Adland is full of conversations about data – what to collect and how to collect it, how to draw insights from it and how to craft compelling stories that resonate with audiences around it. Jonathan Cotton finds turning it all into real commercial runs on the board is harder than it sounds. So what do data-driven marketers – and their collaborators – too often get wrong?
McKenzie says that it’s all too easy for stakeholders across the spectrum to underestimate the focus required to make data-driven projects – and whole-of-business transformations – succeed.
“Even if you really want to give a client really in-depth reporting, the client has to be ready for that, or it isn’t going to be valuable to them.”
“I firmly believe that if you want to progress, you really need to take ownership of the data and process, not just be relying on spoon-fed reports from agencies, but pushing and leading the conversation based on your own reporting and insights.”
“Then you need the desire to take data from a number of different areas and turn that into insight – and into a story.”
It all adds up to a pretty formidable required skillset: After all smart, effective marketing automation still requires an understanding of how to use the platform, as well as an understanding of the underlying data that feeds it, not to mention that elusive creative spark.
“It’s very much like marrying a science and an art,” says McKenzie, “but you still need a really rigid process, because essentially you’re making an educated guess.”
Knowledge is power in the digital marketing process, says McKenzie, but it’s knowledge drawn from observation and, again, good planning.
“Before you start, you need to form an ongoing process. What information do have to start with? How do we judge performance? What tracking will we need? Do we have a measurement plan? How are we going to monitor this? And how are we going to all this to inform version two?”
“It’s saying ‘I believe this will work’ and then testing it. Then you’ve got to stick with it – not cutting the campaign short because version A seems to be going well. Often people just don’t believe that, version B could catch up and beat version A.”
“But as with any research you need statistical significance to be sure.”
With so much required, how do New Zealand marketers actually stack up to the challenge? Has the tyranny of distance created a nation of marketers with real digital chops?
Morris says marketers are increasingly data savvy – driven in part by the adoption of new tech – but there is still demand for outside specialist skillsets.
“With the increased adoption of martech, we’re also seeing an increase in data awareness, which is fantastic, but we believe there is still a way to go,” says Morris. “We’re seeing marketing leaders not only improving their own data literacy, but they’re also looking to hire or outsource some of those specialist capabilities.”
That’s confirmed by Gartner’s Marketing Organizational Survey 2019 which finds almost 70 percent of marketing leaders relying ‘heavily’ on agencies for strategy and execution.
That makes sense. Specialists can provide expertise that might be too expensive – or elusive – to bring in-house.
“The benefit of partnering with an external agency is the experience across different industries, unique ways of looking at problems with an outside perspective, and utilising best practice from other areas,” says Flitter. “Often ‘business as usual’ restricts a team’s ability to work on new projects or time sensitive projects, which is when having a data agency to call on can be highly effective.”
Engaging with an agency can provide a range of specialists to collaborate on your project – as opposed to hiring one type of data specialty and hoping that the skill gaps fill themselves.
“Often, when organisations implement data solutions in-house, they tend to focus on what they already know or are comfortable with and this can create limitations,” says Morris. “Data solution providers typically have more exposure to a range of data challenges and opportunities, as well as technology, and advanced skills in areas such as analytics and AI.”
“You’ll typically get different people collaborating on your solution, such as a data architect, a data engineer, a data scientist, a data storyteller, etcetera, so you get the benefit of a combined range of specialties to deliver your solution.”
But while benefits abound, that Garter survey says that organisations are in fact looking to bring more work in-house, not less, in the pursuit of greater control and more responsive teams. Might we be witnessing the rise of the truly tech-empowered in-house marketing squads?
“We are seeing the use of Agile design and processes having a huge impact,” says Morris. “By locating marketers and data specialists in the same teams or ‘squads’, those people are collaborating more, and that’s helping to lift that common understanding and create cross-functional synergies.”
So while the tech is smart, it’s teams, not tools, that ultimately create successful, digitally-driven operations.
“A lot of these tools are really affordable – and there’s a never ending supply – but the tools often lull you into a false sense of security,” says McKenzie.
“There are so many pitfalls that can trip you up, so it comes down to training, having an organized tool kit or technology stack, having a process and sticking with it.”
But organisations eager to stack their ranks with employees versed in both data analytics and marketing automation will already know that demand currently outstrips supply.
In fact, some say the industry is facing something for a talent crisis with those who can both crunch the numbers and harness the output for creative purposes in short supply.
“We tend to be generalists, because there simply isn’t enough of us,” says West. “Are there enough hardcore data scientists who can think creatively? Absolutely not. There aren’t enough marketers who understand the power of data or where to start with this to help them solve problems. Many are getting better, but probably not fast enough.”
West says that organisations would do well not to underestimate just how difficult it can be to assemble a data-savvy marketing team.
“We’re dealing with two organisations right now who are trying to recruit data expertise from overseas. It’s costing them a bomb and we’re not convinced it’s the right move. Unless you’re absolutely committed to building a full team I’d recommend outsourcing it. Unless you strike gold, it’s tough to find people who can really push the envelope and help your business. Like creative agencies, outsourcing means you get expertise from experts.”
“I think in New Zealand were still a little bit behind,” he says. “The market hasn’t been demanding it for very long. There’s a lack of skill and knowledge because the industry just hasn’t caught up yet. That will change quickly when companies realise they are being left behind.”
“There’s demand there. People are keen to understand this work and unlock the results the hype has promised.”
And when it comes to hype, the market certainly has its fair share of that. Suffice to say that the future will almost certainly see data and emerging related disciplines – such as AI and machine learning – playing an ever more integral part of the creative process.
”It’s important to understand the rising importance of areas such as advanced analytics and AI,” says Morris.
“Those organisations that are looking to the future, getting their data foundations right, and utilising these advanced technologies are setting themselves up to gain a competitive advantage in the future. In the years to come, those that haven’t will unfortunately be left behind.”
But what we do tomorrow will grow from what we do today and West says that it’s the core principles that will endure – not breathless speculation.
“The potential has been discussed ad nauseam,” he says. “AI taking over, decisions being made for people, everything automated. But who really knows?”
“The main thing is that it should be about making life better. If that’s not the case, then we’ve got something wrong. I’m sick of being continually asked if I want to buy a chainsaw three weeks after I purchased one. That’s not making my life better. We’ve got a way to go.”
“In the end it’s all storytelling and good ideas win. The data can help though taking the guesswork out of it.”
“Data can’t replace ideas,” he says, “but it can help bring them to life”.