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Can your marketing be effective without data? Yes, absolutely. Marketing has been around for hundreds of years. Modern marketing certainly has been around for decades. Technically, marketing started when the first store was invented, when a merchant was shouting out his wares to the passers-by. Marketing has functioned without data analysis capabilities for a very long time now.

What are the conditions under which you can effectively market without data?  

The first condition is that you lack scale

Meaning you can talk to customers all the time and get a true sense of what the customer actually wants. This is not new, even relatively big companies in decades past were able to talk to customers, do surveys, do focus groups, things like that, just get a sense of what the customers actually want, and actually need. Today, that’s a little bit harder. But if you’re okay, with not becoming a massive conglomerate overnight, then yes, you can market without data.

The second condition is that data is not an essential ingredient to your business

If your business is a data-based business, then obviously you’re going to need to market with data. If it’s not, if what you do is you just love to make people happy by making a certain kind of food for example, then you can market without data, because the data is not an essential ingredient to your business. The third condition is having a ceiling on your growth. if you’re okay with there being a cap that when you hit it you’re not going to grow, then you don’t need to use any data to market, other than what you do when you’re interacting with customers on a daily basis.

Marketers have marketed without modern data systems for decades, if not centuries, and the most successful ones stayed in tune with the customer. They talked to customers, they were out in the field every day, they were at the storefront every day. They were talking to people every single day, about the business, about what the customer needed, and things like that. They guessed right and they guessed right a fair amount of the time. They were able to make a product a hit because they guessed what the customer wanted. Steve Jobs was legendary for this. He guessed what people wanted and a fair amount of the time he was right. Even things that he wasn’t necessarily right about at the time eventually ended up being reasonably right guesses. For example, the Newton was their handheld device back in the late 90s and it didn’t do very well when it first launch. But the handheld device with machine learning recognition, which was very primitive at the time eventually became the iPad. Steve Jobs was known for being able to guess what the consumer wanted. That said, there are tons of cases where companies did not guess right about a product. Look at New Coke, for example. You might remember that Coca-Cola tempted to change their recipe and it didn’t go so well. That failure is used as a cautionary tale for other brands.

Today, guessing is a lot harder to do for a couple of reasons

One major reason being smartphones and smart devices – these things have taken over our lives. They are consistently transmitting a lot more data, which means that if you choose to not use data as a company, you can bet your competitors are. They will have a substantial competitive advantage over you in terms of what the customer is saying, what the customer is doing, and what the customer is asking for. Companies have substantially less appetite and tolerance for risk these days and don’t want a “guess” at what customer want. They don’t want to waste years and potentially millions or billions of dollars on a product won’t be successful. Data is absolutely essential to marketing and product development so that you have a guaranteed hit or as close to a guaranteed hit as you can get.

Can you be effective as a marketer without data? Yes. But it is much, much harder than it used to be. You have to work for a company that is extremely risk-tolerant because you’re going to be guessing all the time –  and there’s a good chance you’re not going to guess correctly. There are very few people who are in the same league as Steve Jobs, have great product instincts, and can successfully guess what customers want – in any industry these days. If you’re not Steve Jobs, you should be using data in your marketing. 

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