I work in an industry that loves its data. I am a fan of data as well, but often I get a bit concerned that we have decided that data has taken the place of thinking. Of course we all use it to make decisions, but the one thing that data can’t really do is predict the future. It gives us an understanding of what may have happened in the past, what may look like a trend, but things change. And, they change very quickly. A good example is the real estate market. The past made people feel so comfortable that they threw all sensibility to the wind and bought into the unrealistic path it was taking. Fueled by optimism and artificial demand, it kept surging, but it did have to stop somewhere. Most in real estate refused to accept the fact that the market was showing signs of softening.

In marketing, we look for data to limit our risks. Sometimes this is possible, but often it is a false promise. I have seen a trend towards asking for more and more data to be crunched as we grow more and more risk averse due to our economy and changing business climate. I guess my concern lies in understanding how much data we need to be effective.

Some marketers spend huge portions of their resources, including time and effort, on data collection and evaluation. For those with smaller budgets, this practice can preclude them from actually doing things that can better their business and brands. One of my favorite Tom Peters quotes (paraphrased) is: The problem with business today is too much talk and too little do. I agree with Tom. We often find ourselves finding ways to get out of doing, for fear of making a mistake. How often would we have progressed positively had we not waited the 6 months or so for the data we craved? I am not sure. But I do know that I often see data gathered for things we already have the answers to.

We want to confirm, justify, rationalize, etc. What if we reserved the big data-gathering for the things we really have no clue about and allowed our experience and judgment to be our data for the things we have seen before or feel very confident about? How many times were we scooped by the competition due to hesitating? How often is our plan just a bit behind the curve? I can’t blame all of these missed opportunities on data crunching, but it would be a shame to allow the thing we were hoping would provide assured success, to guarantee a failure—or worse, a “mediocre” return. Which, by the way, according to Tom Peters, should be severely punished.