Last night I went for dinner with some old friends.

I always look forward to these catch-ups… we have the typical ‘right the wrongs of the world’ conversations that can only come from years of knowing someone.

I like to think that the fascinating debates we inevitably end up having are fueled by intellect… my headache this morning indicates otherwise.

But last night’s topic of conversation was a really interesting one.

It all began when Dave, an ex trader turned private equity manager and avid tech enthusiast, brought up the buzzword ‘big data’. The main point of contention was how much influence data should have over business decisions.

As a marketer, I obviously hold some pretty strong views on the subject.

Now data is not new to marketing. Focus groups, market research, and customer interviews have been used to collect data and inform marketing decisions since as far back as I can remember.

The difference now, thanks to the internet and advancements in technology, is that much more data can be mined.

The result?

The comprehensive information regarding customers and their behaviors that we now have access to has caused a shift in the marketing approach.

And it’s causing many firms to head down a dead-end road.

You see, when data is put on a pedestal and worshipped as the single most important informant of your marketing decisions, you are limited by convention.

Think of it like this: when you try to create something based only on what has already worked for others, how can you ever be innovative?

As Henry Ford rightly said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The data said faster horses… but creativity led to the invention of the motor vehicle.

Without innovation, without creativity, and without looking beyond the data, humankind might still be trying to squeeze more light out of fire instead of turning on lights, or speed out of horses instead of driving cars.

Yet we consistently see brands frantically try to emulate the success of others, all because the data says it has worked before.

This, in my opinion, is shortsighted and will only serve to regress us towards the mean.

That’s not to say that you should forget about data. It certainly has its place–working alongside creativity to yield genuinely helpful conclusions that inform the next ‘great idea’.

My point (and my point last night, over wine) is that data cannot mean the death of experimentation. Yes it can be insightful, help us ask better questions and guide us on where to look. But it cannot override creativity.

In a world where ‘big data’ can tell you what works best in almost anything, it’s important to recognize that these answers aren’t the only ones.

Essentially, we cannot let data scare us into always following the herd.

The team here at JTN use data to draw conclusions about who we’re targeting, in order to inform the direction of the campaigns we create, the copy we write and the ads we distribute.

We don’t allow it to pressure us out of trying new things.

Get in touch if this sounds like the kind of guidance you would value in your business.