By Paul Rafferty
Mad Men, the four-time Emmy award winning television series, is a drama that revolves around a brilliant 1960’s era advertising agency. Don Draper, the show’s protagonist, is modeled after two scions of the ad industry and he astounds colleagues and clients alike with his considerable creative prowess.
If Don Draper was on Madison Avenue in today’s digital age, what would he think about big data? There’s no doubt that ad execs of his era loved excess, particularly when a vice was involved, but would they have valued the mass volume of data available today? Or, would that data have disrupted the sacred creative process central to traditional ad (brand) based marketing?
Certainly, the digital age did not invent business data. The origins of modern business analytics began in the 1960s with the advent of mainframe computers allowing for the mass accumulation of information about business transactions. On the marketing side at that time, focus groups were used to identify the value in certain products and circulation and demographic data was used to guide ad placement decisions.
Why then, is big data potentially a big hurdle for marketing organizations? First, the data available has expanded exponentially. Executive teams have access to an almost overwhelming level of data on customers and prospects and this data comes from a myriad of sources. Is it a realistic expectation that marketers charged with bringing solutions to market learn everything available about the customer?
Instead of leaning back in a conference room chair and musing about the unexpressed desires of a 1960’s housewife, today’s Don Drapers are confronted with terabytes (or exabytes) of data that might facilitate a better understanding of the customer persona. The challenge? Marketers typically don’t share a statistician’s passion for data.
Most marketers are a fairly right-brained group of professionals who are also comfortable with technology. They love technology as a tool to create great marketing pieces and to deliver their message to the right audience. Marketing is also a field that has been made more relevant to business goals as technology has accelerated.
Despite this harmony between marketing and technology, the majority of marketers have been slow to include big data in their decision-making. The first two barriers are awareness and relevance: seventeen percent of retail marketing executives surveyed by Edgell Knowledge Network were not aware of the existence of big data and an additional ten percent were aware of the term, but unclear how it could impact the retail industry. Perhaps most surprisingly, 25 percent of those who were aware of big data and its relevance to retail had never considered the use of big data in a marketing organization.
The next, and likely the biggest barrier, is the decision making style of the creative marketer. Marketers, for the most part, are still making Don Draper style decisions. In a recent study reported by Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in the Harvard Business Review, data was the lowest ranked item on a list of types of information marketers used to make decisions. In contrast with an 11 percent reliance on data, the 800 marketers from Fortune 1000 companies reported they depend on previous experience or “intuition” more than 50 percent of the time.
Understandably, there is a hesitance to meddle in what has traditionally been a creatively driven field, but ignoring the significance of big data leaves competitors leveraging business analytics into their marketing strategy. Maintaining the marketing status quo leaves companies behind, while those who embrace data are able to reach customers more efficiently and model product development to reflect consumer preferences.
How can businesses gain competency in data analysis? Providing access and funds to support the necessary resources and tools to manage data is an essential step. The CEB study referenced above also found that of the marketers surveyed, the majority had a below-average level comprehension of statistics.
More and more companies are recognizing the need for at least one marketer who approaches decisions from the perspective of a statistician. If the existing budget does not provide for this type of talent, a review of resource allocation could be necessary.
Companies in the process of defining qualifications for a CMO search should consider the level of analytical skills required in the age of big data. Today’s CMO should have an ability to recognize, understand and apply statistical trends to decision making, while still demonstrating a high level of competency in the more creative aspects of marketing. Data-obsessed marketers can be dangerous decision makers because they react to data and shift as the data changes, often crippling the efforts of a marketing organization.
A particular type of CMO is seen by executives as the best to lead decision making in the age of big data. Described in the CEB study as a “Focuser,” this profile combines three key traits: the ability to ask strategic questions based on data, to keep focus on the high-end goals of the organization and to work comfortably with a degree of ambiguity. A CMO “Focuser” can keep the entire team focused on organizational goals and help them understand the ways in which data can be misinterpreted to the detriment of these goals, while still encouraging the use of data to guide decisions.
Extracting value from big data requires the use of the most current business intelligence applications that are a good, logical fit for a company’s industry, size and complexity. In addition to ensuring that the budget includes an allocation for technology, the staff resources to manage this technology at a marketing level must also be considered. Big data has forced technology out of the realm of IT and into many other parts of the organization. A new role of marketing technologist is one way many companies choose to address this need.
The marketing technologist is a business process expert who can understand the features and functionality of various systems and can also map those characteristics into execution on behalf of the organization.
Be involved in providing the resources and tools required to run marketing in the age of big data. But, it’s important to note: it’s wise to let CMOs keep their intuition in the toolbox.
Paul Rafferty is CEO of Sales Engine International, an Austin-based marketing services agency recently recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of America’s fastest growing companies.
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