This story was written for the Canadian Marketing Association. You can read the original article here.
Remember the industry in 2018? You know, last year?
Facebook was facing Congress — privacy issues were front and centre. Amazon’s ad growth was making Google look over its shoulder. And we were just one unexpected ad away from unplugging Alexa.
And yet! We marketers continued to drone on about the promised and predictable land of data-driven, AI-supported marketing.
ROI-positive from hour one! Zero-waste — real-time — hyper-efficient!
Substitute ‘2018’ above with any of the past ten years and you’ll see the unhappy pattern. Yet throughout, ad tech has stubbornly sold us on the perfect promised land of more data.
We’re a few cold weeks into 2019 and …
…Odds are, the answer to improved marketing is not more data. Because the reality is most marketers are challenged to use the data we already have in this fragmented industry.
So how do we solve for that? Some might say you need proper Business Intelligence. But what does that even look like?
Walk with me for a bit, let’s tackle the issue together.
First stop: Business Intelligence (BI)
In the world of data processing, the term BI has its own, software-centric definitions. You can look it up here or here. For our purposes today, BI is what takes business from having data to getting results.
That’s quite a big leap. We’ll take it step by step.
Data, Insights, Stories, Results
At the risk of oversimplifying, let’s agree there are 3 types of organizations. Each is a little more mature with their data:
- Beginning: businesses who have the data, or at least access to it
- Little further ahead: Those who can draw insights and stories from their data
- Achievers: Those who can drive results from those stories.
I propose that access to even more data can slow your progression along this path. Unless you know what to do with it.
What does that mean? Well, let’s start with the firehose problem.
Drinking from that ol’ firehose
In 2019 most marketers have more input signals than they know what to do with! Because market feedback is abundant and immediate. But saying we have access to data when we only have a way to record input — say an ad platform — is misleading. It’s the equivalent of opening a firehose and saying you have access to running water.
What you have is a flood.
You have access to data when you can tap into the information you need when you need it. And how do you do that?
- By making sure your infrastructure is connected. Hello, integration!
- By making sure your data is filtered. Filtered for the right situation and for the right audience. What is presented and relevant to the C-suite should be different from what is used in day-to-day marketing — i.e. cold water to drink, hot water to shower.
Only when you start to connect and filter are you in a position to move ahead a step on your path to excellence. Consider a simple PR campaign. It will likely have some mainstream press activity, a paid social component, and some influencer outreach. Yet a campaign like that spikes my cortisol levels, just thinking about the data gaps and blind spots. Without a conscious effort to connect and filter, you’ll be left shrugging your shoulders when asked the critical questions.
Now, you can use your team’s analytics skills to draw insights. If you haven’t already, sharpen the analytical blade in your marketing utility belt, that thing that allows you to make meaning from the numbers. Training and education for your team are key. Making room for roles like data analyst on your team helps, too!
Finding patterns and starting dialogues
With your dedication to your team’s skills and a clear and filtered view of your data, you are going to start seeing patterns over longer time periods. Patterns in customer behaviour that span across days, weeks, months, maybe even years of interactions with your brand.
Think back to our PR campaign. How does it fit into the overall marketing ROI calculation, year-over-year? How did it affect the customer, the brand, and more importantly the bottom line — not just this quarter but beyond? Answers begin to pop when the right people are looking at the right information.
But this is just the start.
From there, you can spark dialogues with other business functions such as finance, and accounting, and operations … and HR.
I have long advocated that marketers need to have a better understanding of all business disciplines. I’m now saying that we not only need that, we need to deeply speak their language. We need to access their data, analyze it, report it, draw it, chart it, digest it. For example:
- If we want to tell the story of our brand success, we need to know the experience of front line staff.
- To illustrate and prove the profitability of our advertising, we have to be able to speak to the underlying accounting.
- Or maybe your e-commerce advertising is not profitable because your shipping and fulfilment operations aren’t locally optimized! Sidenote: this was actually the case with one of our clients, and I take particular pride that we helped them solve for that.
In sum, if we want to identify and articulate the true story behind our data, we need to be, hire, and train true business analysts.
And yet, that is still not quite enough. We also need to spread the word.
From bonfire to boardroom: educate and set expectations
If all business disciplines came together on a beach around a bonfire, singing and telling our data-driven stories to each other … we wouldn’t produce any real, tangible results.
Because producing results needs one more thing: action. And action — at least in the context of an organization — comes from leadership.
Raise your hand if your sound analytical decision-making has ever been overruled by someone else’s ‘instinct’ in a boardroom. Mine seems to be perennially raised — I was a foolish outspoken junior in our industry and I’m not sure I’m cured yet.
The reality is that many business decisions are still made based on what feels right. You might say that’s outdated, or “how could they?” But stay with me here — it’s not them — it’s you.
We as marketers need to:
- Educate our leaders
- Champion a culture of intelligence-based decision-making
- Assist in the making of sound data-driven decisions.
That means helping CEOs and decision-makers understand and manage marketing numbers. It means iteratively educating, setting expectations, and having thoughtful worst-case scenario conversations in the boardroom. It also means being critical of our own numbers so that we are better prepared to answer the tough questions.
At the end of the day, marketers can be business leaders only when we move our organizations from data to results. Not by investing more in our data. But by investing more in our people.
About the author:
Mo Dezyanian runs Empathy Inc., a media and advertising consulting group.