Some might say that all the fuss around big data and crunched algorithms has rushed the era of ‘gut feeling’ business decision-making to its end. Yet again, maybe it hasn’t. Take a look around and you will see the by-products of instinctive decision-making almost everywhere. Frankly, as part of the marketing crowd, it’s shocking to witness major business decisions (yes, I mean those in which big sums are at stake) still being made exclusively by gut instinct by so many stakeholders. In 2015, the gut feeling institution is still alive and kicking. 

Emotion vs. logic; Intuition vs. professional notions. These contrasting pairs have governed the way a new business direction gets the go-ahead in the past few decades. And that proves, once and for all, that one cannot exist without the other: intuition and emotional intelligence should always work side-by-side with data in shaping the future of a business. An entrepreneur’s experience is something that can hardly be replaced, any bulky sets of data one would have.

However, a healthy balance between data and intuition is hard to be found. It’s not just about the tools that grant access to data (or lack of them). Nowadays, us marketers have more tools at hand to help take informed decisions than we could ever dream of: traffic analytics, social media monitoring apps, PR audits, email marketing reports. 

We don’t measure what really matters. And we don’t simplify our lives while measuring.

Most frequent problems that prevent marketers from connecting data with real life business goals are:

Too much complexity. Dedicated marketing tools like Google Analytics or Moz are a goldmine which best shines when you know how to exploit it. Trouble is that they also come with a steep learning curve, which can be a challenge for newbie marketers – so they quit measuring altogether. 

Hiatus between business goals and marketing goals. So many marketers settle on “likes” or “shares” as their primary goal and scope in life. Failing to see beyond a definite set of metrics towards the end result and the real worth of marketing activities is a dead end for profitability – and finally throws a bad image on the profession in itself. 

Lack of confidence in VoC (voice of the customer). This is mostly a plague of non-marketing-minded entrepreneurs, who tend to overlook the crowd’s opinion in favour of their own best guess. Of course, on the other hand a good skill to have is discernment in knowing when to listen to your customers and when not to (Henry Ford — “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”)

Keep it simple; do not throw away the idea of measurement just because you aren’t comfortable with the tools you use, but rather try to choose more practical and straightforward ones. Keep it real, when mining for data don’t wander too far from the goals that bring you profit. And always strive to know your public, their needs and wants. People’s expectations and buying behaviour is something that can never be guessed or predicted accurately. Therefore, assessing it simply relies on cold, hard data.

Customer surveys to the rescue

Surveys are among marketers’ favourite tools for conducting online market research, according to a recent study by ExactTarget. They are easy to build and administer, they bring in both quantitative and qualitative data, and they are hard to beat in terms of customer interaction.

The three main areas of marketing where surveys can be employed with great success are:

Product innovation

When considering a new line of business, launching a new product feature or simply positioning on a virgin market, a wise marketer does a business demographic survey first. This helps assess the characteristics of the given market and their needs and wants, to help shape the first phase of product innovation. If there is some existing audience, use surveys to tackle their reaction to the new line of business you are thinking about implementing.

Conversion rate optimisation

On the road to A/B testing a landing page or an email, formulating strong hypothesis is a must. Website surveys help you assess the interests of your public, that can guide the A/B split experiment towards attaining your goals by tackling the most urgent needs and wants.

Voice of the customer

What works? What doesn’t? Would you be willing to recommend our service to others? These are survey questions that help leverage the VoC. The campaign of ING insurance while rebranding into NN has incorporated great examples of ‘Net Promoter Score’ surveys that achieved two goals: make people feel informed and involved in the change, and help the marketing crew shape further campaigns with the right messages.

Most frequent situations where gut feeling wins as far as surveys are concerned are: lack of traffic and/or survey sample, status quo bias, complex of authority. However, you can overcome all of these obstacles with the right tools and some guidance.