Conventional marketing wisdom states data is everything. In a world where marketers have access to almost unprecedented amounts of information, data can tell us nearly everything concerning customer behaviour.

For example, instead of spending days creating customer personas – largely based on educated guesswork – you can accomplish this process in a matter of hours using data you probably collect already.

This information makes marketing much easier but, unfortunately, comes with a couple of downsides.The Cambridge Analytica scandal was a wake-up call for many marketers – including me. I was especially surprised when I exported my Facebook data file and saw how much information the organisation held.

The resulting fallout from the scandal showed just how angry customers were. Showing that we should be less intrusive about our information gathering, consumers started seeking brands which demonstrated more responsibility.For example, one study revealed more than 80% of individuals felt companies had a responsibility to be transparent on social media. Moreover, almost 60% believed brands were “morally obligated” to demonstrate transparency.

This move towards accountability doesn’t necessarily mean that companies should collect less data about their customers however. Instead, they should be more honest about it.Data gives companies great insights into the mind of the consumer but often at a cost. In research published by the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) Council, the organisation discovered more than 40% of marketers admitted to being overly-focused on driving campaigns – instead of building relationships. Moreover, almost a third stated they think of customers in terms of “targets, records, and opportunities.”

With each new aspect of audience data, marketers are closer than ever before to understanding their customers. The irony is, becoming overly-focused on this information can result in firms dehumanising their consumers.

In this digital landscape, companies should now understand that customers have needs, feelings, and aspirations. Ultimately, we don’t need customers – we need advocates.

Data gives marketers the opportunity to understand their customers. Yet, it is so very easy to see these individuals as columns on a spreadsheet. Instead, recognise that each entry is a person – and forming relationships with them will pay off in the long run.Creativity is the backbone of effective marketing. Without this aspect, every advert, product, or campaign would follow a strong data-driven formula. After all, if something isn’t broken, there is no need to fix it.

However, while arguably effective, this system stifles innovation. According to a survey of marketing decision-makers, more than two-thirds of respondents stated that creativity was being killed by a “measurement culture”. Moreover, 64% stated this focus on measurement caused senior managers to refrain from supporting brand-building.Creativity is an important aspect of marketing as it leads to brands being memorable. Old Spice would not have been the brand it is today without its tongue-in-cheek videos. Moreover, we wouldn’t associate ‘Just Do It’ with Nike or participated in the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign.

Marketing data is safe and gets results. However, creativity – while sometimes risky – has the potential to achieve so much more. Therefore, a balance is required to achieve results but also allow for innovation.Customer data is an exceptional resource but has the potential to stifle creativity and lead to dehumanisation if excessively relied on. Fortunately, this is a problem which is easily rectified. Sometimes, all is required is to take a step back and ask if the needs of your customers are really being met.

If data-blindness has led to your consumers being nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet, it’s time to reassess your strategy and reintroduce creativity. As well as experiencing better results in the long run, you’ll probably also have more fun.Companies should now understand that customers have needs, feelings, and aspirations. Ultimately, we don’t need customers – we need advocates.

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