Over the past ten years marketing departments have become engulfed in data. But is all that data as useful as the tech evangelists would have us believe? Or is it causing a marketing implosion?

We can track them through our websites, see if they read our emails, read what they’re saying about us on social and increasingly gauge how off-line media interacts with online. There’s no other word for it, it is big data. And it’s available minute by minute where ever you might be (mobile signal allowing). But, and it’s a big but, staying on top of it, no matter how automated your systems and aggregators are, is time consuming and potentially misleading.

Because none of that data or social comment gives a real insight into the psychology of the audience. Comment on social media is usually framed within the context of ideal self –image (visit Richard’s Facebook page, that selfie wasn’t taken with Barack Obama – he’s learnt how to use Photoshop!) and peer pressure. While the online tracking and CRM metrics tell you nothing about the people who haven’t engaged with you and no more than tracks in the sand of those who have. From their imprints we can tell enough to crudely segment them, but it’s segmentation within your own limited universe and is subject to that old fashioned marketing tool – test and refine.

The fact is that if you really want to get to know your customer, or audience, then quite simply you’ve got to talk to them. Talk to them in volume and talk to them in detail. Talk to them in a controlled and utterly objective manner like Richard say’s he does to Barack, otherwise they may just say what they think you want to hear (or the reverse if you’re talking to Vladimir). The insight you gain from this will shed light on the people you’re not getting through to and bring all that big data into sharp focus building richer segmentation profiles and informing content creation and placement.