Data should flaunt its geek chic

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Last week, I heard a succession of marketers complain that when they talk about data, it rarely sounds sexy enough to make the board sit up and take notice. Some even went so far as to suggest rebranding data, and calling it something else entirely. I disagree.

At Marketing Week’s 1-2-1 Data-Driven Marketing Summit, one of these marketers – Mercedes-Benz marketing director David George – said that the car maker doesn’t use the word “data” internally, referring to it instead as business information. He says the brand’s marketing is hugely data-led, but adds “we don’t ever think of ourselves as a ‘data culture’ business”.

What he means by that, I suspect, is that marketers don’t join Mercedes to talk about segmentation. They join to talk about horsepower, turbocharging and injection engines; or otherwise sleek design, subtle features and luxurious comfort. In other words, they join for the sexy stuff.

But George also knows that this side of the business would be a blunt-edged sword without the knowledge of Mercedes’ market that its data provides. In positioning its new C-class coupe, for example, the brand realised it had to start appealing to a younger consumer after market research showed the average perceived age of a Mercedes owner is 47, compared with 36 for its key competitor.

The upshot is that Mercedes has come to be seen among young people as “a brand admired but not desired”, George admits. And there’s nothing sexy about that.

Marketers who underestimate the compelling cases they can make to their businesses using data are simply unaware of how potent a weapon they wield. Mercedes clearly does know, but its marketers feel they need to make those cases using a different vocabulary – they use data to tell stories.

The best marketers already know how to do that, though, and shouldn’t need to feel embarrassed by the stigma attached to the word “data”. They simply need to show the connecting line between the data and the decision, rather than regurgitate percentages that to the uninitiated will sound like a foreign language.

Marketers should be exploiting the mystique around data. Most seem not to realise that there is now a general, if vague, awareness among not just the business community but also society at large that data is going to be the main driver of the digital economy. It’s just that not many people are able to explain how or why.

Computer programmers have turned that mystique to their advantage in the past decade and made geek chic fashionable. The best now command huge salaries at technology companies in Silicon Valley. In the next decade, those who can master data and make it tell stories will be similarly rewarded.

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