Is “data blindness” a problem for marketers? Tom Roach thinks so

Marketing strategist Tom Roach considers the future of creativity and the importance of finding human stories in an ocean of data.

Data is something marketers have come to increasingly rely on – but do we have too much of it? Renowned marketing strategist Tom Roach, VP of Brand Planning at Jellyfish, tells Attest that it’s getting harder to distil valuable insights from data because of the sheer quantity many marketers now have access to.

Tom Roach, VP of Brand Planning, Jellyfish

“For most marketers, the issue isn’t quantity of data, but quality of interpretation,” he says. “It only took 4kb’s of data to put mankind on the moon, so I’m pretty sure we don’t actually need the huge quantities of data we now have at our disposal to get people to buy our stuff. 

“We don’t need more data, we probably need a smaller amount of better quality data and a few more people who can do smart things with it. Data blindness is a far greater danger than data poverty.”

But data blindness isn’t the only challenge facing marketers in 2021; in a recent webinar with Attest, Roach spoke about the perils of pursuing short-term strategies at the expense of long-term brand building. He believes that mending the great divide that’s opened up between ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ and getting them working together is a huge opportunity.   

“We need more cross-fertilisation, pluralism and recognition that there are loads of ways things can work,” he says. (you can watch the webinar on-demand here).

2020 gave marketing a lesson in humanity

Reflecting on the last year, Roach says if 2020 has taught the marketing and advertising industry anything, it’s been the importance of the human-factor in influencing consumer behaviour. 

“Marketing’s a tiny speck in terms of its power and influence on our lives versus the really big things that actually shape and effect them – our health, wealth, families, education, relationships, work,” he says.

Brands that recognise these are the things that really matter will be able to create campaigns that better resonate. Roach cites fast food brands like KFC, Burger King and McDonald’s and tech brands like Google, Apple and Amazon as companies that have successfully managed to “humanise” their messaging and find creative ways to connect with people.

“They’ve all managed to cut through and avoid the modern marketing wind tunnel by finding their own distinctive brand voice. But I think Netflix probably wins. It’s giving us a modern masterclass in balancing the timeless human skills that really move people – creativity, emotion and story-telling – with the expertise in data and technology that are needed to reach people today.”

Advertising so good you don’t notice it

The best advertising is the type that influences us without us realising. Despite being an adman himself, Roach admits that he’s still susceptible to it. 

“Even when you know how it works you can’t really see or feel it working on you,” he says. “I’ve had to look at my banking app to check the truth; it looks like there was something that told me there was a triple rollover on the Lottery on Friday (probably twitter and email) and a combination of radio, posters, email or display ads telling me the Big Tasty’s back. McDonald’s doesn’t take any chances when that bad boy’s back on the menu.”

But what about the advertising you do notice? Roach takes his hat off to brands who consistently achieve stand out campaigns – like John Lewis with their annual Christmas offering. 

“Year after year for a decade they’ve used creativity to reach deep inside the hearts and minds of an entire nation,” he says. “Lots of brands manage to create one great campaign, some manage a few, almost none achieve it so consistently for ten consecutive years.”

A decline in creativity 

The secret to John Lewis’s ongoing success, he says, is that they always include the magic ingredients – fame, attention, story-telling, emotion, word-of-mouth – in their campaigns. “People overlook how hard the ads work to drive immediate sales over a short time-frame and how far they are from ‘just’ being a TV campaign.” 

Considering the outlook for the next decade, though, Roach believes we’ll see fewer epic campaigns sustained over long periods. 

“The marketing environment is changing in ways that mean that whilst this level and type of creativity was uncommon enough in the last decade, it’s going to be vanishly rare in the next one.” 

He concludes: “I think in 2030 we’ll look back and see it as a creative high-point from a different era. But we need to make sure the lessons we learn from it, about the fundamentals of what works, last forever.”

The Attest view

Jeremy King, Founder and CEO, Attest

Tom’s view about data blindness supports our own. Every great strategy, marketing move or advertising story starts with a unique insight and point of view about the market, and the impact you want to create in that market.

Marketers today have so much data available to them that they’re often drowning in it. That can make it hard to land on unique insights, especially when others are trying so hard to compete, often basing decisions on the same target outcomes and the same data available to everyone.

Finding insights and data sources that will actually drive impactful, bold, uncommon decisions across the vast oceans of available ideas can be a real challenge. 

This is something we want to change at Attest. By giving marketers a direct line to their most wanted target consumers, Attest empowers marketers to get the data they need, when they need it, and easily see new things that others don’t. Marketers should be able to inform intuition and dissolve doubt very easily and simply. That’s why Attest exists.

The truth is, many of the best marketing campaigns come from just one key piece of insight. We call it an ‘ah-ha moment’ and we love working with our clients to find these.

On-demand webinar: Maximising the combined value of brand & performance

Join Tom Roach to learn how to get immediate success from long-term communications.

Watch now

Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 100m global consumers. She also likes cake.

See all articles by Bel