Four leading marketers on making sense of data to seize digital marketing opportunities

Alvin Lee and Michael Valos ask four leading marketers how to use digital sensing technologies to seize marketing opportunities.

This article originally appeared in The Intelligence Issue, our April/May edition of Marketing magazine.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 11.34.13 AMInformation and data have never been more abundant. For marketers, this is data about market performance, customer wishes and behaviour that can be mapped to enterprise resource planning, transaction systems and customer relationship management systems.

We are already at the point where many marketers are overwhelmed by data. However, the volume of data will only increase. CMOs should not see this data as a burden. Instead, it presents opportunities.

The granularity of data, advances in analytics science and the price of analysis have merged at a sweet spot that enables marketing to push forward the frontiers of the discipline. Knowledge can now be had at a lower price per byte than ever before.

The challenge now is how to make sense of this data to turn it into useful knowledge. If advances in the realm of marketing knowledge generation are managed prudently, it’s inevitable that marketing science will become the front player of business strategy. CMOs are responding to these developments in marketing information and knowledge. Many firms have already begun on this journey; they now use their marketing sensing abilities to seize market opportunities.

The concept of organisations ‘sensing and seizing’ for competitive advantage is not new. It was popularised by David Teece. An interesting article originally written by Booz and Company and appearing in Strategy + Business reiterates this framework for competitive advantage.

The point Teece makes is that “companies gain an edge only when they evolve in ways no one else can match”.

We believe these concepts are useful in understanding the challenges marketers currently face in realising the potential of digital technologies. These are those that sense vital customer insight information and then allow that information to guide strategic decision-making and resource allocation.

‘Sensing’ refers to identifying and assessing opportunities outside your company, while ‘seizing’ seems to indicate mobilising your resources to capture value from those opportunities. We believe the following insights and examples from highly respected marketing leaders shows how this framework can be applied to address the digital transformation of marketing. 

Mitchell Mackey, marketing director at Ansell

MK0417 coverMackey addresses where digital sensing is going and alludes to both the challenges and the potential benefits.“The mantra is: all first-party data in one place with a unique customer ID,” he says.

“That is an aspirational goal, but you must start moving in this direction. It means all the anonymous web traffic that is coming into our site, all the known web traffic, all the transactional data from our system of record or ERP (enterprise resource planning) transaction environment, and all sales acquisition activity from the CRM (customer relationship management) system is all in one place.

Although the methods for and opportunities to capture data are increasing exponentially, the old problem remains: how must marketers put the jigsaw puzzle that is the data together?

How do they get a coherent picture that will enable savvy strategic or opportunistic marketing response?

The answer may be to look at the data as customers.

Trisca Scott-Branagan, executive director of marketing at Deakin University

Scott-Branagan comments on the link between emotion and science. Digital sensing provides an opportunity to segment and target. But, customers are humans (after all!) even if they are acting within a digital context. What sometimes clouds the analysis is that we lose sight that we are obtaining digital insights from customer behaviour.

“Marketing is increasingly behaving like a science, as our ability to correlate across disparate data sources has improved,” she says.

“It’s like we have leapfrogged a lot of the challenges. We can now get down to quite a micro level in understanding who a person is and then look for others who appear similar to them based on their characteristics and behaviours.

“In the past, we could only talk in generic terms about segments of people.”

However, effectively collecting and utilising data is inadequate, for there are implications for how brands communicate their messages to customers. Scott-Branagan adds, “Today, if we’re not personal and talking about topics within a relevant context, people switch off.”

Christian Mengler, principal at Alex Kaar

Christian Mengler, uses his executive search expertise, summing up his experience across a wide range of organisations and industries, for this insight. “The most impressive organisations we work with are the ones that are using analytics to understand customer behaviour,” he says. “However, it’s not easy to capture the right data, manage it effectively and leverage it properly.”

This addresses the collection and sensing of insight through digital sources, but as Scott-Branagan says, that is a necessary but insufficient condition for digital marketing advantage. Mengler says, “[The most impressive organisations] are actually putting data at the centre of that decision-making and they’re not afraid to ask the challenging questions they need to hear answers to.

“And, while these organisations respect the power of data, they also understand that data won’t give them all the answers and success is ultimately a result of exceptional leadership.”

The link between culture and leadership is critical as the answers to the questions you create may be uncomfortable for some and only exceptionally agile organisations can seize the marketing opportunities.

Mike Harley, managing director at XPotential

Harley is a colleague with a very strong track record as a senior marketer. We asked him to discuss the challenges or barriers preventing marketers from sensing digital data successfully.

“How you actually leverage data and then ‘flick it’ in a way that enables you to bring different perspectives is a creative skill that not everyone has.”

This suggests the need for a strategic and innovative mindset. Harley’s comment makes us think that some people will look at a dataset and take it at face value, while others will think of lateral ways to interrogate the data for greater insight. Nevertheless, he provides a warning for marketers in this ‘data rich’ age that prevents some organisations from actually seizing marketing opportunities.

“You can get so drowned in all this other stuff going on that you can’t pull yourself out,” he says. And you may miss the forest for the trees!

Our advice for leading marketers

First, there’s a need to get savvier at making marketing technology decisions. In time you will be responsible for more investment than the current CIO (chief information officer). Financial acumen was never so critical to success in your role.

Second, according to a recent IBM study of marketers, you need to get used to being overwhelmed by data or find ways to simplify and manage the flow. IBM found 75% of marketers feel overwhelmed by data! You have been warned, but you’re not alone.

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