Insight-Driven Marketing – The Intention/Reality Gap

Those who know me will confirm that I am an “accidental influencer”. I’m just somebody who’s passionate about customer experience and business value who started sharing what I was learning on these subjects, which then earned me recognition as an independent voice. SAS are one of the companies who value my opinion, and they’ve just sent me their white paper “Darkness of Digital Shadows” and supporting infographic. It talks about how analytics can be hampered by trying to interpret the shadows rather than the substance of the customer experience and got me thinking about the intention/reality gap of insight-driven marketing.

One of the dangers of my being around so long in my field of expertise is that I think I know the solution when confronted by a business problem or a “stretch” marketing ambition. My objectivity can be compromised by my experience as easily (and possibly more!) as it can be aided by it.

It’s one of the reasons why I love the customer experience business discipline – it’s dynamic; by definition it’s outside-in and omnichannel. It’s not about what WE DO TO customers; it’s about what THEY’RE DOING. I must not assume that I know!

How did the retail sector get in the mess it’s in? I’d argue that what we’re seeing today is the result of key strategic decisions made up to 20 years ago. Some leaders prioritised short-term sales and bonuses in the good times and then savagely cut in the bad times, compromising the future sustainability of their brand as the new omnichannel/customer-empowered/GDPR world opened up.

Isn’t that just hindsight? Well, that’s my point! We have to learn from these mistakes. One of the most inconvenient truths that business leaders must face is that the way we got to our senior position IS NOT going to work in the future.

Commentators agree that the business cycle has accelerated and that data has multiplied exponentially. WE HAVE GOT TO GET MORE INSIGHT-DRIVEN.

One of my clients ‘banned’ gut instinct a couple of years ago. He told his people that they had good data and if they had a great idea then it could be substantiated by data-driven insight. I thought this was brave at the time, but I’ve realised that he got this before I did!

The SAS white paper “Darkness of Digital Shadows” highlights numerous Intention/Reality gaps, especially in analytical capabilities, ability to personalise, application of Artificial Intelligence, and attribution of success measures. These are brilliantly summarised in their infographic.

My overall take from this is that companies are still operating tactically and not addressing key strategic challenges. Customer centricity is a journey that many companies are only just starting – how many great companies must go through painful cutbacks or fail completely before we face up to the seriousness of this?

Who’s going to succeed?

We need to recognise that becoming insight-driven is a business imperative NOW. Those who will win and keep winning will have a “closing the gap” CULTURE of insight – recognising that there’ll always be a gap because the customer experience and channels/media will probably evolve faster than our transformation programmes can deliver!

This is not just a project for the techies and analysts hidden away in the data science department. It’s not just “marketing optimisation” (probably somebody else’s problem). It’s also not just about agile processes or ‘going digital’.

The White Paper tells us that 93% of businesses don’t have the analytical capability to accurately predict what individual customers will want. Most models of business change theory agree that for transformation to happen there has got to be sufficient pressure for change – a burning platform. I’d highly recommend that you critically read this report and start being an agent for insight-driven change by highlighting the burning platforms in your business. In my view doing any campaign “because we did it last year” is a nail in your company’s coffin.

If you’re one of the 7% I’d suggest you keep reminding yourself of my opening point – the way you got to your position IS NOT going to work forever! Keep learning; stay open-minded; interrogate the data and let it inform your decisions as you navigate your way through this new business landscape.

SAS has resources to help you. The Darkness of Digital Shadows reports can be accessed here:

White Paper:


Press Release:


This blog was produced as part of the SAS Collaborators Programme.