Left-brained or Right-brained?

At some point in your life, you probably believed that the left and right halves of your brain determined your skill set. If you were a left-brained individual, you were logical and better at maths and the hard sciences. If you were right-brained, then you were creative and artistic.

It’s a compelling idea, but it’s wrong.

While the hemispheres of the brain have their own unique characteristics and patterns of behavior, the reality of how the brain works is far more complex than a simple binary.

Language, problem-solving, and creativity aren’t confined to either half of our gray goo. Instead, the brain works through a great deal of coordination among various, specialized parts.

This article, for example, would have been impossible without the parts of my brain that store information, the parts that analyze information, the parts that play a role in language, and the parts that compel my hands to type (to put things very simply).

Despite these facts, people continue to work around things that fall beyond the scope of their “dominant brains,” much like how some of today’s top marketers draw a line between themselves and data.

They’re just as wrong, and here’s why:

Bozoma St. John quote
Feelings man…
Image credit: Rappler

A Problem of Misidentification

“We’re in the feelings business, not in the data business,” said Bozoma “Boz” Saint John as she kicked off Digicon 2018 on the 3rd of October.

The former head marketer of Apple Music and Uber delivered what most would consider an insightful talk on the importance of emotion in today’s marketing landscape. To Boz’ credit, it was largely that: insightful and correct. However, she took the reminder a few steps too far into unproductive territory.

She argued that a genuine connection with a market of consumers is emotional. “It’s not logic,” she said, “It’s not based on the algorithm. It is based on how you feel.”

Here we see a classic example of a false dichotomy: logic or emotion. Tapping into the emotional core of marketing means setting aside your spreadsheets and practicing empathy. You can trust a machine to think, and a person to feel.

As any marketer will tell you, this isn’t the case. You find the pulse of a market, that emotional register, by running surveys and gathering data –it’s qualitative data, but data nonetheless.

Granted, an algorithm isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of processing data about the emotional links people make with products on the market, but our algorithms are growing smarter and more comprehensive.

The concerns shared by Saint John, however, remain fixed. Take this dated article from the Harvard Business Review as a case in point. Every wave of technology comes with those who advise against dependence, and we’ve already covered how extreme cases of naysaying have led to people eating their words in the most dramatic of ways.

What was served to the attendees of this year’s Digicon, then, was a problem of misidentification. Logic and emotion work closer than many realize, and realizing this can set the terms for a marketing firm’s success or failure in the near future.

The Whole Damn Brain

Data scientists are well aware of the limitations of their models and programs, and like any halfway decent problem-solver, they’ve set to mending these gaps in their craft.

They’ve made leaps and bounds in bridging logic with emotion, and the first example that comes to mind is how Netflix built the acclaimed House of Cards using patterns and trends in data. If influencers like Boz Saint John are after emotionally-charged marketing, what better argument can we make for big data than a critically acclaimed, multi-season work of art born from data analytics?

To say that forming a strong connection with an audience is a simple matter of leaning on emotion is a discredit to people and their complexity. Feelings of joy, relief, comfort, and association can mean brand loyalty, but finding a way to tap into these emotions leaves more room for logic and systematic thinking than some would have you think.

It takes the whole damn brain to form a sentence, no matter how technical or artistic. Likewise, it takes the whole damn brain to come up with a marketing campaign worth launching.

This leaves the average marketer at a critical decision point.

On one hand, we can spend our time discussing the best ways to keep the world of logic from leaking into the emotional. Be like Boz, and place emotion on a high pedestal. Leave data for end-month reports, and creativity for the heavy lifting.

On the other hand, we can dive headfirst into the complexity and adapt our thinking to make the most out of creativity and logic. Use the whole damn brain, and look for ways to turn our tools to our advantage –without sacrificing the art behind the profession.

Two options, weighed and measured for your convenience. One door leads to a neat and tidy world, and the other leads to a more difficult, more complex version of reality –one where you’re forced to confront data and emotion to create campaigns bigger than the sums of their parts.

The latter is a frighteningly difficult option, but seeing as Halloween is just around the corner, I see no better time to commit to doing something that scares you.


Data is scary, we get that. For a guided tour through the world of data analytics, sign up for our Masterclass. We teach practical data analytics for businesses, grounded in examples you’re sure to relate to. Go ahead, we don’t bite.