Key trends that should define every brand’s data story

Marketers from ITV, eHarmony, AIG and O2, and judges of Marketing Week’s Data Storytelling Awards, debate key data themes and predict what’s on the horizon

Clare Phillips, head of brand and audience planning, ITV

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Data visualisation

“How often in the past did the implications of data get lost because of people’s natural aversion to being confronted by numbers? The fact is, our brains are hardwired to process information visually.

“This has only been enhanced by the rise of the internet and social media creating a world where the visual dominates over text more than ever. Add in marketplaces becoming more globalised, and you have a compelling need to present data in as visual a way as possible.

“There are clear benefits. Unmanageably large quantities of data suddenly become coherent. People are able to understand implications more easily, and therefore determine necessary actions more easily. And, crucially, data stops being a code that only the few can crack, and instead becomes a tool that everyone can understand and use.”

Comprehensive journeys

“In the past, customer journeys appeared to be relatively linear things. Of course, in reality they never were but they’ve never been more fluid as they are now.

“Today, customers switch seamlessly between online and offline experiences, moving from initial browsing through to commenting on their purchase. That’s why it’s vital for organisations to be able to bring together off and online data to create a ‘comprehensive journey’.

“It’s having all these behaviours, triggers and barriers in place to create the necessary understanding for brands to provide the relevant nudges and reassurances in the right places at the right times. Brands then ensure that those journeys are both satisfying and, most importantly, continue to their end destination. “

Stuart McDonald, regional head of customer insight for EMEA, AIG

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Context is king

“When it comes to insight and engagement, storytelling is very much the buzzword of the moment. This is all well and good but such storytelling must take into account the wider context or other available sources of information and data.

“Don’t treat projects in isolation: they may have been undertaken as individual tactical pieces but should incorporate all relevant internal and external sources.

“For the past few years I have seen numerous examples of companies struggling with how they marry their internal data, collected via the analytics team, with the work carried out by research/insight teams.

“Don’t try and force the relationship – look for projects where the value of the data talks to profitability and customer groups you would want to see more of. The research can be used to understand how you can get more of them on board.”

Align with your CEO

“There is an eternal debate about how to get data onto the top table. The answer is simple: align with your CEO and understand what his or her objectives are.

“This is a sure-fire way to get your work on their radar and holding regular informal chats on project progress will ensure invites to key meetings.

“Pulling together the work of various departments will add that extra spice to your work.  Use the sessions to tackle key issues and workshop the next steps. Hold people accountable in those key sessions, asking who is going to pick up each action and when they are going to deliver. Bring the outside in and bring the customer to life.”

Romain Bertrand, marketing director at eHarmony.co.uk

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Tailor programmatic for your brand

“Programmatic serves up a lot of opportunities, with the likes of Facebook impressively showcasing what can be done in this arena. However, it’s still in its infancy and it feels there’s a danger of buying into the hype.

“It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s just a case of really understanding how it works for your brand. You need to be clear on your objectives and ensure the right data is utilised.

“Looking to the future, it feels that programmatic offers a precision and speed of technology which, leveraged well, can deliver cost effective performance volumes and the ability to test on multiple levels at any one time. Organisations need to be agile in their approach and put in place the resources needed to take advantage of this mass real-time data output and results.”

Optimising for search

“SEO is still king, with recent updates having a huge impact, and making mobile more important than ever. Data is harder to get, yes, but this creates huge opportunities. There is a competitive advantage for those brands that know how to find and leverage that data and translate it into valuable user journeys and content, as well as leverage social signals and influencers.

“What’s going to be increasingly important going forward is considering all your properties when optimising for search and I think we’re just beginning to see the rise of really competitive App Store optimisation. Even if your app isn’t your main product or platform, if you have one you’re going to want it showing up for relevant App Store searches. That’s going to mean more than stuffing your app description with keywords.”

Simon Kaffel, head of information management, O2

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Data governance is key

“The Harvard Business Review claims that the data scientist is the sexy role for this decade. That is all well and good but a data scientist can’t do what they need to do unless the basics are delivered against.

“A lot of those basics are really quite mundane activities around data governance, data security and data quality, yet they are fundamental. The spotlight needs to be shone on these areas that often don’t realise any commercial value until something goes wrong with data.

“If there is a security issue or a data misuse issue, the focus needs to be on governance to protect the use of that data. Paying attention to the less sexy side of data is critical.”

Focus on trust

“For me the focus is all around trust. Individuals are increasingly aware of the value of their data and the need for that data to be used ethically and legally, and to be stored securely.

“There has to be a value exchange so that they provide their data to an organisation in the secure knowledge that data is going to be used in a manner that is rewarding to them. If the brand is able to deliver against that it gives the customer increased confidence to give access to more and more information about themselves.

“So there has to be trust, there has to be transparency and an awareness that, ultimately, once the brand has access to a customer’s information, it is no longer just a load of ones and zeros. It is actually an individual that they are dealing with. So, yes, exploit the data but exploit it in an ethical and a legal way.”

Marketing Week’s Data Storytelling Conference & Awards takes place in London on 10 September.

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