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The Shallow Shortcomings of Data-Driven Marketing

And the payoff of focusing on authentic vision

by Jeremy Nulik

A few years ago, I was invited to see a presentation from Merrill Lynch on customer data it had gathered for the purposes of aiding affiliated financial firms in marketing efforts. The company sent out surveys to thousands of clients and potential clients to gather what motivated their choice of wealth manager.

The results presented indicated that financial services customers cared little about portfolio diversity, years in business or firm size. Here’s what customers really wanted: a call within 24 hours of contact and clear communications. Customers ranked features-and-benefits sorts of messaging very low on their list of what matters. In fact, those qualities were seen as table stakes.

So after the tens of thousands of dollars spent on this survey, the results indicated customers wanted quick and clear communication. From the back of the conference room, I could see the sea of collective head nods. Legs crossed and uncrossed. Index fingers were placed on chins. The wealth managers were intrigued by this notion. Several in attendance indicated they planned to consider changing their messaging and talking points to better reflect what customers claimed was desired.

It follows logic. Customer data suggest that customers like X. So just say X, and they will “beat a path to your door.”

Unfortunately, this is an area in which mechanical logic has little relevance. Allow me to throw out the following examples: No one asked for the automobile. No one asked for an aesthetically seamless mobile device. No one asked for a way to connect instantly across geographies. Yet we humans have consumed these offerings with a fervor. This is because humans are more emotionally and cognitively complex than raw data results. If you want a brand and experience that lasts and greater opportunities for growth, you must do at least two things that animated Ford, Apple and Facebook: 1. Give a damn about the needs of humans. 2. Share an authentic vision of the future for them.

In situations that call for analysis of human behavior, I am reminded of an insight my good friend Judy Ryan, owner of LifeWork Systems, reinforces. She makes reference to Alfred Adler’s theories regarding the four basic human needs. Every person wants to feel empowered, contributing, lovable and connected. Humans are social creatures who create networks based on trust.

In light of this, we can see that third-party data are useful to gather. You must listen to your clients and potential clients. Your industry likely has some nuances to which you must attend if you hope to be effective in your communication. However, what is even more compelling is what your audience members are not mentioning: their unmet human needs for feeling empowered, contributing, lovable and connected.

If leaders look at what lies beneath sentiments expressed in data, what is revealed is that those words have roots in some desire for the fulfillment of basic human needs – this is true in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business contexts.

This work runs deeper than just communications. In the case of wealth managers, they could all tout their ability to call people back – on their websites, in emails, through SEO and in sales contexts. Yet if clients are not called back, the communication claim is meaningless.

Instead of echoing back exactly what data suggest customers want, leaders ought to take a moment to seek out the human need: People want to feel connected. And the strongest trust-based connections are made by sharing deep, authentic purpose and unique vision.

So I entreat you: Get in touch with the deeper purpose and vision of your brand, and you can reach people on a level that obviates the necessity of data-driven hucksterism. Lead with this purpose, and you will fulfill human needs. As an added bonus, you will be an authentic voice in your industry.

Jeremy Nulik ( is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.
Submitted 7 years 233 days ago
Categories: categoryMarketing Works
Views: 3193