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Do Companies Rely Too Much on Data? One Marketing CEO Thinks So

Hal Conick

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Abe Kasbo, CEO of Verasoni Worldwide, on the big problems with big data.

Big data makes businesses dumber, according to Abe Kasbo, CEO and founder of marketing and PR firm Verasoni Worldwide. Relying too much on data is a “dumpster fire of digital media,” he says.

The big data industry is certainly of ample size and is used often by businesses—Statista predicts that the big data industry will be worth $77 billion by 2023. In addition, 83% of companies report that they use big data to gain a competitive edge, according to Accenture. But there are problems with data quality.

Variety reports that Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, says that advertisers need to demand better audience measurement from media outlets. A survey by Deloitte found that more than two-thirds of respondents said that third-party data about them was only 0% to 50% accurate.

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Marketing News spoke with Kasbo about his belief that big data can often do more harm than good to a business.

What led you to believe that data is being overused by businesses?

We work with our clients to separate hype from reality and we are working harder than ever to help make sense of the deluge of available analytics, especially in our digital practice. Everyone is trying to figure out how to use analytics data for a competitive advantage. Yet, in many instances due to the availability of an abundance of data and because of the desire to use data to guide business decisions, I have seen campaign delays and even missed opportunities because of the focus on data rather than relying on fundamental business experience, which is extremely valuable and, I would venture to say, a dying art.

We have to be careful not to let analytics become a decision crutch rather than useful tools in campaigns or business innovation. I used to coach college basketball and I liken some of today’s over-reliance on analytics to a point guard dribbling with his or her head down—they have to look up to see the entire court to take advantage of all of their options, including the most efficient one. Certainly, in every case, data is vital in our business and for our clients, but it’s only a tool among a cadre of tools.

What’s the best way for companies to mix using data and using from-the-gut feeling and creativity?

Creativity in campaigns and business innovation don’t wait for or depend on data analytics. Steve Jobs didn’t look to analytics to identify the business opportunity for the iPhone or iPad—creativity drove his decisions. The Collison brothers didn’t consult analytics to help them found Stripe. Transformative ideas, like Elon Musk’s Tesla, aren’t data-driven. Creativity happens in the moment and is experiential; there’s a real spirit about it within reasonable business parameters.

Companies who have a fundamental understanding of their brand and their customers are usually more comfortable with using creativity to create new products, meaningful campaigns and venture into new markets. Ideally, insights should inform strategy and creative, but creativity gets people to buy. It’s what connects brands to consumers.

How do you use data at Verasoni Worldwide?

We stick to the saying, “Not everything that’s worthy is measurable and not every measurable is worthy.” And because there is no shortage of analytics, we’re cautious about data rabbit holes. Our guidelines for data must always have two fundamental elements: relevant and actionable, meaning any data we collect and use must lead to productive action.

We are also patient with data and insights. A customer journey suggests time and, in our experience, data over a reasonable period usually gives us more useful and nuanced insights. Insights are always on the table during campaign development and we use them to guide campaigns in conjunction with creative. Both are systematically challenged to make sure we’re on solid ground and always connected to the human element. We’re about people and agnostic about platforms.

With each year, there will be more data, more measurement tools, more companies churning out insights. Do you think that anything could slow this down? Do marketers and advertisers simply need to be more mindful of their data use?

While there are many good companies doing great work in this space, marketers and advertisers have to demand more from insight firms and platforms. Marketing technologies and digital platforms are a double-edged sword. Audiences will likely continue to fragment, especially with the meteoric rise of gaming and eSports … and as the pool of digital natives continues to grow.

We’re already seeing companies challenge big tech, as last year P&G decreased its investment in social. More recently, Lush—a company which built its brand on social media—abandoned [social media] because they were losing the human touch.

That brings up the elephant in the room for marketers and advertisers: the need to parse the ever-increasing algorithm and fake data from real human behavior data. Until big tech does a better job in delivering real audiences to advertisers and marketers, data and insights from those platforms will need to be heavily scrutinized. If platforms are encouraging business to use their analytics but the data sample is unworthy, then this represents an unacceptable risk to business. There will be a plethora of companies that aren’t born yet who will deliver more data and insights, but it’s incumbent upon marketers not to fall for the shiny new toy or herd mentality and do their due diligence.

Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.