTech) but the lessons apply across the board. 

Replens approached The Gate following a drop in sales during the Covid-19 pandemic. The full story is well worth a listen on the link above, but in short, the agency had access to a selection of quantitative and qualitative data. They built the first creative, logically enough, on a key piece of quantitative data that ranked the top two purchase triggers as dryness and itching. It was only later, when they realised that the first creative wasn’t doing enough for them that they went back to the data – and the drawing board – and instead built a much more powerful, emotionally-driven campaign disregarding the top two factors and looking instead at what was placed a lowly third: intimacy. There were elements in the qualitative data that helped nudge them in this direction too – but it took the team stepping away from the obvious, data-led angle to get there. 

And of course, there are all sorts of iconic adverts that would never have been made if the teams behind them had trusted solely in the data and let that ride roughshod over their own instincts. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Guiness surfer ad, but there are plenty to choose from. 

We see that lesson closer to home too. Take brand architecture projects, where we advise clients how to present the organisational structure of their various brands or sub-brands for maximum value. These exercises are typically built on a lot of data from financials, to internal attitudes, competitive reviews, client concerns and broader purchase factors. And while we couldn’t make these decisions with confidence any other way, one of the most useful considerations in amongst all those spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of cold hard facts is simply what structure the internal marketing team is going to be best able to manage in the future, since the success or otherwise of the future picture will hinge on that. 

This is no rallying cry to ditch data. I meant what I said at the start. Get the data. Use the data. But use it wisely. And if it doesn’t feel right, challenge it. Most importantly, don’t disregard your instincts – they’re there for a reason. 

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