A Quick Study: Instinct vs. Data-Driven Marketing

Data-driven marketing is the biggest trend in recent years, but many companies and marketers still rely on their gut and ignore data that contradicts their efforts, leading to a need for a mindset change in marketing to use data to inform new approaches. Testing and measuring is crucial in finding what works for a specific business and a data-driven approach can lead to the highest ROI.

While marketers pay lip service to the science of marketing, many still treat it like an art.

For marketers, data-driven marketing and analytics is the biggest trend of the last few years. With so much of marketing moving to digital channels, it’s easier than ever to track, test, and measure at-scale. You can measure how many people saw a digital billboard… but not how many saw one on the side of the interstate.

But what I still see is many companies and marketers going with their gut, and either refusing to test and measure, or outright ignoring the data that contradicts their efforts.

After almost two decades of testing and measuring marketing campaigns and funnels, I still don’t go with my gut or with best practices – because these don’t lead to the objective truth.

Marketing needs a mindset Change

Your gut isn’t always right. Even with decades of marketing experience, with platforms, channels, and audiences constantly changing, your gut can inform – but shouldn’t guide – marketing activities.

Jeroen Kuppens, writing for MarTech Advisor, says:

The reality is that businesses will not be able to survive digitization with the same old approach of pushing content, or serving an ad, or posting on social media, and hoping it sticks. Using data to inform new approaches will be vital. Marketing needs a mindset change, and it’s going to get one whether marketers drag their feet to get there or not. With 80% of marketers still valuing their own opinion over what their data tells them their customers want, this will prove to be no small feat.

The upside of course, is that this data is readily available and there is every tool imaginable to help you make sense of that data. Data isn’t useful if it’s not actionable.

Your gut is blind: there are other factors influencing the success of your marketing.

One of the companies I founded was in education technology, whose customers were university students. This was before social media had really taken off, so email was our best digital marketing channel opportunity.

The universities had incredibly strong spam filters – we didn’t have much wiggle room to get it right. If the emails we sent wouldn’t be opened, the spam filter would sweep us into spam Siberia.

Instead of sending batch emails, we decided to test in very, very small groups to ensure we got it right, before we went to scale.

Even though we knew our market well, and knew how to speak their language, the subject lines we thought would win were the worst performing.

After retooling, testing, measuring, and repeating that process tens of times, we got the right ones.

The result: an 80% open rate, 75% click through rates, and most importantly, our company’s engaged customer base drew dramatically.

Are you testing and measuring the right thing?

A company approached us with the simple ask: “Can you help with SEO and email marketing?”

Even though the answer was yes, this wasn’t the right question for them to be asking.

They are in the business of buying businesses, and trying to find these through email and SEO / SEM is a long, expensive, and fruitless effort. Their market simply doesn’t use those channels in a buying capacity.

We took an entirely different approach: we set up a separate campaign with its own domain name and landing page, and used a few channels, including postcard marketing.

That’s right. Good old-fashioned paper postcards.

Reaching a business owner is already difficult, and to reach the owner of a non-digital business like a convenience store or bar is nearly impossible. They simply won’t see your digital noise.

This campaign was much cheaper than the digital tactics they were trying before, and the results were clear: their qualified inbound traffic spiked dramatically.

At one point, we had to pause our operations because they couldn’t handle the lead volume – a problem every business owner wants to have!

Even if you optimize to the greatest degree, if it’s the wrong channel, it’s like rotating your tires when your car just needs gas.

No, it doesn’t have to be pretty (or, why best practices might be completely wrong)

People become good marketers through experience, so they learn to rely on that past experience to inform what they do going forward. They go by ‘gut’ feel, or by best practices.

Best practices are simply shorthand for what’s worked for the most people the most times… but it doesn’t mean it will work for your specific business in this specific instance. It’s not a guarantee.

And this is blasphemy to a lot of marketers, but it’s true: your materials and assets don’t have to be pretty to work. If you’re not making any money, it doesn’t matter.

For Revival Cycles, a specialty motorcycle and accessory company, their ecommerce was performing far beyond their expectations. They wanted to maximize their conversions, and while we were at it, try to “make the site prettier”. We found, among other things like “creative” reporting from popular ecommerce platforms, that making the site “prettier” had a slightly averse effect on conversions.

Turns out, their customers didn’t trust something that looked and felt too polished.

If we’d gone with best practices, without testing and measuring, their conversion rate would have steadily degraded over time. There’s no one answer for every target audience.

The benefits of a data-driven marketing approach

Overall, when it comes to marketing, use your instincts and experience to guide, but not prescribe, your activities. Testing and measuring is easier than ever, and these metrics and results will lead you down the path of most return.

The good news: when a team member, client, or superior questions why a certain approach was taken, you have more than just your experience to back up your argument – you’ll have clear, measured data. Another benefit of this approach – you learn more, and about different techniques, than if you’d followed the typical modus operandi. It expands your skillset as a marketer.

And most importantly, your efforts become the most efficient and effective they can possibly be. Improving ROI is a core tenet of good marketing.

Start small… but start!

Even if your marketing is doing well, there are still hidden opportunities for improvement. Try a few different tests on what you have out there – both optimizing slight changes, and a wildcard that goes against your normal way of doing things. I promise you will be (pleasantly) surprised by the results.

If you need a few ideas on what to test and measure, call us and we can come up with 3 actionable tests to try in your marketing.