Our Fitbits tell us how many steps we walked. Our Spotify accounts list our most played songs and artists. Our phones know that when we get in our cars at 7 a.m., we’re headed to work, so they automatically inform us how long it’ll take to get to the office. “There is data for everything,” Todd Jones, senior vice president, analytics, for Hunt Valley, Maryland-based WebbMason Marketing, said. “My kids have toothbrushes that generate data and send me notifications on my phone if they did not brush their teeth in the morning.”
Safe to say, nearly everything we do is tracked—and marketers know how valuable that data can be. But it’s not as easy for marketers to use that valuable data to their companies’ greatest advantages.
Jones and Dave Sutton, president and CEO of Atlanta-based TopRight Partners, shared some ideas on how to sift through massive mounds of data and develop targeted ways to approach current and future campaigns.
Collect the right data
With so much data available on any given individual, it’s easy to see why many marketers’ first impulse is to collect as much information as they can on their prospects and customers. But more data isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes, more data is distracting and overwhelming. “The biggest mistake is to make wide-ranging investments into data without a clear focus or strategy behind why it will be helpful,” Sutton said. “Data for data’s sake is never going to be effective, and it is why it has created this ‘big data’ buzzword.”
“The key is to focus on what makes sense given your business’s needs and goals,” he noted. “Vet the latest trend or buzzword, but come at it from the lens of ‘how does this help my company accomplish what it needs to reach its vision?’”
For a data-driven strategy to be successful, it must instead focus on the information that will further the specific company’s goals. “If you lack focus in your data collection, you will have trouble sifting through to find what is valuable,” Sutton explained. “Prioritize what is important to achieving long-term sustainable growth.”
To determine those growth goals, he recommended concentrating on customer touchpoints throughout their experiences with the company, not just at one stage. “You should look to not only leverage data about what sparks initial interest in your product or service, but also what assets moved them from a prospect to a closed sale, and what your customers are saying after [the] purchase,” Sutton said. “By leveraging insights from across the buyer journey, you can drive sustainable growth.”
He also suggested asking questions, like: “What are you looking to accomplish in the next couple quarters, one to three years, beyond five years?”
This information provides marketers with the opportunity not just to run better current campaigns, but to plan better future campaigns. “When you start to look at your data strategy with this longer-term focus, you can begin to cut down on the clutter,” Sutton added. “What we usually find is that groups don’t need more data—what they need is to collect the right data and make it actionable.”
But marketers can’t just focus on the future. They also need to be aware of how their companies are using data today to determine how it can be better optimized for tomorrow. “If you want to put a real [data] strategy together—one where you can make incremental progress throughout the year and stick within the confines of a budget—you need to understand what data you are capturing today, what technologies you use to execute your marketing campaigns, and what tools you use to measure and analyze the results,” Jones explained.
“Every good strategy should have a proper balance between tackling the low-hanging fruit and swinging for the fences with ambitious analytic goals,” Jones continued. “By establishing a baseline on where you are today, you can develop a strategy that has a good balance between making an immediate impact and thinking about the long-term strategy.”
Develop actionable steps
Even if marketers collect the right data, that’s only a piece of the process. Once they have the data, they need to know what to do with it. Data analysis alone is not enough. The insights must be implemented. “When building a data-driven marketing strategy, you want to avoid what is known as ‘analysis paralysis,’” Jones said. “Dashboards and reports are great for visualizing data, but it is easy to get carried away. Insights need to be tied back to the decision-making process, whether it is [via] creative design, budget allocation or campaign execution.”
Sutton echoed the importance of incorporating analytics into the decision-making process. “Analytics needs to be embedded in every aspect of your marketing team, so decisions can be informed from top to bottom, and the decision-making process can be as nimble as possible,” he said.
Jones provided an example. “If you build a churn model, how is the creative department going to use those insights when making decisions on copy and images for the next retention campaign?” he posited. “A data-driven strategy is not information technology creating more reports or dashboards, it is a fundamental change in how the business makes decisions.”
The decision-making process needs to be integrated throughout the entire company—not just within a single department. “‘Siloed’ has become a clichéd phrase, but marketing should be integrated with every aspect of your business—whether that’s human resources, operations, finance or sales,” Sutton said. “When your organization communicates, you open up the possibility for insights to cross these departments and raise the chance of propelling your company to success.”
Continued success depends upon this integrated marketing management approach, which demands seamless communication among the company’s marketing operations, campaign management, customer engagement and marketing analytics teams, Sutton said. “Without this integrated approach, your data team will lack the ability to reach its full impact,” he added.
The various types of data available for a company should also be robust and integrated. As Sutton explained, there is interactional data; analytic data; behavioral data; results data; and data from the cloud, applications and digital data management. And it can be gathered from a variety of channels. “Understanding the data coming from all of your interactions with customers is helpful in analyzing your consumers’ behaviors to find the best target audience,” Sutton noted. “How are they interacting with your email, blogs, personalized pages, non-digital marketing? With this understanding you can provide better understanding of not only which customer groupings are going to bring in the most revenue, but which will be most profitable.”
Jones also emphasized the importance of synthesizing the data and offered ways to implement it across the company and the campaign. “Whether this is tying online marketing (digital) with offline marketing (e.g., direct mail, TV, radio), or aggregating marketing data with operational data, gaining a holistic view can drive better strategies for future campaigns.”
But this type of strategy—one that affects every aspect of a company’s decision-making process—is something that will take time to implement. “My No. 1 tip would be to take a crawl-walk-run approach,” Jones said. “This type of change does not happen overnight, but, at the same time, you need to show continuous progress with incremental wins.
“Understand where you are heading by establishing [three-month] milestones and figure out the best way to get there with weekly deliverables,” he suggested.
Use social media wisely
Whether it’s through a status update, a shared post or a tweet, oftentimes, people use social media to express their feelings—at both extremes. As such, it becomes a great place for marketers to keep tabs on how their audiences feel about their products and services. But the wealth of data available to marketers in real-time is only effective if it’s used correctly. Speed plays a big role in that.
“Your group has to be nimble enough to put what you heard via social media into action,” Sutton said. “Whether the data points in a positive or negative direction, the companies that will thrive will be able to react first to trends and capitalize. If your social data analysis picks up on a big market opportunity, you have to have the protocols in place to create a new product, reposition your brand or adjust your messaging.” It’s also important for the data team to understand how the audience interacts with the brand via social media, Sutton explained. “Make sure your data strategy involves understanding not only how to better interact with customers, but what is keeping them engaged,” he noted. “This will help your marketing department convert more interest into sales, and sales into loyal brand advocates.”
This idea of brand advocates is a crucial one for marketers looking to grow their brands.
According to Jones, social media becomes especially interesting when integrated with internal data. “Valuable customers are not only those who purchase products online or in the store, but also those who spread brand awareness through social media,” Jones said. “Having a data strategy that allows for this 360-degree view of a customer will help you generate personal communication channels with your customers and grow your brand.”
But again, knowing the audience is only half the battle. Marketers must also know how to take actionable steps from this collected data.
As an example, Jones discussed sentiment analysis on social media. “While it might be a fun fact to know what percentage of the Internet population has a positive review of your product, that alone does not help you make improvements,” he explained. “What is your process for addressing negative reviews? Or your process for collaborating with product development to fix bugs mentioned in bad reviews? Figuring out how to take data and information, and act upon it is the most difficult, and the most crucial, aspect of any data-driven strategy.”
Allison Ebner is content editor for Promo Marketing, NonProfit PRO and Print+Promo. Reference any animated movie, "Harry Potter" character or '80s band and you'll become fast friends.