‘Marketers often ask the wrong questions when it comes to data’ – Qrious’ Simon Conroy

You don’t need to look far across the marketing landscape to find a reference to ‘big data’. And yet, despite its pervasiveness at industry lunch tables, the phrase remains misunderstood.

Research recently conducted by Qrious, the big data business formed within the Spark Ventures unit, found that marketers still have some way to go to really take full advantage of the potential in the mass of information available today.

Simon Conroy, the general manager of data-powered marketing at Qrious, says the team behind the research approached 25 chief marketing officers across a varied range of small and large Kiwi businesses and asked them for their thoughts on big data.

One thing that quickly became apparent, says Conroy, was that many marketers understood that data was a valuable asset, with 53 percent viewing it as playing a critical role in delivering more relevant communications to consumers.  

However, the levels of sophistication in thinking varied greatly from business to business. 

Interestingly, the size of the business was not an indication of the level of sophistication in data thinking, with smaller businesses sometimes showing high levels of sophistication and larger ones sometimes showing a very rudimentary understanding of the subject. And Conroy adds that regardless of how sophisticated the thinking might have been, there was always room for improvement.  

“It’s critical businesses and government are focused on what a customer’s need is so that information provided is relevant and accessible,” Conroy says. “It’s about engaging the right customers, at the right time, in the right way.”

He says many organisations are sitting on mountains of data, without any certainty of what to do with it.

The problem, he says is that marketers often ask the wrong questions when it comes to data.

Marketers often look at the mountain of data and ask what the data can do for them, and this is a mistake. This is akin to going to Google and typing ‘what do I want to know today?’ into the search bar rather than searching for something specific.

A better approach, says Conroy, is to first identify problems within the business and then look for ways to solve them with the data at hand.

“It’s a bit like eating an elephant one bite at a time,” he says.

In doing this, marketers are able to define clear objectives and can progress by solving one objective at a time.

“There are three steps to delivering real results from data: sourcing and organising data, enriching the data so that it becomes information and finding the actionable insight,” says Conroy.

This is, of course, easier said than done, especially when considering that the most common area of concern identified by marketers in the research was a lack of skills in the workforce.

According to the study, 44 percent of the marketers surveyed identified a shortage of expertise as the main encumbrance they faced when it came to data-driven marketing.

This was followed by technology issues, with 33 percent saying that they were struggling to coordinate a strategy due to the mix of technology options on offer.

These two issues combined is part of the reason why organisations like Qrious have stepped in to fill the gap. 

“Where necessary, we can supplement or add to the data, using a range of external, anonymous and aggregated data sources, to fill in the picture of the customer,” Conroy says.  “Then, with the right data, organised in the right way, the level of insight that can be obtained is very powerful.”

Conroy argues that the investment required is well worth it, given the potential revenue gains businesses and government organisations stand to make from effective data use.

The Qrious research estimates that Data-driven innovation could deliver $4.5 billion in economic value for New Zealand within five years.

But in order to get there, chief executives have to be willing to invest in data strategies—and that’s only going to happen if they see results. And the onus of making sure we get there will lie squarely on the shoulders of the chief marketing officers across the industry.

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