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Does Marketing Really Need More Data?

On Saturday morning, while drinking my usual cup of coffee and watching “Mr. Robot,” I read an article making the case for developing marketing campaigns without the use of data.

He was careful to not take too hard a stance, but the author posited that you don’t need data to make decisions, and that great ideas come from your “boring old human brain.”

Disclosure #1: I work for an analytics software company. I’ve imbibed so much analytics Kool-Aid. So much. 

Disclosure #2: I want to make it clear right now that I’m a fan of the human brain. It’s pretty rad.

Those disclosures aside, this belief that data is unnecessary has some dangerous side effects:

  1. It makes marketing about you and your beliefs, instead of your customer and theirs.

Intuition is great, but it comes with bias, and it comes with blinders. Data helps you minimize the impact of that bias. I can create a great piece of content, but it will be what I like, not what you like. That’s fine for art, but not for marketing.

Your Social Strategy Is Holistic. Why Isn’t Your Analysis?

I get the point that the author was trying to make. But marketing and advertising in 2016 isn’t just about one big idea. It’s about a big idea manifested in many different ways across many different channels with many different goals: Social (all of the channels, audience segments, and content types), email (each of your audience lists), web (each visitor path), print (each publication), digital ads (too many factors to name), events, radio, TV…you get the point.

The Social Marketer’s Guide to Hyper-Targeting

If you create one great idea and broadcast it across all of those channels without considering the audience of each specific channel, you’re not maximizing for the best return. That’s just bad business.

As any content creator will tell you, an idea is only as good as what you do with it. 

Otherwise it just stays an idea, and that does no one any good.

Yet, in many cases, we still only use the massive amount of data we have access to as digital marketers for one purpose: reporting.

Reporting is important. We have to justify our existence. We have to tell our bosses and clients that what we’re doing matters. We have to show that their investment isn’t being wasted, but your data can do so much more.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called “Why Marketers Can’t Afford to Separate Data and Creativity,” and that title still reflects reality.

You market holistically, cross-channel, and omni-channel, to many different audience segments. One “big idea” will work well in one place and not in another, with one audience and not another, to impact one goal and not another.

Your marketing strategy is holistic. Your measurement needs to reflect that.

How to Match Analysis to Strategy

It’s all well and good to tell you to use data to inspire creative, and creative to inspire your types of analysis, but what does that really mean? As my therapist wife would say, “Let’s unpack this.”

  1. Understand your goals: Your campaign has to start with goals. What are you trying to do? Is it focused on conversions? Driving conversations about your brand? As digital marketers, we all have access to enough data that we’re able to measure everything from conversations to conversions. Understand where in the buyer’s journey you want this campaign to make an impact, and then work backwards to figure out how you can do it. Our social metrics map is a great way to plot that course.
  2. Focus on Audience: Your audience differs by location, and what they expect from you differs by medium. Try to understand what they want. In social, this means understanding what they respond to on each network. Which topics, which content types, what time of day, what CTAs. Focus on what they want from you.
  3. Optimize and Validate: As I mentioned before, your big idea is only as good as what you do with it. Constantly assess and tweak your tactics to make improvements. You can’t do this without good data.
  4. Plan Holistically: For the most part, you’re not running Twitter campaigns. You’re not running Instagram campaigns. You’re running social campaigns. And when your team is firing on all cylinders, you’re running marketing campaigns. You can’t measure success or plan effectively by silo-ing each of those channels. Bring measurement together. Whether that means side-by-side data through data visualization software like Tableau, or just bringing together stakeholders from across the team to share insight, this is essential to growth.

A big idea can definitely come from your brain, and it should! Your brain is great. But you know what else your brain can do? Process information and use it to make more-informed decisions, even creative ones.

Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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