I heard somone say at Advertising Week, "don't use data the way a drunk uses a lamp post. For support rather than illumination.”
Data drives everything. Accept this, prepare for this, be inspired by this and you shall succeed just like other believers such as; Google, Amazon, Netflix, and eHarmony. Well, sure it's harder than that, but realize that business models revolve around accurate prediction of customer needs... and finding patterns in tracked activities allows a good marketer to decide on where the action is... or will be. "Predictive" is the word of the next decade.
Bob Garfield uses a simple mercenary term - "Upsell Engine" - Get them to buy... then buy more. (When my mechanic orders a part online for my beloved Saab, the database lists dozens of related items a click away.)
Bob also simplifies the A, B, Cs of complicated Data mining. Consider these elements:
A = Associative - Collaborative filtering is database dancing and mashing
B = Behavioral targeting - track and correlate relevant content
C = Contextual Search - Items that you didn't know you needed
For a start, get a handle on your website data (Google Analytics has more than you need for free) and THEN we can talk about creative applications for what we know. The idea is to use the data to optimize your communication and interactions - not just deploy and analyze... design your marketing to listen, learn, and evolve.
Who needs a hunch anymore - the answer is in the data. (I always look forward to a discussion about how I don't really believe that.)