CMO50 2022: Is marketing leadership more data than gut?

We ask 10 of our CMO50 for 2022: How much of your decision making is data versus gut?

Art versus science, method versus magic, data versus gut – it’s the modern marketing quandary. Just how much of each really goes into the make-up of marketing execution and strategy today? In a world of everything being measured, can marketers truly still rely on their gut to take a bold bet? How do you know when to pull which lever?

As part of our profiling of this year’s CMO50, we asked the 2022 alumni: What do you consider the optimum mix of data and gut in modern marketing leadership to be? Here are some of their diverse responses.

Woolworths Group CMO, Andrew Hicks:

I think both are unbelievably important and that there is no static optimum mix. The blend required is informed by the context of the decision making. What is true is that data, or more importantly quantifiable insights, play a pivotal role in ensuring that what we are doing is more likely to connect with the customer and be meaningful and commercially sound.

Having said that, I’m a big believer in the power of intuition especially when it’s required to break new ground or transform an industry and therefore by implication may be less easily quantifiable. I’m recalling Henry Ford’s quote: “If I had’ve asked the customer what they want, I would’ve built a faster horse.”

Collective Wellness Group CMO, Caitlin Bancroft:

You definitely can’t have one without the other. It is very much the art versus science question.

Something drummed into me and which I remind myself of when I got lost in it, is that data, while it can take many forms, is just that – data. Our role as marketers is to mine and analyse data to reveal an insight/s. It’s the insights we develop from the data that are important.

Insights are those fundamental human truths based on underlying motivations and needs that drive our actions. Quite often the interpretation of data into insights requires some ‘gut action’. While data and technology have enabled us to evaluate results in real time – or close to it – then pivot quickly, we still need to place the consumer at the heart of what we do. Data won’t tell us what makes them tick, what they value, or their ‘why’. I might need to vote for a good mix of both data and gut – woven in with some luck sometimes too.

Uber director of marketing A/NZ, Andy Morley:

It’s 80 per cent gut. While data is value in helping build insights and some measurement, the science is becoming more complex and imperfect, forcing a stronger reliance on gut.

Mars Wrigley Australia marketing director, Ben Hill:

For me, data is the safety net. You need to be data led and empirical in approach for long-term success. Having said that, gut is also a data point and more often than not it’s what gives you the lightning bolt marketing moments that data simply can’t predict. I always use data to stop me making dumb decisions but trust the gut to make great ones.

Freedom Furniture GM customer and marketing, Jason Piggott:

The best analogy I can reference is that of a chef; they are technically proficient and understand a recipe, but beyond this it’s the intuition and experience that gets everything to come together – the ingredients, the ratios and the cooking technique.

Therefore, the approach I encourage is a balance of art and science – utilising data and insight to provide a platform and direction on how to approach an opportunity, then using your experience, intuition and understanding to refine and finalise how you’ll unlock it. Marketers by their very nature a normally good at taking the hard facts and soft emotional insights and moulding these together into a strategy and executional plan to deliver results.

It is crucial you have powerful sense of your marketing philosophy if you are going to rely on and apply your gut feel to the mix so that your decisions aren’t just your opinion but anchored in your approach and find the right commercial balance to unlock the opportunity.

The Arnott’s Group CMO, Jenni Dill:

I’m a big believer in both data and gut to balance precision with speed and ensure optimal impact. Too much gut creates the wild west or an ‘anything goes’ approach. Too much data creates myopic focus on performance management or analysis paralysis. The challenge is finding the right balance for each situation and each group of stakeholders.

I like to have a clear perspective on the risk of any decision then choose to balance data and gut in the right proportions to deliver the right outcomes.

SiteMinder CMO, Mark Renshaw:

To give you a percentage mix answer would say I agree with data, which I do, but it would also be a one-sided response. I believe in insights that are not just data or facts, they are new ways to look at something you may already be familiar with.

So I would say find the insights that can sometimes be informed by data, but are more than just data or gut, they live somewhere in between where you get excited and nervous at the same time.

Red Rooster director of marketing, Ashley Hughes:

Overall, I’d say it sits at 75 per cent data and 25 per cent gut. The true skill lies in bringing these two together to deliver best possible outcomes. Marketers need to be able to incorporate both gut and data. This, in turn, requires constant re-evaluation, but more importantly the need to follow up on decisions to measure outcomes.

Michael Hill Jeweller CMO, Jo Feeney:

Data and gut go hand-in-hand, or should I say – insight and instinct. You have to know the right questions to ask to get to the right data.  And too much data can be debilitating. 

I have a philosophy no data is shared without insight. Ultimately, I believe it is a combination of data, insights, and instinct. Instinct is invaluable in life, and marketing - marketing is all about understanding the human psyche.  Our instinct gets better over time, perhaps there is merit in the saying “another year older, another year wiser”.  Data is sometimes a privilege not all marketers are afforded, so your gut becomes your choice.

Foxtel executive director marketing, Michael Nearhos:

Strategy: 60 per cent data, 40 per cent gut. Creative: 40 per cent data, 60 per cent gut.

You can find the full CMO50 list, including profiles of our top 50 and Ones to Watch, here.

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

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