Published on 2014/05/27

Demystifying Data-Driven Approaches: Three Myths

Demystifying Data-Driven Approaches: Three Myths
Using data to inform and drive strategic or tactical initiatives is extremely valuable for institutions, but it’s important for marketers to debunk common misconceptions their colleagues may have before jumping in.
In the first installment of this series, Ram Singh debunks three myths about data-driven marketing in higher education. He also identifies the potential for a data-driven approach to increase return on investment (ROI) and improve consumer experience, the increase in internal efficiencies and the importance of organizational support.

In this conclusion, Singh identifies the three biggest myths surrounding data-driven marketing.

1. It Requires Everyone To Become a Statistician

This is a common misconception. It’s true that advanced quantitative modeling may not appeal to everyone, but it’s also true that not everyone is required to learn these skills. The idea behind data-driven approaches is to make better decisions and deliver internal efficiencies; allowing individuals to make better use of their time and resources. When an organization installs a new technology or process, it usually provides specialized resources to manage that technology or process. Data-driven approaches follow the same structure–a few specialized resources can do the job of gathering the data and conducting the various analyses. These analyses guide business decisions such as messaging, positioning, promotions and campaigns, placements and territory planning.. As a part of their marketing function, organizations using data-driven approaches often create sub-groups such as marketing operations, business intelligence, market research and marketing analysis. These functions advise the rest of the organization on business challenges and the best course of action to address them. There are various ways to establish this structure, but not everyone needs to become a statistician.

2. It’s Great for Tactical Things But Not So Much for the Big Picture

Few things are farther from the truth than this myth. Meteorologists can predict the impact of El Niño. Scientists can forecast timeframes for massive earthquakes by analyzing the movement of tectonic plates and activity around fault lines. Economists are able to forecast business cycles and their life spans. Business analysts are able to predict trends and their impact on the future of an organization.  All these things are “big picture” considerations. From a business standpoint, analysts can look at changing demographics, the way customers interact, the channels on which they pick up the information they need, the new continuum of purchase decision as opposed to linear decision cycles of the past, and so on. All these things impact an organization in terms of sales, revenue, profitability, and reputation. Technological advancements with “Big Data” promise to assimilate seemingly disparate and complex data sources. This will provide not just better insights into your own customers, but will also empower organizations to draw insights from data collected by other similar organizations, which currently is difficult or costly to obtain. Data can provide both “big picture” and as tactical insights. 3. Data is Used to Prove a Point

Technically, data may be used to support a hypothesis, but only if it is unbiased. There are countless situations in which data are either incorrectly collected or incorrectly analyzed. I’ve often come across situations where data is collected as a reactionary step, and the person collecting it starts with a preconceived idea. They go about this process to prove a point. Such data collection or analysis is doomed from the start because there’s a bias built into it.

Either through partial data collection or forced hypotheses, managers may arrive at outcomes that are detrimental to the performance of the organization. You may have heard statements like “there are no good or bad decision, only good or bad outcomes.” Wrong! There is something called a bad decision, and it’s the one that can put your business unit or organization into a tailspin.

Organizations that want to adopt data-driven approaches to improve their strategic or tactical initiatives must understand the importance of eliminating biases and pre-determined conclusions before they start collecting and analyzing. When done properly, the original hypothesis might be confirmed anyway.

A good first step in this process is to define the scope of data. There may be data elements you’re already collecting, and there may be things that you need to start gathering additionally. Once the scope is determined and purpose is established, you will find that many biases discussed above will be eliminated.


One may think that there is a laundry list of things that need to be performed to adopt data-driven approaches. However, it’s much simpler than that. My intent in demystifying data-driven approaches is to call out major factors that you need to be mindful of. If your organization can address these factors, you’ll be well on your way.

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Data Driven Marketing Efforts Increase”, eMarketer, August 6, 2013. Available at

Ramendra Singh, “Marketing Strategies to Keep Institutions in Lock-Step with their Customers (Part 1),” The EvoLLLution, March 18, 2014. Accessed at

Ramendra Singh, “Marketing Strategies to Keep Institutions in Lock-Step with their Customers (Part 2),” The EvoLLLution, March 25, 2014. Accessed at

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Readers Comments

Ryan S 2014/05/27 at 11:13 am

The cartoon contradicts the point being made, but it’s an important point to make.

Using data does not mean fudging the numbers to show the outcome you want. It means collecting the data to impartially show whether or not you are reaching the performance and outcomes originally desired.

The fact that in 2014 we’re still debating the value of marketing analytics in higher ed is sad.

Quincy Adams 2014/05/27 at 11:27 am

How can you guarantee the people collecting the date and analyzing it have gotten rid of all of their biases? Nobody is perfect and statistics are so subjective they can be spun to say just about anything, regardless of your organizations intentions.

hb 2014/05/27 at 3:39 pm

It seems like sometimes data is used as a substitute for talking to real people and making connections directly with your customers. One of the major complaints of a lot of students is that their institutions see them as nothing more than numbers. It doesn’t sound like data-driven approaches will do much to remedy that.

James Branden 2014/05/27 at 7:03 pm

This is great. Too many people are afraid of numbers, and they can be used to do so much. A little training in data analysis can go a long way toward improving an organization’s (school, business, whatever it is) understanding of its customer base

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