Data Driven vs Data-Informed – Which Should You Be?

Written by Sarah on 10th March 2016

We talk a lot about being data driven here at neatly, and using the growing amount of data that you have to hand to your advantage. Data is a huge asset to us and it would be silly to let that asset go to waste. But how much weight should we give data?

For as long as the term ‘data-driven’ has been around, there’s been a debate discussing whether we should be data-informed as opposed to data-driven.

data driven marketing

The problem with the term data driven (and indeed the whole debate) is the definition. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

“The adjective data driven means that progress in an activity is compelled by data, rather than by intuition or personal experience.”

Taken literally data-driven here means to use the data at hand to tell you where to turn and what to do. Does the data tell you that customers prefer lower prices? Follow the data and drop your prices.

Obviously, this isn’t a feasible way to run your business. Following the data blindly into the woods has a high chance of walking face first into a tree.

For a start, there are too many potentials that can go wrong with your data. Maybe you’re not tracking the right data, your data tracking isn’t setup correctly or your data could be out of date.

While everyone thinks of data as being objective, you should remember that it can still be interpreted in different ways by different people in your team.

You can never have all the data either. As much as we have more and more data available to us, it still doesn’t give us all the answers.

So you can’t just give data all the power when it comes to decision making. If everyone on the internet made decisions based purely on data, all marketing messages would consist of cats, the Kardashians and emojis. (Though we’re not far off.)

What should data driven mean?

The way we should be data driven already has an alternative term – data-informed.

Obviously the big difference is that last word – informed. Here, we’re not solely relying on the data, instead, we’re using a combination of data, gut instinct, and past experience and context to come to a decision that we’re happy with.

In this definition, data isn’t leading us blindly into the woods, but rather it’s the woods we’ve visited before and we’ve got a map and compass to guide us where we’ve decided to go.

Maybe you have a gut instinct that by putting the buy button at the top of your product page, you’ll get more customers converting. You could run an A/B test and use the data you gather to validate whether this is the case.

Alternatively, you could be reviewing data from your social mentions and notice that some potential customers are calling for cheaper prices. However, you know that reducing the prices would not only affect your margins (which you don’t want to do), it would also cheapen your brand image, so you decide to ignore that data. So you used the data to inform you, but ultimately the deciding factor was you.

You can see here that you’re still in control of the decisions being made but the data just adds another tool to your belt. Ultimately, when creating any kind of data-driven culture, being data-informed is what we’re referring to. Marketing and business always work better when they have a touch of humanity in them so don’t let the technology take over.

(Just look at what happened in Terminator & the Matrix)