Are marketers forsaking gut instinct for the data game? 

marketing intuition marketers malaysia ham singh raihan hadi

We are all too familiar with the explosion of data, analytics and a “method to the madness”. Is this trend towards tech a signal that the value of human instinct and understanding is secondary in the business of marketing?

Data is information (but we all know Info Scientist sounds boring!). It takes a long time to become a data scientist; becoming a human is much faster. Data interpretation has to happen before data adoption. Intellect and Instinct equals Informed Intuition.

But has marketing surrendered itself to complex digital marketing ecosystems (which tout to be simple) compromising marketers into a safe haven for safe thinking and sure bets?

We ask Malaysian marketing and media leaders…

chanchal chakrabarty group m marketing magazine asia

Chanchal Chakrabarty | CEO, GroupM Malaysia | President, Media Specialists Association

In the pre and early digital era, data used to be brand tracks, copy persuasion scores and Reach/GRP data guiding marketers and helping justify their decisions. But in the era of digital and ‘big data’, with real-time and at times too much data available, it probably became a multi-verse obsession for many, as they dived into a plethora of unique IDs, geo-signals and walled garden fed data points. And it didn’t help that over the last decade, KPI of marketers moved from brand building, brand health, brand awareness or all things brand to be focused on lower funnel business outcomes of leads, conversions, sales metrics, market share, etc.

To add to that our new age consumers with access to multiple devices and platforms and their behaviour matching this multiplicity changed the age-old definitions of consumer journeys, throwing up challenges the marketing community had never faced before, which was also one of the reasons why the overdependence on data happened.

However with the upcoming deprecation of cookies, a renaissance of cohort, contextual, psychographic based approach is expected and probably then it could also lead to intuitions, instincts, gut making a re-appearance, provided these bones haven’t gone numb from non-usage all these years!

abdul sani abdul murad marketing magazine asia

Abdul Sani Abdul Murad | Group Chief Marketing Officer, RHB Banking Group

It is critical for us to humanize marketing to build stronger relationships with customers and have more influence over their purchase decisions. While marketers may be drawn by the seduction of building predictive algorithms based on data they could possibly extract from a “sophisticated” digital marketing ecosystem, all this can never replace the art of human persuasion.

Digital tech stacks and big data cannot replace human intuition, decision making, creativity and the experience of romancing the customer. Tech tools are only enablers for marketers to court customers better.

However, data does allow for risk mitigation, getting rid of blind spots, questioning historical ways of doing things and for providing context to what consumers are doing now and how they are engaging with the brand.

But marketers need to constantly remind themselves not to be overzealous by the digital and data verse because they risk being stuck in the reverse instead, turning into zombie marketers and scaring customers away because the brand just lost its soul for not treating its customers as humans.

sutapa tnb marketing magazine asia

Sutapa Bhattacharya | General Manager – Strategic Communications & Branding, Tenaga Nasional Berhad

In an increasingly complex, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) and demanding business environment, marketers look to the huge amount of data of consumer understanding at their disposal to make more informed marketing decisions and effective strategies that can lead to the desired consumer behaviour change.

The reality is that we need technology tools to process the mass of data but it needs the combination of marketing intuition to appreciate the deeper significance of the data and to find the most creative solutions towards successful marketing.

melati abdul hai mcdonalds marketing magazine malaysia

Melati Abdul Hai | Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, McDonald’s Malaysia

I remember a prominent leader in a corporation I used to work in saying “It’s when you don’t know why you are doing something, that’s when you need numbers”, and in those exact words!

Although that was many years ago, it has stuck with me ever since  Yes, we need measurements. Yes, we need data. Yes, we need KPIs. But all that has a time and place.

Stories sell. Connections sell more. Emotions last. And no amount of data can tell you how to bring about a deep sense of emotion and belonging to a brand. Your intuition may help, but your love and understanding of the customers as humans with need and desires, first and foremost, is the clincher.

chan may ling kfc marketing magazine asia

Chan May Ling | Chief Marketing Officer, KFC Malaysia

For many years, marketers have often debated the balance of science vs magic.

Today’s world further complicates it where most industries have shifted towards data driven marketing.

Marketers easily fall into a sure and safe trap of using data to justify their judgements. Often we are seen scurrying to build hypotheses and overtest concepts in order to ensure the campaign drives velocity and impact, and the exercise can become overtly surgical and inconclusive. Imagine a world where marketers will only take the leap with benchmark test scores, then campaigns such as injured colourful creatures (Dumb Ways to Die), yellow creatures following their master (Digi’s Yellow man) or the abbreviated vulgarity (FCUK) wouldn’t have made it to the big screen and into customers’ hearts. Data should be used to affirm trends, whilst the occasional creative bravery is needed to build brands.

santhruban etika advend marketing magazine asia

Santharuban T Sundaram | CEO – Advend Group of Companies, Etika Holdings

Marketing intuition exists, but is scarce. Its slow but sure extinction has undoubtedly been catalyzed by the digital ecosystem. Marketers who buy media solely based on GRP aren’t new, and neither are marketers who use a known figure as a brand ambassador (presumably because the said ambassador was famous enough) only to later have the ambassador’s name and signature printed out on a billboard. Which begs the question, if the ambassador is already hugely famous why the need to identify him again? In fact, I too have done the same!

While these decisions are debatable, the fact remains they aren’t wrong as they are data based. The digital ecosystem today is rich in data, and allows marketers to make far more accurate decisions and deploy precise targeting, so it makes sense for marketers to use the tools that are readily available.

But I feel what has been driving risk-averse behaviour amongst marketers is not the digital explosion but the way in which corporations measure marketing success. The thinning risk appetite, increased controls and governance, tighter KPIs being set, are all part of what marketing has become today. Despite that, we still see some great work happening.

ben mahmud marketing magazine asia petronas

Ben Mahmud | Head of Strategy & Business Development, Downstream Marketing VP Marketing Office, PETRONAS

Tech enhances the pace of validation on our hunches and hypotheses. Hence, human instinct and understanding still play an important role in marketing e.g. creative development like ideas generation.

Validation, with analytics and metrics, helps marketers to pitch to their CEO/CFO or board members with conviction and confidence.

However, relying solely on data and jumping straight into tactics without applying the art of insights generation (i.e. connecting the dots) can be dangerous as it will lead to marketers doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The role of digital and marketing technology is to enable us to be sharper in our diagnostic (understanding our customer behaviour), strategy development (targeting) and choosing tactics better (validating our solutions).

bala pomaleh ipg mediabrands marketing magazine asia

Bala Pomaleh | CEO, Mediabrands Malaysia

We often talk about the synergy of art and science that fuses together to make magic happen. Yes, that is true and effective in many cases today.

But to me, any idea that can elevate your emotions, getting you to feel, think, act, or reminisce, will be memorable. It doesn’t necessarily need analytics or data. This is how so many great campaigns of the past were born.

One stellar example locally is the P1 Potong Campaign some years back. It was a clever ad that played cheekily on local nuances. In fact, it became such a runaway success to the point the company was acquired.

If we insist on needing proof points before every single innovation, we may soon find we have very few of them.

Sometimes, it is just common sense to realise there is a better way to do something. It’s about giving in to that feeling within that goes, “this is right!”.

In my opinion, a great idea is a great idea is a great idea.

serm teck antsomi marketing magazine malaysia

Serm Teck Choon | Co-founder & CEO, Antsomi Sdn Bhd

New technology like Customer Data Platform (CDP) allows brands to understand their customers comprehensively from the customer experience and omnichannel communication standpoints. But brands still need to engage with their customers with the right message/story at the right time and the right place. Winning marketers know that crafting data-driven messages and moving their customers along the sales and conversion funnel is the way forward.

linda hassan dominos pizza marketing magazine asia

Linda Hassan | Group Chief Marketing Officer, Domino’s Pizza, Malaysia & Singapore

Creativity and data has to work hand in hand. Customers require an unprecedented level of engagement and personalisation, and are voting with their wallets. But if the brand exists in a world of disconnected data and ends up mistaking customers preferences with meaningless data which is not properly formatted, harmonized and cleansed that will spell disaster. My simple answer to the question of “Are data-driven decisions the only game in town?” is a No.

lai shu wei sime darby marketing magazine asia

Datuk Lai Shu Wei | Chief Marketing & Sales Officer, Sime Darby Property Berhad

We must always follow our true North – consumers. While technology has evolved rapidly, consumer’s wants and needs remain. That is why insights and the understanding of consumers and their behaviours are key. The moment we understand this well, a good marketer will be able to stitch the customer journey and experience in the most seamless manner.


appies asia pacific gif

APPIES Asia Pacific 2022 is happening in Malaysia!

Campaign entries must have run between Jan 2020 to May 2022
(open to campaigns ran from any Asia Pacific market during this period)

Visit appies.asia for details, registration and submissions NOW!



MARKETING Magazine is not responsible for the content of external sites.



Subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates in the marketing and advertising scene