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Is it the end of strategy at the hands of big data?

By The Saint

The sheer quantity of information we leave behind, like a Hansel and Gretel-esque trail in the digital world, is phenomenal. One tweet alone for instance leaves over 130 signals; which means an average person will leave over 40,000 signals in two months! Google, undoubtedly the biggest library of content available, was used for over 11.2 trillion searches in 2015.

With this abundance of data, it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that the world will be taken over by robots, artificial intelligence and algorithms in the imminent future. Does this mean that strategy as we know it will cease to exist? Will our marketing campaigns be computer generated, predicting results and manipulating human behaviours to reach a predetermined conclusion?

APG recently held an event with four experts sharing their thoughts on the topic. Here’s what we learnt.

Digital Mystic Meg

Whether we know it or not, big data has had practical applications for a long time. It’s the explosion of our digital capabilities that’s brought to the forefront, so it’s hardly surprising that most companies are trying to utilise this data to help maximise revenue.

Supermarkets have proactively used the data they have gathered to understand our buying patterns and used the information available to predict what we will buy in the future; by optimising store layouts, they have been able to increase revenue without the need for extensive user testing.

An evolution of digital marketing

Lazar Dzamic from Google Zoo believes that up to 60% of planning could be automated. He believes that this will be mainly the dull and uninspiring aspects of the trade which would allow humans to focus on delivering great creative. We’re starting to see this in programmatic campaigns, as well as an increase in AI technology such as Facebook Chatbots.

This is certainly supported by the advent of marketing automation platforms such as HubSpot . Data is used to understand user journeys, anticipate their next move and gently direct them in making a rational decision to buy. Hyper-targeted campaigns tailored at the individual means each user will receive personalised messages and user journeys based on their activity. In turn, when done correctly, a significant ROI can be seen and an increase in customer loyalty and cross-sell opportunities.

The human condition

On the other side of the coin is human emotion. No matter how rational our decision making, give us some kittens or puppies, we melt.

In fact, Les Binet of Adam&EveDDB argues whilst data is valuable in driving the rational decision, it is the emotion that will generate profit. He states appealing to this rational side can in fact mean that you end up chasing short terms gains which result in an increase in volume of sales. However, volume is a cost to the business but long term brand building will reduce price sensitivities and drive profit margin.

An obvious example is John Lewis’ Man on the Moon advert. It is arguably one of the most emotional campaigns of last year that was indiscriminate in audience and appeal, and yet it boosted their sales 5.1% to over £1 billion.

This makes data and strategy polar opposites; so does that mean that one will ultimately render the other redundant?

Rational marketing, emotional campaigns

As advanced as humans are, we are irrational, illogical and spontaneous. Whilst robots are able to analyse situations and react appropriately, when faced with human spontaneity and emotion, they struggle to react appropriately. This means that data cannot be independent of strategy. As Shorful Islam of Stream Intelligence so eloquently puts it: “Data without strategy is pointless. Strategy without data is dangerous”.

Data should be seen as a book of information and strategy is how we make use of it. Where data will inform a strategy and its successes, and ultimately failures, it is the strategy itself that will drive behaviours.

Rather than replacing strategy, data supplements, supports and guides it. Data and robots can be used to ‘automate the dull’ and enable us to focus on the more creative aspects of strategy that fall outside of logical reasoning and understanding that data may not be able to explain.

Rather than an obstacle, this brings new opportunities to strategists to be more creative, to think laterally and to test hypotheses to the nth degree with the help of robots and data.

What next?

Don’t be afraid to use the data. It’s here to stay. Use it to discover new opportunities, new patterns and new approaches to your strategy.

Don’t know where to start? Get in touch and we can show you can combine your data and strategy to work in synchronicity.

Call: +44 (0) 1223 307000


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