Why It’s Time For Brand People To Master (And Even Love) Data

The growth of data is creating a power shift in marketing that could sideline brand planners. CMOs tell interviewers that making sense of data is a top priority. Management consultancies are moving in to the brand advice business, building huge new marketing practices on the strength of their data expertise. The result is that people whose authority comes from their feel for brands risk losing ground to people whose authority comes from their gift for numbers.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. Planning pioneer Stanley Pollitt described the planner as: “The expert at working with information and getting it used.” And, ironically, people with more touchy-feely brand backgrounds have a real advantage when it comes to working with data, because they are lateral and have an instinct to look for human truths. The Poets need to take on the Quants.

So I’m teaching a webinar for the 4As to show how creative industry people who aren’t data professionals can harness data to tell stories. Details and registration here: http://j.mp/4Asdatadecoded.

Quantifying a brand problem takes less arithmetic and more imagination than you might expect. Management consultants often use a patchwork of publicly available data points to map out the size of a problem shape of an opportunity. Brand people can do the same. BBDO worked out that Sainsbury’s supermarket could achieve its CEO’s pledge to grow sales by $3.8 billion if it could encourage customers to spend an extra $1.75 every time they visited the store. This back-of-an-envelope calculation led to the Try Something New Today campaign, which created billions of dollars in incremental revenue.

Simple digs into data can unearth the truths behind what’s happening to brands. BBH found out that Axe deodorant’s apparently solid sales among teenage guys masked a growth in adolescent boy buyers and a collapse of young men buying the brand. This data point inspired Axe’s iconic Getting Dressed campaign.

There’s data to support even the most pop cultural phenomena — you can understand the unseasonal rise of rosé drinking, or the cities where hipsters cluster, from Google search data.

And you can draw different conclusions when you look at business data through a brand lens. The law of double jeopardy, where brand loyalty rises with brand penetration, is well known to planners, but little known amongst number crunchers. Net promoter score studies are more interesting when they reveal that the most loved brands are often the most distinct, rather than the most rational or the lowest-priced.

Brand people need the confidence to treat data as an advantage, not an adversary: ask questions of it, be lateral with it, and look for the human truths that lie within it. Don’t let the consultants elbow you, and the humanity, off the top table of brand advice.