Report shows many marketers don’t know what to do with data

A third of marketers don’t believe their organisations know how to get value from data, according to the Mood of Marketing survey conducted by Qrious with 74 New Zealand marketing professionals. 

Even more stark is the fact that only 15 percent of marketers said that their organisation does know how to extract value from numbers.     

This adds to the growing narrative that data might look great on paper but it serves little purpose if marketers don’t know what to do with it.

“Over the last year we’ve seen huge changes in New Zealand marketing, driven largely by new technologies and the flood of data this creates,” says Simon Conroy, the general manager of data-powered marketing at Qrious.  

“This has transformed opportunities for marketers, but it’s also introduced a raft of new challenges for those wanting to stay competitive in the market.”

While most respondents expect big data, the Internet of Things and mobile platforms to shape the industry’s future, the report shows that many marketers feel ill-equipped to take their businesses in this direction.

This has led to something of a scramble for digital talent, with 74 percent of respondents saying that they’re currently seeking staff in this space.

What’s more is that 67 percent say that they’re also on the hunt for data analytics experts.

Another important trend to emerge in the report is the need among marketers to measure results. 71 percent of marketers said that data enables them to prove positive business results, while 68 percent said that it gives them greater credibility at a leadership level.

This is a contributing factor to marketers shifting their spend from traditional to digital channels as it’s easier to measure and track online activations.

But in chasing data, measurement and optimisation are marketers losing sight of the things that have always defined good marketing?  

It’s notable that in the 24-page report on marketing, the word ‘advertising’ is only mentioned once—and yet, it remains the single most important bill payer in the industry.

For all the value that data, analytics and measurement might add to the industry, it’s meaningless if it cannot be used to deliver a unique or interesting message to customers.

During a conversation this week, Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu chief executive compared the data rush to investing in a giant mine that contained diamonds within. His argument is that people at the moment tend to celebrate the mound of dirt rather than the valuable bits within. To extract value, you have to dig in and find the stuff that matters.

This metaphor can be taken a little further, in the sense those valuable bits become even more valuable when they’re shaped, added to jewellery and polished. This is the role the advertising plays. It makes the valuable bits of information stand out and catch the attention of consumers.

The problem, however, is that this part of the process is not as easy to measure. In the same way that two jewellery designers might come up with completely different rings with the same raw materials, two creatives might respond to the same insight in very different ways.

This is the part that’s difficult to measure. You can’t always predict how well a creative execution will run in the market, and you certainly can’t repeat the same creative over and over again expecting the same result each time.

There’s also something to be said for what Danish author and marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom refers to as small data: tiny observations that lead to big insights.

Slate’s technology writer Will Oremus recently explained Lindstrom’s theory on small data by telling the story of Lego in the 1990s and early 2000s.

At the time, reams of research suggested that millennials were driven by instant gratification and were more attracted to easier projects than more complex ones. Lego responded by making its blocks bigger and extending into theme parks and video games.

This data-driven strategy failed and was later gazumped by a much smaller ethnographic study—made up of interviews with individual children—that found that kids developed the most attachment to items that allowed them to demonstrate hard-earned mastery.

Lindstrom says this study encouraged Lego to shift back to smaller blocks and this eventually played a major role in the revival of the company in the later 2000s.

In a recent column, DDB chief executive creative officer Damon Stapleton wrote that we need to consider what might happen if we focused on the numbers at the expense of the humans.

“In a couple of years, once we have created a hyper-personalised, hyper-conversational, cross-channel, responsive, data unified, outcome-based, always on, highly snackable, curated customer experience, how will human beings feel about it all?” Stapleton asks.

“Will research come back that they find it all a bit boring and predictable? Or, will it be that they don’t notice it at all because everything has become so seamless? After they have been chased around the internet, will they feel like people do now when they get a machine instead of a human being at a call centre? The truth is another word for creativity could be humanity. And, if we lose that, in a business that is all about talking to other human beings we will be in deep trouble. No matter how accurate we are.”

As Oremus writes, big data isn’t bad in itself; it’s “the festishisation of data, and its uncritical use, that leads to disaster”. So as marketers look to fill the skill gaps emerging across their businesses, the worst thing they can do is employ data evangelicals, who will continue to pray at the temple of big data while the organisation burns. Instead, they should be looking for data sceptics: individuals who know that data is an increasingly important part of the business, but who also understand that when it comes to humans, numbers don’t always have the best answers”.       

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