Combine Data & Analytics with People Skills

In “How to Quantify a Nurse’s Feelings,” an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times this summer, hospice nurse Theresa Brown recounted a case that has stayed with her for years—and now me. Though a patient appeared to be functioning normally and test results were stable, Nurse Brown noticed signs of decline at the start of her shift and recommended swift intervention. Others on the medical team reviewed the patient’s clinical values, saw no red flags, and did not share Nurse Brown’s urgency. The patient died the following day.

Brown’s concern based on her intuition, her feeling, was not sufficiently persuasive to prompt action without supporting data. As brand marketers increasingly rely on data and analytics for information to help them better understand their target audiences, it is also critical to balance these findings with input unique to “people” skills such as observation, listening, and reasoning. This balance helps ensure we remember that everyone involved in a successful brand—the marketers, their audiences, and everyone from the influencers to the users—are people in all of our unscientific glory.

There is tremendous strength in data. The numbers power strategic planning by helping marketers understand brand selection preferences and unmet needs more deeply than they could before. Data enable marketers to pinpoint how, when, and via which channels to create “gentle collisions,” or positive intersections for a brand in the everyday lives of our target audiences.

However, in our haste to bow at the altar of hard data, we mustn’t forget the roles of intuition, instincts, insights, and creativity—skills that are developed and honed through professional training and experience. This so-called “softer” evidence reveals what the numbers can’t, don’t, and never could.

Instincts matter. Data do, too. Information gleaned from a variety of sources and processes are required to carve out a brand role or an individual’s or company’s voice in the external and internal culture unique to a therapeutic area, group of healthcare professionals, and patient populations. That’s how we’ll uncover the needs, hopes, aspirations, and inspirations that are most persuasive.

I regularly challenge myself, my team, and clients to consider our instincts and empathy when developing brand communications solutions, and to remember that we—the people we are, not the brand experts we’re hired to be—often have something in common with audiences we are targeting. This helps ensure we bring our humanity to the table and let it guide us along with the data. Having the balance of data and instinct is necessary; finding the right balance is up to you.

  • Sandra Stahl

    Sandra Stahl is a Founding Partner of jacobstahl, inc., a full-service PR and marketing communications agency. In addition to co-founding the PR agency, Sandra is also an adjunct professor in the Branding + Integrated Communications master’s degree program at The City College of New York, and author of The Art & Craft of PR (LID 2018).

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