On Big Data and Big Ideas

Big data.  Big ideas.  Both are the realm of marketers these days.  It seems like most of the talk in the industry these days is about data.  But which one is more important?

To clarify, by ideas I mean concepts for campaigns designed to inspire, engage and persuade the people with which a brand wants to do business.

Big data in this context refers to everything that can be collected and measured about a brand’s target audience.  Depending on the depth of a brand’s datasets, this could include everything from basic demographic information to details about consumer’s passions, shopping habits, interests, values, to maybe even their favorite colors.

As to the question which is more important, here’s my view: big ideas trump big data every time.

Now, for the purposes of discussion I’m positing this question as an either/or, when in reality you need both. If you’re not comfortable working with data to identify key insights to achieve specific business objectives, your career in marketing won’t go very far.  And rightfully so.

But there’s a larger point to be made that I think gets lost in today’s data revolution: people are more than the sum total of their demographic groups, shopping habits, favorite TV shows, hobbies and interests.

Think about the products, services, and forms of content (TV, books, movies, music) that have transcended their original target audience or purpose to achieve mass adoption.  An idea took hold that captured the imagination and spread; that’s what great marketing can do.

We sell people short when we assume they only can be inspired by what we know about them.  Human behavior can not be reduced entirely to a spreadsheet or Tableau dashboard.

By all means marketers need to build organizations rich in data.  Ideas must be grounded in specific insights about the business to be effective and ownable.  To do otherwise is nothing short of marketing malpractice.  But in our rush to quantify human behavior, let’s never lose sight of what attracted many of us to marketing in the first place:  the enduring magic of a big idea.


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