Data Without Empathy


People present a continuous mystery for marketers. People can get away with not telling the truth in surveys or focus groups. Sometimes their true preference can even remain hidden to themselves, yet to be discovered. One day a person may have a strong preference for a particular brand, but an experience or piece of knowledge could change this within the day, hour or minute.

Data is one way that marketers are attempting to gain insight into people. In the early years of corporate computing, data was limited to basic information like your name, where you lived and your telephone number. Today, with the Internet of Things proliferating our daily lives down to the moment, companies are able to use data related to your location, interests, purchasing and search histories to tailor personalized messages and advertisements. With all this data, marketers can also see patterns in behavior and attempt to predict future action.

However, data is merely rational. It has an incredible ability to draw patterns and identify interest, but doesn’t have the innate ability to understand human value or emotional reasoning behind an action.

Saatchi & Saatchi Frankfurt CEO Christian Rätsch explains:

“In the customer system of a hotel brand, my preference for crème brûlée is noted. During a stay I get my dessert of choice and I’m thrilled. I feel like a recognized and valued guest. The event repeats in the same hotel brand but in a different location. But I react differently. Because it is warm, I have a preference for fruit… What happened? My situation and mood changed, and the offer did not match up. The data lacked empathy.”

Data will help marketers discover, price, buy, locate and shape messages. It can even lead to purchase. What it can’t do is create Loyalty Beyond Reason or turn a product into a Lovemark. Machines and data will never be able to read people quite the same way people do. They will never be able to feel passion, sensuality, or nostalgia, and even if we get to a super-advanced stage in technology, the reactions from machines will never be the same. In the words of Kevin Roberts: Big data can read the lines, but not between them.