Renzo Rizzo
Renzo Rizzo 6 June 2016

Powerful Tools Don’t Compensate for Weak Thinking

It is staggering how many cool things we can do in marketing today that a few years ago would have been a dream. But between the data or tools and the acting upon them stands something that is still very human and necessary: thinking. The most powerful tools are useless without it.


Most of these things are powered by the web and by the many applications that help gathering and interpreting data, and acting upon them. There is even a scary concept called “marketing automation (!!)” - a concept probably not invented by a marketing person, as it suggests that you can do away with marketing people because the process can be automated. 

I started my marketing career in P&G, which was at the time and still is one of the best marketing schools in the world. We had powerful resources that we could activate already when junior in the company, both in terms of data gathering and marketing techniques. But there was a gate to pass to access these resources: we needed to state very clearly at the outset who we wanted to reach, why we thought our product or brand would be right for this consumer, what specifically we wanted to achieve with the data gathering and marketing programs we wanted to activate. In short, we needed to do a lot of thinking before touching any tool.

Today, enormous resources are available to many more people and companies. With relatively little expense you can have “big data” at your fingertips. You can see what people search and discover a lot about their needs even without asking. You can get directions as to what to write on your site to make it appear in the first three pages of a Google search. You can follow consumers’ behaviours on line and see what they click, and construct their customer journey. You can easily program a software to send e-mails to the right people with the right content and at the right time.

And still, how many times are we (as consumers) bothered by annoying pre-rolls, hundreds of spam e-mails, tens of irrelevant proposals on the side bar of Facebook, and so many wrong suggestions from brands we follow to buy products we already own? To me this suggests that the ease of access to fantastic amounts of data and tools might be reducing the sharpness of the thinking that drive their use. We might have become so preoccupied and fascinated with the technicalities of the tools that we forget why we need them in the first place.

So how do we make our thinking as sharp as the tools it can access? There is no one recipe of course, and a full answer is too long for a short post like this. But here is the beginning of an answer: 

  1. Start with who – who is the primary person we want to serve with our marketing project. Yes, serve, not “sell to” but “serve”. For example, if we are selling cameras and lenses (or computers, or smartphones, or glasses, or skiing equipment …), are we offering something for the experts who already own equipment from us or do we do it for new comers? More in general, are we talking to a) people who have an identified need and know what to buy, b) people who have not yet realized what they might want and need inspiration and suggestions, or c) people who recently bought from us and we just want to keep them engaged? These three classes of consumers obviously have different needs in terms of content and products, and ought to receive very different messages.
  2. Focus on why – why is what we say interesting for them to listen? It may be because we have the best product for a beginner, or because we make the choice within t complicated category much easier than anybody else, or because we give them new knowledge that eventually will generate the need for our services. Whatever it is, having a hypothesis of why will be the best driver for any action.
  3. Decide what – based on the why we can decide the “what” at any touch-point of the customer journey: what content to make available and with which frequency, what suggestions to give for new purchases given the past purchases history, what features to highlight in our new product communication, what visuals and videos to develop, what other web sites and brands we might collaborate with, what discounts and bundles to offer and so on. Given the very many possible “what’s” having a clear “why” upfront is essential to decide what to do and what not to do (which is called a strategy).  
  4. Chose the how and go on with itfinally here we chose the tools to use. Tools can help us in each of the previous points. For example, if we have a good hypothesis of the “who” our buyer persona is, we can create appropriate content, and this will help us improving our CRM with the addresses of the people who downloaded it – a better CRM in turn will help improving content further, and drive the implementation of a focused e-mail program. A good analysis of key words trends, a sentiment analysis or an on line survey around a given issue can help us figuring out a stronger why that our products and services could address. A well guided organic and paid search effort can help create visibility and the necessary inbound actions to spread the knowledge of the “what” we offer. In short, when the who, why and what are clear, choosing the how – hence the bests tools – is much easier, even without being expert of each and every latest tool.

The instruments available to today’s marketers are a wish come true. With such abundance of data and tools, paraphrasing a famous T.S. Eliot’s short poem, let’s hope that between the data and the decision – between the tools and the actions – there falls no shadow, but rather our strong thinking be always applied.

Renzo Rizzo is Managing Partner of Marketing Blu, a Marketing Advisers agency who help clients recognize, develop and implement growth opportunities through effective business and marketing plans. 

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