5 Reasons Marketers Fail With Data
Are you still not fully utilizing data? Columnist David Booth outlines five things you need to do to help you and your organization better dive into data.
In the recent “Big Data for Marketing & Sales: Data Accuracy to Business Impact” study by IDG Connect, nearly half of respondents are still finding it difficult to draw insights from data.
And at the turn of the 20th century, marketing pioneer John Wanamaker was credited with the popular saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
As it turns out, understanding the true impact of marketing and advertising programs is and has always been hard. The unique blend of art and science that makes up the work today’s marketers are doing is still chasing after the same goals: How do we most effectively make the right people aware of our products and services, get them to take actions we want them to take? And then how do we figure out what we did right and wrong so we can do it again, only this time more efficiently?
In recent years, the promise of big data has claimed to solve all of these woes, once and for all. The magic of unparalleled and affordable computing power, the sheer volume of this unprecedented wave of data that continues to grow every second of every day, and the promise of new tools, technologies and vendors harnessing all of this to, well, tell you “which half” is full of potential and very exciting.
And yet many marketers find themselves in very much the same place as the early 1900s.
While there are many extremely savvy marketers out there reaping the benefits and taking full advantage of all that today’s digital environment and technology have to offer, a number of things are still holding many back.
Here are five areas to focus on improving that will help you and your organization embrace data and better use it for your marketing activities.
1. Data Is Still Fragmented
Let’s face it. We’re still in a very nascent industry, with many non-standard techniques and a marketplace filled with different solutions and ideas. And this is great — it’s exactly how new industries take shape.
We’re starting to see consolidation and new standards, and there are still a lot of problems that need solving. But one side effect of this environment is fragmentation, and that can make things difficult as a marketer.
Just think about how many different tools you have in place — all from different vendors, developed completely independently of one another — all to try to keep track of the things a marketer would want to see.
You’ve got a Web analytics tool (never mind what it’s tracking or how much confidence you have in the data it produces), likely a separate analytics tool for any of your mobile apps, a customer relationship management (CRM) system, a set of back-office systems, probably a social media measurement solution, a separate email marketing solution (that may or may not even talk to your CRM), and a host of digital and offline advertising data providers, ranging from agencies to platforms and everything in between.
It’s no wonder marketers feel a bit overwhelmed when they’re told to “make data-driven decisions.” The truth is that very few organizations have effectively integrated all of these data sources to begin approaching the actual customer instead of a bunch of disassociated touch points.
Today, marketing is about individual people and not proxies for how to make sure that the one fish you’re looking for is in the huge net you’ve cast. And those customers — those actual people — are more available to you as a marketer than ever before. They’re on lots of devices, from smartphones to computers to set-top boxes and inside your stores.
And as a result, marketers have the ability to reach them through more channels than ever before. This multi-device, multi-channel world that we’re living in presents tremendous opportunity, but the reality is that connecting these experiences is still very challenging.
And it results in further fragmentation and decisions being made within the silos in which the data is available. So many marketers continue to spend in digital and traditional media, and then measure those outcomes by the limited data available within each of those individual silos.
The marketer of tomorrow is beginning to connect and attribute value to these activities with the rest of the marketing mix and the customers’ histories and experiences themselves — identifying audiences of existing customers and piecing together all of those touch points along the way to not just a purchase, but to an ever-increasing lifetime value of a loyal customer.
It’s hard, and we’re just at the beginning of this as an industry, but in many cases it is possible, and those that can succeed here can do so with a significant competitive advantage.
2. People And Skillsets Are Difficult To Find
While the very fundamental and core skills of marketers have not changed drastically, to fully leverage today’s available data to drive marketing programs does require a lot more than it has in the past, and those skillsets can be very difficult to find.
We can all watch episode after episode of AMC’s “Mad Men” and relate to the very same marketing challenges that still resonate today. Understanding that audience and positioning a product for it, building out that perfect media plan and the cutting-edge creative that makes it work.
And all of that is still very much required today. But now you need more.
Marketers must be analysts, database architects, CRM wizards…and, of course, these should culminate in some killer presentation skills.
It’s an impossible job description that keeps getting even more difficult, with requirements being continually added. But it’s also true that these skills can certainly be acquired in the context of marketing.
Statistics and traditional business intelligence are not new, nor are they new to the marketing department. No, there’s no television show dedicated to the number crunchers that were just off-set to Don Draper’s office, but data has long been entrenched in the fields of marketing.
Today’s tools and technologies are bringing tremendous capabilities to marketers, but those marketers need to know enough to be able to use them. Testing platforms can set up and execute multivariate tests for you, but you’ll need to know how to design proper experiments and interpret results for those tools to be worth using.
Advertising, website, app and customer data abounds, but you’ll need to know how to analyze it and model the data for it to provide any real value.
For those marketers that are succeeding, they are equipping themselves with the data skills required to do their job better and better, and they’re seeing the benefits.
3. You Don’t Trust Your Data, Do You?
In the IDG Connect study referenced earlier, nearly a quarter of all respondents said their organizations suffered from poor data quality, and as a result, couldn’t use it to drive value. The only surprising thing about that statistic is that it’s a lot lower than I would have expected.
In our experience, there are two sides to the data quality coin.
First, in this mix of data sources and collection techniques, it is, of course, very possible that mistakes are made, tags are missed, processing errors occur, and for these and a hundred other reasons, your data really is incorrect.
The disconnects that still exist between marketing and IT departments, coupled with the constantly changing nature of new tools, systems and integrations can leave even the best intentions and the best planned projects with less-than-ideal outcomes.
Successful marketers today are not only doing all of the strategic planning and leg work before diving into implementations, but they’re also employing data governance strategies, automated and consistent auditing solutions, and change control to ensure that their data is as correct as it possibly can be.
The second side of the data quality coin is perhaps harder to deal with. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can get data to tell you anything you want if you just torture the numbers enough,” and I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of data being nearly waterboarded. But this brings out a very real component of an enterprise’s data strategy and the politics that are always at play.
How many times have we all seen some incredible analysis, presented wonderfully, leading to a very clear — but perhaps unpopular — conclusion? And how many times has a single incorrect point been pulled out of that vast array of beautifully crafted data just to submarine the entire report?
“Well, we really would like to believe this report and [insert correct and supported but unpopular action here], but it looks like on slide 237 you said we had 11,237 employees when we really have 11,327, so how can we trust anything else in the report?”
Formal quality assurance and data governance programs are perhaps some of the most powerful tools against bad data, and today’s successful marketers are employing both to move their organizations forward.
4. A Hammer Is Just A Hammer
Tools are important, but at the end of the day they’re just tools.
Ever had to drill a hole in a piece of wood and tried to do it with your finger? Of course not. First, you figured out what kind of hole you needed to drill and what kind of wood it was. Then you picked the right drill bit and configured the right tool (your drill, hopefully) with it, and then you measured out where that hole was supposed to be, marked it, and finished the job.
Without knowing what you were trying to do and the context around it, and without properly configuring that tool and planning your approach, the tool itself is pretty worthless. And just like banging a drill without a bit against a wall to try to make a hole, many marketers find themselves buying the latest and greatest data and analytics tools without any idea of what that tool is supposed to do or the environment or configurations required to finish the job.
Good marketers spend as much or more on planning for and using the tools as on the tools themselves, and as a result, they get out of the tools exactly what they expect.
That means that when you invest in a Web analytics tool, for example, you take the time to document the business requirements and the KPIs (key performance indicators) you expect that tool to give you the data to drive. From there, you can create a solution that configures and deploys the tool to accomplish the right goals — it’s a process.
And if you invest in an analysis toolset or a data storage solution or anything else, spend the time to understand just what the tool is capable of, the problem set it’s going to help solve, and what expertise you’ll need in order to get the most out of it.
Remember, the person swinging the hammer is way more important than the hammer itself.
5. Data Is Boring; Stories Are Inspiring
If you’re a marketer who has done everything right to collect, integrate, trust and analyze the data, then unfortunately you’re only about 10% of the way there. The other 90% — the important 90% — is to effect change with the data. Action it and provide value. And that’s often the most difficult part of data and analytics in a marketing environment.
This comes down to the ability to get the right data to the right decision makers at just the right time in order to drive the right decision. It has much more to do with the presentation of the findings than the data itself or the techniques used to arrive at the findings, and it’s extremely difficult to do.
We’re not talking about reporting here, and you’ve probably ignored as many monthly reports as anyone else — rows and rows of numbers, some graphs going up and to the right…but in the end, completely useless in their ability to make someone take action. It’s the story that drives action, supported by the numbers as sparingly as possible and only when absolutely required.
Storytelling with data is an art form in itself, and when done well, it can become the most valuable part of a data and analytics strategy in that it is responsible for driving change. You need that classic three-part structure of a setup, a conflict and a resolution that we all pay our hard-earned money to see on the silver screen in our precious leisure time.
Successful marketers use the setup to give the data context. It’s the state of the market, the organization, the competitive landscape and the goals of a program. And then comes the conflict.
Inside that context, what’s the problem or the opportunity that’s been identified? What are the options and possibilities? And, of course, that happy ending. What’s the best path forward, and what benefit will it provide?
Yes, the data is behind every actor of every scene, but it rarely shows its face. And when it does, it’s cleverly veiled in the most relevant and easy to understand data visualizations that clearly play no more than the supporting role.
Don’t Fail With Data!
While the goals of marketing have remained very much unchanged, the means by which those goals are obtained have presented new challenges to the marketer of tomorrow.
At the core of these new opportunities is data, and it’s not good or bad, it’s just there in quantities and depths like never before. It’s up to you to use it!