Marketing has undergone a seismic shift in the last two decades, from the traditional model of make it, broadcast it and pray that it works; to a much more agile approach of make it, broadcast it, watch it, amend it, rinse and repeat. At the heart of this change is the movement to digital, and the subsequent access to reams of data. This has bred a plethora of “data driven marketers” and evangelists who bow to the god of all things data. As a marketer who was bred in the traditional mode, with access to big budgets, the best creative agencies and a bit of a spray and pray mentality, to say this shift has been hard to adjust to is an understatement. Here are some things I have learnt since heading up Brand in the digital-first world of a Fintech startup where I have learnt the importance of using data as a guide, not a prophet.
Creativity is more important than ever.
No one is sitting around waiting for your advert or content to interrupt their day. Multiple research studies around the world show that the average person is exposed to somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 advertising messages a day. We naturally screen and filter 99% of these, with only the most distinctive or personally relevant breaking through the clutter.
The following quote by Tom Roach pretty much summarises the task for marketers:
“Only 16% of advertising is both recalled and correctly attributed to the brand (according to a study by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of 143 TV ads) suggesting 84% of ad spend could be going to waste if that’s replicated in the real world. It’s another sobering reminder that your audience don’t care about your advertising, so you’d better make it distinctive enough to make an impact and well-branded enough so people remember who it’s from.”
Talk about data as much as you want, but in the end the most effective advertising is still the most creative. Marketing may have started as 50% science and 50% magic, however as the science has been elevated to god-like status, so the importance of the magic has actually increased exponentially. Contrary to what you may think, in the age of shedloads of data and an elevation of the science, creativity is now really king.
Practically what that means for modern marketers is the vital importance of being idea-centered. Are you spending enough time creating an environment where the best ideas are allowed to bubble to the surface? Is there dedicated time and space given to ideation? Are your biggest moves/campaigns/ideas slowly conceptualised, iterated on and brought to life over time with the best creative minds in charge? If the answer is no to these questions, you have been suckered into losing sight of what really matters.
A sniper rifle, not a shotgun.
One of the inherent issues with access to lots (and lots and lots) of data is the pressure you feel to act on what it is supposedly telling you. This results in the potential for a complexity explosion — layers and layers of new messaging as you “follow the data” and experiment. In the end, the most effective marketing is still, and will always be, the simplest. Research by Millward Brown on Link tests has shown that the more messages you try and communicate, the less chance of any single message being remembered. Data should be a sniper rifle, not a shotgun.
The best use of marketing data is to hone in on what is working and make it more effective by pumping money, time and resources into amplifying it, rather than falling into the trap of justifying doing lots of things because some digital vanity metric is leading you down a garden path. The real skill for a modern marketer is not knowing how to crunch reams of data, it is knowing what to ignore and what to obsess over.
How to use data as a guide, not a prophet.
So here are some simple, practical things I have learnt to ensure data is used as a guide to doing effective marketing in a digital world:
- Pre-launch testing: I both love and hate the process of collecting feedback and data points prior to the launch of a piece of communication. The idea is of course to test messaging and creative prior to sending it out at scale into the world. The reality is that this in particular is an area where you need experience to know what to ignore. A camel is just a horse made by committee. It is rarely possible to test big ideas prior to launch besides some qualitative concept testing. What you are looking for is red flags. Is the message takeout fundamentally different to what you expected? But the biggest trap is if you use qualitative testing to try and show you the light. This is likely to result in confusion and (even worse) trying to solve by adding and adding. The idea of pre-launch testing should be extraction of what is not necessary, not addition of new things.
- Create a consistent dashboard of metrics: getting to the point where you are tracking consistent metrics over multiple campaigns is the goal. This allows you to really start gaining insight into what good looks like. Your dashboard doesn’t need to be super fancy and automated, a spreadsheet with key data points is enough. Initially this must be tracked in real-time, but timeframes can be eased to weekly once a campaign or engagement is in full swing. I would always suggest orientating your dashboard around a sales funnel with top, middle and bottom of funnel metrics.
- Look for early signs of traction: the life of every campaign or piece of comms looks different, but the first week is crucial for all. You want to watch engagement stats in realtime in the first week. Good marketing tends to get out the gates fast and builds in momentum. Average or poor marketing comms feels like a slog from day one. If you aren’t getting early sharing and organic traction, you need to re-think creative, messaging, story or media targeting. Specifically watch how your brand advocates are reacting. If they aren’t getting excited, you are probably in trouble.
- Measure impact and efficiency, and beware of vanity metrics: Impact KPIs show whether your marketing is moving the needle (awareness or recall lifts). Efficiency KPIs are really about effectiveness and whether you are having to spend your way to prosperity (Cost per x). Be careful to not only measure impact or you will only have half the picture. There are some good examples here of CEO-worthy marketing metrics. Video views and social media reach are both great examples of metrics to look at, but not make any decisions with. Both are complete vanity metrics which can be manipulated with ease. Cost per full video view on the other hand is a good metric.
In the end being an effective marketer has nothing to do with terabytes of data, it still is, and has always been about great ideas, executed smartly. The data available to the modern marketer allows for far quicker feedback loops, and the ability to ensure that good work gets seen by more people by investing behind it. But it is the magic which matters, now more than ever.