Corporate Eye

Moving Beyond Data Paralysis in Marketing

In article written for Ad Age, Xerox chief marketing office Christa Carone discussed a topic that I write and talk about frequently — the risks of falling victim to data paralysis. Christa shared a story about a recent repositioning initiative at Xerox that was nearing launch, but she felt in her gut that a key creative piece tied to the initiative wasn’t right. Research told a different story, but she relied on her knowledge, experience, and intuition and pulled the piece.

Money had been spent and the clock was ticking, but in a demonstration of true leadership, Christa made the decision to hold up the launch and retool the creative. Sacrificing results for creative that she knew in her heart, mind, and gut wouldn’t deliver the highest results wasn’t an option.

Christa’s story is an inspirational one, and it’s worth a read. I continually talk about the risk of data paralysis and how having access to so much information can make businesses slow to act. Furthermore, data can be massaged to tell a wide variety of stories. A single set of data can be turned into a variety of charts and graphs to highlight specific pieces of information.

I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count. The CEO loves a specific product, so the data presented to the CEO based on market research is massaged to support the CEO’s preferences. I don’t agree with that practice and don’t do it myself, but it’s a reality in many organizations. Too many people are too afraid to lose their jobs to stand up and tell the true story. Instead, they tell the stories executives want to hear. The result — failure.

Bottom-line, at a time when data is easy to get and has become the sole criterion for decision-making, Christa Carone did what few marketers are willing to do today. She recognized a moment when her marketing experience, knowledge, and intuition trumped the data and made the executive decision to question that data, likely making a lot of people angry.

Christa’s goal was simple. She wanted the Xerox repositioning to be as successful as possible. Doesn’t that define a great marketer, employee, and leader? Should companies expect any less? The logical responses to those questions are “yes” and “no” but that’s not always the reality in companies today.

What do you think? Leave a comment and share your thoughts on the state of marketing, data paralysis, and intuition.

Image: Carlos Sanchez

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

There’s absolutely a place for data. I think measurement is a critical discipline that marketers often don’t take enough notice of. But as you rightly point out, marketing, ultimately, is an intuitive business and a lot – a lot – can go wrong when the data is not objectively read.

I really like Paul Shoemaker’s advice in this article in Inc on critical thinking:

Don’t solve the wrong problem he cautions through shallow framing. “We often miss the crux of the issue by drawing imaginary connections between what we see and what we expect to see.” Or, as you say Susan, between what is there and what the CEO or another decision maker wants to read into what’s there.

Good on Christa Carone for making such a courageous decision. And good on you for celebrating that. Perhaps it will encourage more marketers to step up and say no to the diktats of agenda-judged data.

I mis-spelt Paul Schoemaker’s name. My apologies.

I completely agree with you, Mark. Thanks for sharing the link to Paul’s article!

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