“The plural of anecdote is not data,” the old aphorism goes. I think the inverse is also interesting: “The singular of data is not anecdote.”
Marcus Collins, Head of Strategy at Wieden+Kennedy New York, made the following observation a couple years ago:
“Though the amount of data available to marketers has increased exponentially over time, our ability to extract insight from said data has only marginally improved. This paradox amounts to a simple — yet significant — oversight on behalf of most marketers:
“We mistake information for intimacy.”
Social listening is just one way marketers can “mistake information for intimacy.”
Some have argued the that the plural of anecdote is actually unstructured data. Modern data stacks are hoovering up more of all kinds of data than ever before, from structured to unstructured. Marketers have information in abundance. But the bigger question is how to make sense of it all.
Cherry-picking is cherry-picking, no matter how tall the data stack. We can always find supporting evidence to justify any decision we want to take.
Our own biases, from selection bias to cause-effect bias, can skew and shape how we look at any kind of research. We ultimately need to read both the quantitative and the qualitative tea leaves.
If we want to practice evidence-based marketing, we always have to sense-check the evidence.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: