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In our age of complexity, it's easy to consider insights the ultimate upgrade from data—a destination that, once reached, alleviates a marketer from the burden of meaningless numbers, graphs, columns, and rows.

In some applications, that opportunity is very real, but the truly data-driven marketer knows that insights are only one path to mining value from data. There is much more value to be had.

Data—like technology—is intimidating. And rightly so: It demands hard skills, it catalyzes beliefs and actions, and it can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Even for highly skilled data-driven marketers, there is always something new or unknown: a question that cannot be answered, a number that doesn't match, an expectation that cannot be met. Thus, it makes sense that so many marketers favor and focus on insights as the holy grail: Insights are pure and finite—their application focused and clear.

But marketers who truly want to use data as a competitive advantage need to be comfortable (or find someone who is) with all its vast, scary, messy complexity.

Digging for Data Gold

Because of the intimidation factor, many marketers succumb to one of two misconceptions: (1) data is simply poorly branded insights; or (2) if insights can be achieved, then data is no longer important. But just as a necklace is only one of the many valuable objects you can make from gold, insights are but one output from data.

As a comprehensive tool, data is not only the catalyst for insights but also the input for predictive models, learning algorithms, and beautiful visualizations; a vehicle for personalized experiences; and an asset of quantifiable value.

That's why conflating insights and data or discounting data in the face of insights is limiting the potential value data offers to marketing teams.

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image of Jessie Kernan

Jessie Kernan is global chief marketing sciences officer at RAPP, where she synchronizes a network of people, technology, and data.

LinkedIn: Jessica Kernan