Cultivating a Whole-Brain Brand – The Intelligent Brand Framework

“Creative inspiration without data-driven precision may be inefficient, but precision without creative inspiration simply falls on deaf ears.” Lovemarks Campus interviews Jake Sorofman (@jakesorofman), Research Director with Gartner for Marketing Leaders on what it means to cultivate a Whole-Brain Brand. 


In February, Gartner, an IT research and advisory company, unveiled the Intelligent Brand Framework, the purpose of which is to provide marketers with a structure for balancing data-centric and human-centric approaches when planning marketing investments across creative and operational disciplines. Helping marketer’s to avoid focusing on one area, particularly insights from big data, without consideration for implications and tradeoff it might have for an organization’s broader goals. In an interview with Gartner’s Jake Sorofman, Lovemarks Campus gained further insight into Intelligent Brand Framework, including its motivations and the importance of not losing site of the wider emotional-data picture.

Lovemarks Campus: What drove you to create the Intelligent Brand Framework?

Jake Sorofman: Maybe just a touch of frustration with the overstatement of the Big Data promise. Don’t get me wrong: we’re believers in the power and potential of big data, but not in isolation from other disciplines. There’s a tendency to overweight what’s bright, shiny and new, while underweighting some of the enduring fundamentals. In doing so, marketers deprive their brand of half a brain. We find that the highest performing marketers achieve a sort of balance across all of these disciplines, strategic and operational, data- and human-centric in orientation. They cultivate a whole-brain brand, so to speak.

LC: Why should human-centric aspects of the Framework be considered?

JS: Because you really can’t imitate human instinct, emotion, judgment and inspiration. It’s so fundamental to the creative process. Innovations are often validated by data—and sometimes the initial inspiration comes from data—but, more often than not, these breakthroughs are very human moments. It’s an early-morning insight. It’s a grassroots idea. It’s stumbled-upon serendipity. And, on the engagement side, audiences increasingly expect brand dialogues that are human scale and voice. Of course, data and technology enables these dialogues, but the exchange between brand and audience is more human than ever.

LC: What are the risks of marketers focusing their outputs on Big Data? 

JS: Like the day trader dialled into their intraday data, marketers can miss the larger patterns and opportunities forming around them. There’s the very real risk of becoming myopic, of asking too much of data, in the service of innovation and business advantage. It’s important for marketers to recognize that data is powerful context, but it’s the content that makes the emotional connection with audiences. Creative inspiration without data-driven precision may be inefficient, but precision without creative inspiration simply falls on deaf ears. Marketing is, to use the cliché, very much both art and science.

LC: Are there examples of brands that cross-over between domains / competencies? Or should brands be focusing on delivering on one domain well?

JS: Yes, the best brands—the real category leaders—are mature in all of these areas. But we recommend starting by identifying your power center and your flex zones. Where are you preternaturally strong by virtue of hardwired and hard-earned core competency? Which zones are within your reach based on where you have potential for expanding existing capabilities? Which ones represent your risk zones? This is where you should make deliberate and decisive investment for growth. This applies to both organizations and marketing leaders themselves. The model can be applied at the macro and micro level.

LC: How have marketers responded to your Framework?

JS: It has definitely struck a chord. Marketers seem to recognize an imbalance ripe for correction.

Jake Sorofman is a research director with Gartner for Marketing Leaders, from Gartner, Inc. Read Jake’s blog and follow him on Twitter @jakesorofman.

More About the Intelligent Brand Framework

As Gartner’s Jake Sorofman and Andrew Frank explained on the HBR Blog, the Intelligent Brand Framework spans four domains representing basic marketing competencies: 

‘Data-centric’ where data sources come together to help us see patterns, make predictions, take action, measure results, and correct courses to optimize strategies. ‘Human-centric’ where data may play a role, but patterns are discerned and action is taken primarily through human judgment, emotion, intellect, and moments of inspiration.

‘Strategic’ the domain of the “what” and the “why,” where marketers use a combination of data- and human-centric practices to hone in on the best ideas.

‘Operational’ the domain of the “how,” where marketers use automation and human beings to deliver the right offers and experiences to the right customer at the right time toward the goal of optimizing engagement and conversion rates.

But as Sorofman and Frank explain, it’s the intersection of these domains that reveal the real strategic leverage points that represent the advanced competencies of the modern marketer. They are: 

‘Observation’ where customer behavior reveals new insights. These insights are found through traditional methods such as focus groups, surveys, panel and census data mining, and emerging approaches such as digital ethnography and text analysis.

‘Engagement’ where impersonal brand messages become more authentic human dialogues. Here, marketers engage in social interactions to surprise and delight customers and, ultimately, to humanize a brand.

‘Inspiration’ where moments of human genius are captured, indexed, and harvested for strategic advantage. Marketers use gamification, crowdsourcing, natural language processing, and collaboration to tap into the collective intelligence of human beings.

‘Automation’ where machines allow us to achieve new levels of speed and precision by using data to target offers and experiences across channels and analytics to close the loop for continuous optimization based on measured effectiveness.