Why Marketers Shouldn’t Ignore Their Gut Instincts

Why Marketers Shouldn’t Ignore Their Gut Instincts

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Chief Marketing Officer at Cognyte, member of G-CMO, leading strategy and marketing from first spark to successful execution 

In marketing, we are guided by the numbers, but the magic is often in what we can’t measure. Sure, technology has enabled us to quantify almost everything we touch or do. As marketers, we’re literally bombarded with data every moment of every day as we look at our audience, targeting, budgets, reach, impressions, conversions, ROI, KPIs, MQLs and probably a bunch of other three-letter acronyms that I’m forgetting right now. Each number is important because each number has meaning. But it’s easy to get engulfed in or overwhelmed by numbers. And it’s also easy to get distracted by them. 

We’re experiencing a real shift in marketing right now where we’re walking a razor-thin line between data-driven and data-obsessed. We can’t ignore our instincts and years of experience or feel like we can’t make a call without mounds of data to support it. In a sense, we’re on the verge of diminishing the magic of marketing simply because we can’t tie a number to an activity or make a perfect connection between an investment and a sale. And I think that’s a critical mistake.

There are plenty of marketing activities that deliver rock-solid value, but the measurement is soft and it’s not enough to measure the direct connection between the investment and the business outcomes. This can include activities like exhibiting at or attending a trade show, public relations, investing in your employer brand, investing in organic social media efforts… and the list goes on. Interestingly enough, all of these activities contribute to awareness, reputation and brand-building. They’re invaluable to do yet challenging to measure (even though it’s clear when they deliver an impact). And the narrative changes when you’re responsible for marketing a startup as opposed to an established brand. Each company type has different priorities and different motives. Startup marketers with thin budgets need to milk every possible impression out of every dollar spent, whereas an established brand might have a little more flexibility to explore long-game initiatives.

Now, you might be looking at my profile here on Forbes and scratching your head. I work at a security analytics software company that helps governments and enterprises extract actionable intelligence out of massive, disparate data sets to accelerate security investigations (and ultimately identify, neutralize and prevent threats). You’d think that, for me, data would be the be-all and end-all of the story. And yet here I am, advocating for the marketing community to tap back into its instincts and go back to a time when marketing was more of an art and less of an equation. In fact, there is little dissonance here. Our customers’ data is only meaningful when they have the means to connect the dots. The same applies to marketing — our data needs to be analyzed, and we need to derive actionable insights from it for the data to work in our favor. And in both cases, I believe the technology should be embraced and led by people with good instincts and solid judgment. So I am simply suggesting that marketers use the power of data while getting reacquainted with the more amorphous and unmeasurable elements of our work by listening more to our instincts. This can be an unbeatable combination. 

To get this right, here are three of my top tips that could be helpful for marketers who may have over-indexed on data and are looking to strike a better balance.

1. Rekindle the relationship with your gut. Recognize that the numbers are valuable, but so are your instincts. The human side of marketing can also deliver a tremendous impact (sometimes the most significant impact) with lasting value.

2. Avoid getting sucked into the lead machine. Don’t get me wrong. Leads are important: very important. But marketing shouldn’t be viewed as a lead machine. You don’t spend exactly “x” dollars and receive exactly “y” leads. That’s not how marketing works, and in fact, I think the chances are good that this narrow, quantitative-only approach will result in far less impact than a more holistic approach would.

3. Play the long game. The biggest bets tend to have the biggest payoffs (but they also tend to take the longest to mature). Have the patience to experiment with long-term investments in brand and awareness that might not have an immediate ROI. They could deliver dividends down the road.

There is no question that data is and will continue to be an integral part of how marketers chart their strategy and measure the success of their efforts and investments. And who knows how the ability to measure softer marketing initiatives will evolve with new innovation (and even more data). But until that day, don’t rule an activity out simply because you can’t tie a one or a zero to it — especially if you’ve experienced the value that activity can deliver in the past. Reintroducing the magic into marketing could be the best decision you ever make if you’re patient and give it the opportunity to take shape.


Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?


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