Marketers: Sorry, But Your Opinions Don’t Matter Anymore

If Don Draper were still in the marketing game, he’d be trusting data more than his gut.

If you’re a fan of Mad Men and watch the show religiously like I do, then you’ve probably caught yourself doing it at least once or twice — looking around your own office, with its open floor plan, the noticeable lack of ash treys and decanters, and marveling at how much things have changed since the “glory days” of ’60s advertising.
In many ways, the world depicted in the show seems completely different from the one we live in today.
Of course, most of the changes have been profoundly for the better (there’s far less second-hand smoke; far more women like Peggy Olsen in leading business roles). But there are also plenty of things about that era that the show glamorizes, and — especially for us in marketing — it’s hard not to feel a bit nostalgic.
Yes, for starters there are the three-martini lunches. But the bigger change, the one that really underscores the true difference between the Mad Men days and ours, is that these days, it’s not the Don Drapers who are calling the shots. At least, not using the same approach. Because with all the access we have to data, to quick and easy analysis and a wealth of customer information and insights at our fingertips, how dumb would it be to make decisions based solely on instinct, epiphanies, and trusting our gut?

The Myth of the Visionary

Let’s step back a take a quick look at one of the staples of Mad Men: Don’s trademark epiphanies. As a dramatic element of the show, they work great. But they’re also emblematic of a mindset that the best solutions come from naturally brilliant and creative individuals, who have sudden breakthroughs and lightning strikes of inspiration. It’s something that Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, co-authors of the New York Times bestseller The Lean Entrepreneur, call “the myth of the visionary,” and it’s surprisingly pervasive. From fictional examples like Don Draper and Gregory House to real-life examples like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, we prefer to think of our geniuses as fiercely independent savants with all of their talent and brilliance innate. At the right time they’ll come up with the right solution that no one else could think of, or they’ll know exactly the right thing to say.
If you’re looking for a marketing leader who fits that description — or if you have one now who deep down thinks he or she does — you’ve got a problem. “In Don we trust” may work on TV, it may have even worked back in the day, but in today’s modern marketing environment it’s an approach that is ineffective at best and destructive at worst.

The Data-Driven Marketer’s Approach

Don’t get me wrong — creativity is and always be a major element of marketing, but there is much more discipline and science involved now.
A freshly hired VP of Marketing or CMO coming into his or her role thinking that they can solely use gut feeling and instincts to create a new marketing plan is setting him or herself up for failure. What worked for one company will not necessarily work for the next. The truth is no amount of opinions and experiences will get that person very far now if they aren’t thinking about marketing campaigns as a science. That means establishing a systematic, repeatable process that includes the following five steps:

This is something the guys at Sterling Cooper never really thought that much about at all.
Again, creativity of course is still  important, but it’s now only one piece of a modern marketers role. The discipline of testing and iterating rapidly is just as, if not more important than creative gut instinct. The fact is you just don’t know what is going to work or not going to work until you test.

Meet the Anti-Don Drapers

So if Don isn’t our model marketer, who is? The following are a few nominations. They’re disciplined, data-driven marketers who (best of all) are eager to share their tips, experiments, and knowledge on driving growth.

Sean Ellis, @SeanEllis

With a track record that includes driving customer acquisition at Dropbox, Eventbrite, Lookout, LogMeIn, and Uproar, not only does Sean Ellis know a thing or two about growth hacking, he originally coined the term. Currently the founder and CEO of Qualaroo, a company focused on making it easy for marketers to improve website visitor engagement without help from the dev team, you can read his insights on unlocking startup growth at and

Hiten Shah, @hnshah

Co-founder and president of analytics companies KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg, Hiten Shah has become known as one of the industry’s most respected growth marketing experts and also a trusted startup mentor and advisor. You can read his insights on the KISSmetrics blog and his own personal blog.

Morgan Brown, @morganb

Part of the team, Morgan Brown has 14 years of startup experience. Currently head of growth at Qualaroo, he and Qualaroo founder Sean Ellis are co-authors of Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth and the upcoming Unlocking Growth: How the New Rules of Marketing are Changing the Way Companies Grow.

See More of Today’s Best Demand Gen Marketers — Plus Their Favorite Growth Hacks

Are you setting yourself up to be a successful modern day data-driven marketer, or are you are stuck in the Mad Men mindset?

Use our new inbound marketing assessment to see where you stand:

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Jonathan Crowe
Jonathan Crowe
Senior Content Manager

Jonathan Crowe is Senior Content Manager at Barkly. He was previously the Managing Editor of OpenView Labs.
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