When Data Driven Goes Wrong

It’s a pretty popular idea these days – the idea of being data-driven. With the torrent of data available, there is a new expectation that it should be woven into the fabric of every decision in business. Opinions don’t matter in the face of so much data.

I am a huge proponent of data, and its use in decision making. From a marketer’s perspective, it helps us identify which programs and creative are most effective at delivering against our goals. That fuels decisions on how to optimize campaigns and direct investments to increase yield – and viola, data-driven marketing.

This move data-driven is a good thing. It minimizes decision-making on opinion or seniority. It decreases the chances that egos rule. Data to the rescue. What could go wrong?

Before data driven marketing was a thing, there was New Coke. In April 1985, Coca Cola introduced a product called New Coke in response to fierce competition and losing market share. And yes, Coke made this decision based on data. The data showed through blind taste tests that consumers objectively preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi to that of Coke. Seemed like sound rationale to the smart teams at Coca Cola – if consumers like the taste of Pepsi better, make Coke taste more like Pepsi. This decision failed to consider that consumers connect with brands, not products. Moreover, consumers rationalize decisions in their head, but buy with their hearts – and this is subconscious behavior.

Coca Cola spent time building a brand people could connect with. They did so very successfully I might add. These deep subconscious emotional connections consumers had with Coca Cola, outweighed the shortcomings of their seemingly inferior product. The consumer backlash around New Coke was swift and real.

This is a power lesson in the data-filled world we live in today. Data can and should be used to drive decision making, but when it comes to decisions about your brand – proceed with caution. Consider whether the decision impacts the subconscious, emotional connections consumers have with your brand and how a change might impact that relationship.


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