How to improve the use of data in your marketing

This article was originally published on Just Marketing on December 3rd, 2019

According to the World Economic Forum, the entire digital universe is expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020. That’s 40 times more bytes than there are stars in the observable universe. But recent research by Campaign Monitor found that 81% of marketers think the implementation of data-driven marketing is somewhat to extremely complicated. And 42% say they can only run basic performance reports.

Data-driven marketing, or the use of data to inform strategic marketing decisions, can seem a daunting task. We’re faced with an overwhelming number of sources and tools, and once we have data in front of us, we must interpret it in a way that’s meaningful to our business. Adding to the complexity is the fact that creativity is often seen at odds with analytical thinking.

Why data matters to marketing

The truth is, data is crucial to smart and creative strategy for a number of reasons:

  • It helps us reach the right people with the right content in the right way. Rather than going in blind, we learn who our audience is, what makes them tick, and how they’ll react to our messaging.
  • It makes us effective and efficient. ROI increases when we know our content reaches and resonates with the right audience.
  • It arms us with concrete reasoning to make one decision over another. When we’re faced with strategic differences, data can tell us where to turn.

Take, for example, one of our financial services clients. Previously, their research and data was separated by individual business units which meant it was difficult to spot opportunities across the different departments. (Sound familiar? I’m willing to bet marketing, PR, sales and customer experience are disconnected in your organization, too).

Through an internal audit and stakeholder interview process, we helped bring everything and everyone together to inform a robust, centralized “Mission Control” insights and impact infrastructure. This approach set a new standard of continuous, cross-functional insights-application that empowered the organization to make smarter, faster decisions.

Avoiding data overload

While data is at the heart of smart strategy, that doesn’t mean all data is good data. The vast array of facts and figures at our fingertips is a blessing and a curse: you can find data to inform just about every decision you can imagine, but not every piece of data will be meaningful to your strategy. Here are some tips to help you avoid information overload:

  • Identify clear and measurable goals. These serve as your north star because the data you gather should always lead back to reaching and measuring success against them.
  • Make smart investments. Consider things like tool costs and the time it takes for you to gather data before you head down a path.
  • Innovate, innovate, innovate. You learned something from your last campaign that helps inform your next one. You had access to a piece of data but new restrictions took it away. Your industry just underwent a major shift. Data-driven marketers are always on the lookout for new and improved methodologies.

How does this work in practice? We worked with a consumer tech brand who wanted to identify the cultural issues most important to their audience to inform their 2018

and 2019 marketing priorities. We started broad by analyzing 1.5 billion issue mentions since 2016, including 20 broad cultural issues and 30 recurring annual observances. We looked at volume of conversation and velocity (growth year over year) of each issue. We then supplemented this data with consultations with agency and brand experts from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Next, we narrowed our lens by developing an issues index, with a scoring methodology, to understand the issues that were core concerns to their audience and where the credible white space existed for the brand. Armed with these insights, the client was able to prioritize programs supporting the most relevant cultural issues for their audience.

In sum, we’ve established that data is central to our business, we have access to a multitude of data sources, and there are steps we can take to make effective use of that data. But at the same time we can’t forget the human element that underlies every decision we make as smart marketers. Data may tell many stories, but no number makes sense without the real-world context that surrounds it. Only when we marry the art and science of creativity and analytics are we able to cut through the noise to achieve data-driven marketing nirvana.