As I was preparing for a recent pitch, I once again felt creeping inside me that insidious need to support, with well-researched data, of course, every single strategic decision our agency was recommending. Therefore, as conscientious professionals, we proceeded to attach to the proposal plenty of charts and tables that not only covered the local market, but also expanded into the realm of global trends and all sorts of statistics and additional information. The more, the merrier! To make a long story short, we won the pitch.
To tell you the honest truth, I seriously believe that, irrespective of that data overload, our proposal made a lot of sense, as it clearly showed a profound understanding of the industry and of the desires and expectations of our audience.
When we think marketing, we know data is very important, it’s just that I feel that true success stories actually reinvented data, not followed it.If Starbucks had consulted and followed available data, it would have never been created. What kind of research study indicated Americans were willing to pay $3.25 for a cup of coffee in a disposable cup? What global trend showed that graphic design and a new language on a menu board would drive a whole cultural phenomenon, and would simply bring down boundaries globalizing terms, such as barista and venti.
As I made it clear on a previous blog, it’s not that I despise or dismiss data; on the contrary, I know it is a reflection of reality and, as such, it is important that we understand it. However, modern marketing requires creativity, not to win a Clio, but to challenge that reality. Creativity to produce concepts that, despite challenging existing data, would justify charging a premium price for a product or service in a market where the only thing that costs a few more cents is, indeed, perception. Creativity to add value to what looks commoditized. Creativity to find that single unique element that makes a product exclusive and different.
Hard data doesn’t reflect innovation, forward-thinking concepts or the courage to create them. It only reflects the reality the consumer is familiar with. To a certain extent, our job is to reinvent that reality. That is the paradox. Data serves to perpetuate a reality that should actually change. It is also designed to serve the interests of those who generate it – industry associations, corporations and research firms that depend on that data to justify their agendas.
I remember that over 20 years ago, a client conducted very expensive research to prove to the Board the importance of launching a specific project. He did not pay attention to the results of the study; he went along with it to meet a need. I’m not questioning the validity of my client’s data or project for that matter. I’m only saying that the study simply ratified what he already knew, and that without it the Board would not have believed him.
As a matter of fact, I belong to a guild whose survival depends on the data it generates. The more tables and charts I add to my presentations, the more credible I am to my clients. We could say that data makes the road easier to tread on, but it isn’t the road itself.
Life isn’t that complicated.We tend to complicate it to justify the immense machinery we have built around it. At the end of the day, good marketers have more than an infinite source of information at their disposal; they have INSTINCT, a rare commodity you won’t find in any available research study.
Good marketers, and allow me to include in that category entrepreneurs, big and small, who went against all odds to pursue a market opportunity and conquered it, have a sixth sense; they know how to plot a winning course, even if research proves otherwise. They simply use research to pave the road, never to rely solely on it.
Let’s prove the above with an example from a recent edition of Time Magazine. In an article about healthy food habits, it mentions a study conducted by Taco Time, a fast food chain in Washington State, which indicated that adding calorie counts to restaurant menus had no impact on diners’ choices (please note who is conducting the study and the outcome of its results). Had it been just for the results of this study, there wouldn’t be any healthy options in the fast food industry today, which is ironic considering the wealth of available data on healthier choices incorporated in their menus.
I am not even suggesting, dear reader, not to hear anything, see anything, or say anything. I am only recommending you to add a touch of instinct to your data. No doubt, someone out there will end up using your case to support his or her next great idea!
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