Good data gives marketing its direction

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Those who believe in the value of data in marketing have one big-name player on their side.

WPP, the world’s largest marketing services group by revenues, has reported a 28.5% increase in its profits for 2010, helped in part by a 3.9% like-for-like increase in the revenues of its consumer insight division.

The group fought tooth and nail over acquisitions of market research firms such as TNS in past years, pointing to their pivotal roles in its plans. Their reports are not only a source of profit for WPP, they also provide the figures that shape the group’s direction according to the behaviour of consumers.

Chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell said in December last year that a large part of WPP’s business is “understanding the importance of data”. Buried within its preliminary report for 2010 are indications of exactly how important it is. Increasing its use of data within the business is named as one of the key priorities of WPP’s ongoing digital strategy.

This includes planned spending of $1bn (around £600m) on software and systems that will provide both the “ability to use data across third-party and internal platforms” and “access across partners to a common data warehouse”. The aim is to be capable of measuring and improving campaign effectiveness, particularly online.

An investment of this order in the management of data says that Sorrell is putting his money where his mouth is. Brands should be shaping their own operations this way too.

If WPP is structuring itself around the management of data, it is an indication that it understands how important it will be in the future of marketing. Marketers who have not caught up yet should need no further persuasion that now is the time to do so.

One who appears to be convinced already is Matt Willcocks, marketing manager for Total UK’s network of petrol stations. The brand has just relaunched its loyalty scheme so that customers will automatically accrue points every time they use a registered credit or debit card, without having to use a separate loyalty card.

Like the idea itself, Willcocks’ explanation of the benefits to his business is elegantly simple: “It gives us a live stream of customer behaviour information and, tied with the Total Rewards programme, we can now communicate with them based on individual behaviour and redemption.”

Rarely do marketers express in such a straightforward way the direct effect of good data on their business, and on the relationship with customers.

Please help us to understand marketers’ attitudes to data – and you could win £200 John Lewis vouchers. Click here to fill out the Marketing Week/Data Strategy survey on multi-channel marketing, in association with Alterian. Your answers will inform an in-depth piece to be published in Marketing Week during March this year.

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