A winning strategy, even when played second

If you are reading this, you don’t need convincing of the value that data can have for marketing. Even so, you are in the minority – as a recent survey shows (see below), some three quarters of decision makers have not increased their reliance on database marketing to cope with the downturn.

More fool them, especially as the market turns and customers get their confidence back. Being able to spot that readiness to spend – already highlighted in another survey below – is only possible if you have been investing in data capture, database management and modelling techniques.

These have been the tools which will show a big return on investment for companies that did find the cash in the last 18 months. As a result of tending their garden, data-driven organisations will be quicker out of the blocks, have a greater confidence in the performance of their marketing and should be able to meet customer needs more effectively.

That is the mantra of data-driven marketing, after all. So why do so many business executives remain to be convinced? Two reasons suggest themselves. The first is the powerful allure of digital channels which seem, on the surface at least, not to need the same commitment to data. Buying a search campaign will drive web traffic without ever having to think about demographics or propensity.

If you do care about those, you can go to an affiliate network or lead generation company who will simply pump their audience and direct hot leads your way. Many organisations have used this route to keep their acquisition programmes running without becoming in the slightest bit data-literate.

That feeds the second reason for board-level scepticism. Many senior marketers learned their trade either before the modern data era (ie, as brand managers in the 1980s) or are dot.com natives from the Nineties who love technology, but not information. Top marketers will work the hell out of any medium available. Just don’t ask them to care about customer profiles, lifetime values or propensity to churn.

One of the great injustices of the recession is that well-run companies can suffer just as much as those that were badly managed. A lot of good data professionals have been laid off, not as a direct consequence of their own inadequacies, but because of what has been happening in the bigger picture.

Now is a good time to bid for a bigger data budget and there are expert people available to hire. It is just that any organisation starting down this path at the moment will be playing follow the leader.

By David Reed, editor, Data Strategy

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