Data-driven marketing doesn’t mean colour by numbers

In my business, Disruptors Co, we work with a lot of large companies wanting to innovate like startups and plenty of scaleup businesses wanting to become enterprises. It’s an interesting space filled with tension and possibility.

But it can also be an environment filled with potholes, roadblocks and other infrastructure metaphors.

One of the marketing themes of the last decade has been “data-driven” marketing. As our ability to analyse and report on data, aggregate and automate processes, we started to move away from a “sense” of what works in marketing to knowing what does. Or so we thought.

But like any area of human endeavour … as soon as we feel that we “know” something, we begin to embody a sense of mastery. We take our eyes off the prize (or in marketing – the audience) and the conditions change under our wandering gaze.

As startups grow into scaleups and scaleups grow into enterprises, there are many transformations that need to be accommodated. When your market penetration is small and your addressable market is large, finding the fit between your product and the market is a process of trial and error. Often quite costly. But essential.

In this process, data will reveal the realities that research alone may not explain. For example, you’ll identify the messages that work for very specific audiences. You’ll be able to test and learn, expanding the audience and reach while refining the message and its effectiveness. And at a certain point, you’ll have a system for your marketing that will generate leads, opportunities and deals.

And at this point, you’ll be thinking “system”.

And this is where the danger begins. For as soon as you think “system”, you’ll think that marketing is a science that you have mastered, and all you need to do is colour-in the blanks with pretty colours to deliver the systemic outcomes you are looking for.

But this isn’t marketing. Or creativity. It’s accounting.

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