Complicated Relationship with Data | Ep. 196

Cliff Courtney, the President and CEO of Courtney180, joins Sima on the show today. 

Cliff’s journey

Cliff comes from a marketing-driven background. He believes marketing is a good background for all companies. Specifically for him because he has worked predominantly in chief strategy officer roles in Omnicom agencies and then in chief marketing roles, also for Omnicom agencies. As a result, he had good scope for go-to-market plans and how to execute and sell them.


The biggest challenges Cliff ever faced were how to de-commoditize the commoditized brands. (In other words, how to differentiate certain commonly-found items from other, similar items.) Another challenge he faces is that most brands are challenger brands that are competing with companies with bigger budgets and footprints and more impact. So to win these days, he has to be cagey and very smart when optimizing his media messaging. 

The expanding sphere of influence of the CMO

The sphere of influence of the CMO has expanded. Cliff believes that as that has happened, the view of the typical CMO has become too narrow because they regard performance marketing (data) as the be-all and end-all. He believes that all mediums of media performance should have a specified standard, and CMOs should focus more on their relationships with consumers.

A disconnect in the data world

Cliff sees a big disconnect in the world of data. On the one hand, we live in a world that is quantifiable, and big companies are crunching a lot of data. On the other hand, consumers are complex, messy, and emotional, so their decisions cannot always be quantified.

Two things to consider when dealing with data

There are two things Cliff advises people to be aware of when dealing with data. One is that data is one thing, but it is not the only thing. The other is not to get caught up in the “numbers do not lie” fallacy because even though data has a lot of value, numbers lie all the time. That is why Cliff advises people to ensure that data is only part of the mix rather than the whole thing.

Looking backward

Due to independent variables, data cannot be relied on to know what will happen next. That is why Cliff believes that data works best when looking backward. 

Predictive analytics

Cliff feels that predictive analytics is flawed because it is a forecast conclusion- not a foregone conclusion.

Independent variables

Independent variables cannot be controlled. Unexpected events may happen, and they could affect people’s decisions.


Cliff believes that data is valuable. However, it must only be a part of the puzzle instead of the whole puzzle.

CEOs must have a feel for the market

Steve Jobs based his decisions on his understanding of his brand, his read of the market, and his instincts, and his success rate was mostly flawless. So, even though data is necessary, CEOs must also know their customer and have a feel for the market. 

The key to working with data

The key to how to work with data lies in how you look at it and how you interpret it. So those who work with data need to be both intuitive and smart.


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