How to Balance Empathy and Data to Make Better Decisions

How to Balance Empathy and Data to Make Better Decisions

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Data is everywhere. We can track just about anything; website visits, click-though-rates, user behavior, shopping cart abandonment, the list goes on. Nearly every click, transaction, and engagement is being tracked and analyzed by someone or some machine. With all of this data available to use, why do so many businesses and marketing campaigns struggle to have success? While data can give us a good picture of what’s going on, it can’t replace the most important tool we all have access too, empathy.

Our culture is driven by data. We’ve been trained to trust the numbers no matter what. But what if the numbers are wrong? Or what if they are only telling part of the story? Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in data. We track and test everything we do here. But I am not so naive as to believe that the numbers won’t lead me astray. Underneath the data and the analytics are real people; people who make decisions driven more by emotion and feeling rather than data. If we are going to create companies that thrive or campaigns that produce lasting results, we must learn to balance empathy and data.

Trust the Numbers‚ to a Point

Having access to good analytics can be extremely valuable. It can help you see what is working and what is not. Today’s average business owner has access to more data than ever before. The best part, most of it is completely free. By simply adding some script to the header of a site, Google Analytics will provide in-depth insights into how users use and engage with that particular site. They will even give insights into who those users are. Using this information, a site owner can track and adjust its marketing strategy to better fit their users’ needs.

But what happens when the numbers don’t tell the full story? There are many examples I can point to where the data suggested one direction but really produced a very different result. We’ve seen these data errors in politics, investing, and marketing. One of the most famous stories is the turnaround of IBM. When Lou Gerstner was brought on as CEO, IBM was in a death spiral. Experts said the company was too big, going in too many directions and the only way to save it was to break it up. Despite what the numbers and the experts said, Mr. Gerstner chose to go with his gut.

“We needed to integrate as a team inside the company so that we could integrate for the customers on their premises. It flew in the face of what everybody did in their careers before I arrived there. It meant that we would share technical plans, we would move toward common technical standards and plans, we would not have individual transfer pricing between every product so that everybody could get their little piece of the customers’ money,” Gerstner said.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Instead of putting all of the weight on the numbers, Mr. Gerstner chose to trust people. He empathized with IBM’s customers and in return, he transformed a company. The reason he knew IBM needed to stay together was simple. He was a customer before he was CEO. He had experienced the same pain points as other business leaders and he knew that IBM was the only company on the planet that could integrate all of the information technology needs.

Empathy alone is not enough. You must take what you learn from connecting with your audience and put it into action. Mr. Gerstner used what he knew and what he experienced to shift the culture and change the course of IBM forever. From 1993 to Gerstner’s retirement in 2002 IBM’s market capitalization rose from $29 billion to $168 billion.

Finding a Balance

Data is powerful. But when fused with empathy it becomes game changing. Smart businesses are learning to combine data with empathy to create solutions that speak to the heart of their users. Maya Angelou is famous for saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The numbers can tell us a lot. They can give us the details into what is working and what is not. But numbers can never replace reality. Business owners and marketers will be able to apply the data more specifically and successfully by empathizing with their audience.

Trust the data. Trust your gut.

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