In today’s fast-paced digital world, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of analytics, metrics, and algorithms. As a result, marketing strategies have become increasingly data-driven, with businesses relying heavily on key performance indicators (KPIs) to make decisions. And while data undoubtedly can positively shape the impact of your organization (from measuring throughput to effectiveness of marketing campaigns to employee retention), one ingredient can truly unlock the potential of a successful marketing strategy: connecting with humans.

In the quest for marketing excellence, it’s crucial not to overlook the very thing we’re talking about when we look at the numbers—every data point is, in fact, a human element.

By shifting our focus from numbers to people, we can create marketing strategies that resonate on a deeper level, forge genuine connections, and ultimately drive lasting results. Behind every data point lies a human with complex emotions, desires, and needs

Wondering how your restaurant can strike the right balance between data and human insights? Here’s what you need to know.

Understand human behavior and emotions

Gone are the days when the customer journey involved one to two steps. In the past decade, we’ve shifted away from mediums such as billboards and flyers and said hello to Reddit threads and Facebook groups. Once you recognize the complexity of today’s buyer’s journey and the typical decision-making process, you can tailor your efforts to adequately reach your audience.

As the data rolls in providing a feedback loop of information, operators and marketers must run that information through the lens of the brand and its connection to humans not solely use it as output to optimize and analyze. If you skip the middle filter of human connection, you are missing the underlying element of the data—humans.

For example, a restaurant sees an uptick in sales on a random Wednesday and marketers all look at each other wondering what social post went semi-viral to drive an uptick. The reality is, the restaurant next door was closed and people were trickling over to the nearest neighboring establishment for the week. A “successful” marketing campaign, everyone congratulates each other on a well-executed campaign, modifies to replicate success, asks even more of supply chain and staffing because of the success, only to find their second run fall flat.

What happened? The data told us it would be successful again.

In this example, the overlooked element is the humans who wanted a quick bite to eat and were making emotional, quick decisions in the moment.

When looking at the numbers and metrics, try fostering engagement and brand loyalty by understanding your restaurantgoers’ emotions. Once you know what makes them tick, you can reach them in a way that allows genuine relationships to develop and, if you’re collecting the right data via systems like loyalty programs, you can even tap into the customer feedback to understand the emotional triggers. Treating someone like a point on a graph isn’t a great way to lean into authenticity and build trust. Instead, you can use what you know about real people to create personalized experiences.

This is where balance between data and connection is a must.

Balance data and connection

One of the best ways to succeed in marketing is by balancing data and connection. This means using your numbers to inform decisions—but not solely relying on them to get you from point A to point B. For example, your data might tell you where and when you need to show up online, while your emotion-based market research tells you what language to use to tap into storytelling and connection.

Employ your data to optimize each of your marketing campaigns. This way, you can combine your numbers with your story to fully embrace new trends and stay relevant. For example, consider conducting market research each quarter with a new survey or investing in your social listening efforts. You’ll have a much easier time crafting a winning campaign when you can approach it from an analytical and emotional perspective.

Measure success beyond the numbers

Once you combine your data and storytelling capabilities, you’ll want to find new ways to measure success. Look beyond the numbers and emphasize long-term relationships. Customer satisfaction should also top your list, as you’ll want to listen to your audience and hear what they say about your restaurant.

Incorporate qualitative feedback into your efforts through surveys and focus groups. Instead of sitting behind a spreadsheet, make it a goal to talk to members of your audience and hear them out. Chances are, their feedback will serve as the foundation for your next campaign.

Shift your efforts

In a world where data reigns supreme, it’s easy to get caught up in pursuing numbers and metrics while the true secret to developing a successful marketing strategy lies in connecting with humans. By recognizing the limitations of data-driven decision-making and embracing the power of human connection, marketers can create strategies that resonate on a profound level.

Data still plays a vital role in informing decisions, it should be complemented by human insights. Striking the right balance between data and human connection allows your restaurant to optimize campaigns, identify trends, and create personalized experiences that resonate with its target audience.

Avoid over-relying on data

Though humans should be at the center of your marketing efforts, I’m not here to tell you that data isn’t essential and that you should throw your spreadsheets out the window. Instead, find ways to avoid relying solely on the numbers and avoid the risk of failing to understand your target audience.

Balancing data and connection means your restaurant decreases its potential for bias and misleading conclusions. You’ll have an easier time capturing qualitative insights and won’t miss the mark on your campaigns—something no restaurant should risk, regardless of their budget.

Instead, focus on the power of human connection and how you can use the emotions of your customers to make a greater impact.

This year, try incorporating qualitative feedback, measuring long-term relationships, and prioritizing customer satisfaction to truly gauge the impact of your marketing efforts. Success lies not only in numbers but in the minds of our customers.

So, as you embark on your marketing journey, remember the secret: connect with humans, not just data points. Put people at the center of your strategy so you can forge lasting connections, build brand loyalty, and reach marketing success far beyond what data alone can achieve.


Meg Prejzner is the CEO and Founder of Hackett Brand Consulting, a brand marketing consultancy where her team helps build and grow purpose-driven brands. Meg has led marketing for Fortune 50 enterprises, international organizations, national franchise brands, and small businesses. Her work has resulted in multi-million-dollar, revenue-driving marketing campaigns, nationally-recognized social programs, and award-winning brand redesigns. She has worked with more than 60 brands across more than a dozen industries.

Fast Casual, Fast Food, Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story