When is a running shoe a piece of digital technology? That’s when the sports giant, Nike, embeds sensors in running shoes and wearable devices to enhance the customer experience, in this case helping athletes train more effectively with data. In essence, Nike combines its decades-built experience of athletes with data to deliver more to its customers. And it’s not alone. It turns out that the use of data is one of the characteristics of over-performing brands the world over.
That was one of the findings from the Marketing 2020 study, which surveyed 10,000 marketing leaders in 92 countries, comparing responses of high-performing and low-performing organizations based on revenue. What are over-performing brands doing right? More than half (52%) of the over-performers say that their organizations “leveraged all data and analytics to improve marketing effectiveness”—compared with 35% of under-performers who’ve relied on data-driven marketing.
The ability to manage data, apply analytics and then act on those insights distinguishes what the most competitive marketing organizations are doing today. It’s fundamental to engaging consumers one to one across a growing number of platforms and channels. But how does today’s marketing organization integrate the data management and analytical skills required? And how does a would-be marketer still in school get educated for this new world?
Let’s start with the basics: Today’s marketing is both an art and a science. The art begins with the creative team responsible for producing content that tells an engaging and relevant story, but content in and of itself does not necessarily drive the results. Marketing teams also need the “science” required to test the relevance of these creative concepts and target the right consumers at the right time, using the right platforms—all the while measuring and optimizing the effectiveness of this entire process. The best marketing organizations today reflect, in a variety of ways, this hybrid model combining art and science, creativity and quantitative skills.
The New Marketing Organization
We all know that marketing teams are not historically known for their quant skills, so collecting, analyzing and acting on data may be a significant change in culture, focus and skill set. A classic marketing education has tended to focus on brand development and targeting broad audiences across a few, largely autonomous channels. You see this world of print and broadcast advertising brought to life in Mad Men. All that has changed, of course, with the explosion of digital platforms and channels, along with a tidal wave of data on consumer preferences. That’s why it’s important for today’s marketer to have enough knowledge and skills to work effectively with IT teams, analysts and data scientists. The marketing professional brings a critical ingredient to the table: knowledge of marketing “use cases.” The marketer knows the right questions to ask of the data.
It comes down to effective communication among these key groups. Marketers, technical teams and data analysts all use different sets of skills and terminologies, have different perspectives, and often have little knowledge of what the other group actually does. Data scientists, analysts and technical teams often don’t understand marketing use cases, and the marketing teams are not likely to understand deep technical, statistical or analytic requirements.
We need to make the effort to build the interfaces between these key groups and disciplines. The technical and data teams need to know more about what the marketers are trying to achieve. Likewise, marketing teams must develop a better understanding of the data management, analysis and “martech stack,” or the different yet connected software that companies adopt. In essence, they need to ask better questions of the data teams.
Educating the Next Generation
I predict that the next wave of marketers will be a tech-savvy generation that doesn’t question the need to balance the art and science of their profession. Yet data-driven marketing still is not widely taught in business schools. That’s why the Johnson Graduate School of Management at my alma mater, Cornell University, asked me to lecture as an executive-in-residence in data-driven marketing from an actual practitioner’s view. In addition to sharing the experimental thinking, tools and processes of data-driven marketing, I advise them to take a class or two in statistics, to educate themselves in the rapidly evolving world of martech and to understand what’s emerging. The idea is to be able to use both our left and right brains to work effectively.
Creativity without conversion equals zero. We can and must combine marketing’s creative powers with the data-driven mindset that will vastly improve marketing effectiveness and accountability. That’s the winning solution.