Marketers must avoid the risk of ‘over datafication’

Data is forever used to prove marketing’s positive effect on the bottom line, but could marketers be at risk of sacrificing pace and creativity by relying too heavily on the numbers?

Marketing has undoubtedly entered a new age of accountability. Today, the effect of every piece of creative can be measured, quantified and optimised, allowing marketers to course correct campaigns in real time.

Never before has marketing been better able to demonstrate its return on investment and explain how its activity is positively impacting on the bottom line, evidence that is helping marketers gain a seat at the top table.

However, is this new age of accountability all it’s cracked up to be? Are marketers slowing themselves down by consulting every possible data source before making a decision? Could they be tempted to opt for easily measurable “safe” campaigns rather than more challenging, innovation projects that might not always be supported by firm numbers?

A clear step change has occurred as a result of the volume of data flooding into marketing, as brands become more immersed in digital, says Ovo Energy CMO, Adam Rostom. He argues that marketers must resist the risk of “over datafication” by mixing accountability with agility and refusing to let data get in the way of making brave business decisions.

“Numbers talk and if you’ve got data that can back up your point, then of course you should use it. The risk that you run with the sheer volume of data available is that you might become hamstrung by the need to consult lots of different data sources,” Rostom adds.

“So yes, numbers talk, but actually the need to progress and move quickly to make fast decisions is actually more valuable.”

Be accountable

Brand managers have always had to be accountable for their P&L and performance, but the speed at which marketers can tap into the data is the big difference in 2017, says Karina Pyne, area oral health category marketing director at GlaxoSmithKline consumer healthcare, Northern Europe.

“Historically, you would run a campaign and your main data on effectiveness would probably be market mix modelling. You would get that two or three months after you had run the campaign. Then you would be able to optimise your activity for the next burst of the campaign.

“But with digital data you’re able to look immediately at how effective the activity is, which gives you the ability to optimise sooner. So there are fewer excuses. If it isn’t going exactly to plan, you have to be seen to be failing fast and to increase spend into the channels and areas where it is working.”

If you take Cadbury in the UK, we have doubled our media spend over the past five years. Data has been an enabler for us, not something stopping us from advertising.

Matt Stockbridge, Mondelēz International

Matt Stockbridge, growth analytics manager at Mondelēz International, agrees that accountability should not be seen as a barrier preventing marketers create great work.

“If you take Cadbury in the UK, we have doubled our media spend over the past five years,” he explains. “So using the data well, proving the decisions we’re taking are making it better, means we are exactly looking to invest more in media and advertising than ever before. Data has been an enabler for us, not something stopping us from advertising.”

Stockbridge recognises a shift in marketing towards work that is more “accountable” rather than risk taking, which he believes represents an opportunity rather than a problem for marketers.

Cadbury breaker

“There have been complaints for years that people in creative, marketing and media are not leading companies and they’re not getting onto the C-suite.

“Finally, we’re getting the tools and metrics to prove there are actually real benefits to the work we’re doing, that it can drive measurable and sustainable business results. So it seems odd to me that they say, ‘well, actually we don’t want that because it’s going to be spoiling our craft or our art’.”

Data ownership

The democratisation of data across companies, especially digital businesses, means that in many cases every department has access to data and insight.

Monster CMO, Andrew Warner, explains that this shared access to data is helping marketing shake off the “colouring in department” cliché as the financial input of marketing becomes more visible across the business.

“That’s also put more pressure on marketing to be able to show results and that in turn has led to an obsession with reporting numbers rather than actually measuring the right things. Just because you can measure something doesn’t necessarily mean that is the right thing to be measuring,” says Warner.

He argues that is the job of a good CMO to take the business’s strategic objectives, devise a marketing strategy and decide the metrics that matter for each campaign, rather than getting lost in the tactics.

“That can undermine marketing because people within those organisations will look at marketing and think, ‘well these guys are the tactical guys, the social media guys’ and it’s almost like the old ‘colouring in department’ [all over again],” Warner explains.

“If we’re not careful in terms of how we use that data we’ll actually undermine our own strategic worth within organisations, whereas actually there is a huge opportunity for us to own that data and interpret that data to help the organisation.”

Team structure can be critical to ensuring that marketing does not prioritise data at the expense of agile decision making. Made.com commercial director, Annabel Kilner, has consciously hired one team of marketers focused on driving the “intuition side” and one to prioritise data, which means the neither team slows the other down.

“I hire two different profiles of people. One is incredibly brand and visual orientated and then within the more commercial marketing team we have a data centric team that is focused very much on the numbers and marginal gains,” she explains.

Kilner argues that setting up the marketers in this way helps Made.com strike a balance between being ROI focused and having an hourly understanding of the short term results, with long term thinking and a desire for experimentation.

READ MORE: Brands are wrong to force marketers to be ‘whole-brained’, says Direct Line’s marketing boss

Set clear parameters

Deciding from the outset what success looks like for each campaign is helping marketers define the data sources most relevant to achieve tangible success, rather than wasting time consulting every possible metric.

“If your campaign is looking at an awareness driving activity or education driving or a convert to purchase you don’t need to measure everything at all of those stages,” advises Pyne.

“Also you need to be particularly careful when you’re looking at ROI data, because that might not be the objective you want to deliver. That piece of communication might not be trying to deliver you a return on investment if it’s at the beginning of the consumer experience journey and is about building awareness.”

While it is critical that the whole team are aligned to the brand strategy and objectives, the definition of success should be down to marketing, says Pyne

“Having too many people involved in that decision making can be very paralysing. If it’s a new digital platform or something we haven’t tried before we might work with media agencies and our digital agencies to collectively define what success looks like, but that’s still within marketing rather than us working with sales or finance to decide.”

“It’s the interpretation of the data that’s the key point. And every data source has its limitations. It can only be part of the answer, but it’s there to help you

Jon Evans, Lucozade Ribena Suntory

Kilner advises marketers to focus on the single action they want a customer to take as a result of a campaign or piece of creative, and from there decide the metrics worth measuring.

“If I look at the new checkout experience or a new product page, I ask ‘what KPIs are we going to measure?’ and there can be list of 20 different KPIs. So I’m like, ‘tell me what is the single KPI that we are going to care about?’,” she explains.

“It’s very important to have visibility across lots of data sets, but if you have the one thing you actually really want the customer to do it comes back to the customer experience and what you want the customer to feel.”

Thinking about the impact of any activity before you’ve even started executing is the best way to identify the most appropriate metrics, advises Rostrom, who acknowledges it does not make practical sense for marketers to measure everything.

“Design [the activity] with the metrics in mind, that is the best way of making sure that the data that comes out is useful. You can have data for everything, but who’s got the budget for that? So it’s important to have a level of pragmatism and make sure you bring the rigour, but don’t let it get in the way of the execution,” he explains.

Monster’s Andrew Warner agrees that is the CMO’s responsibility to look at each piece of activity holistically and take into account that every campaign delivers in a different way.

“If you look at TV advertising over a six month period, it doesn’t look like it’s delivering results on a cost-per-day basis compared to, say search marketing spend, because that’s harvesting people who already decided they wanted to buy a product and are looking for the right price or offer. So they’re different, but they can look like one is working better than the other,” he adds.

Being brave

Data and accountability have an important part to play in the ongoing debate in marketing around short-term versus long-term thinking.

At GSK decisions on when to start analysing the campaign data is made on a case-by-case basis. For TV advertising, for example, the marketing team would look at the insights no sooner than six to eight weeks in order to take into account other factors in the mix such as distribution or promotional activity.

When it comes to search or digital display the marketers interrogate the data weekly, simultaneously running multiple versions of the creative which are then optimised in real time in line with predetermined metrics.

Despite being an advocate of using data to “fail fast”, GSK’s Karina Pyne recognises there is a real danger if marketers are trained to be purely reliant on data.

“I think the brilliant marketers are the marketers who are able to marry the insight from the data, their deep understanding of the consumer with their gut intuition and feel of what is aligned to the brand. Having those three elements come together is where the magic happens,” she explains.

READ MORE: How to balance short-term impact with long-term results

Marketing and business development director of Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Jon Evans, believes that decisions to prioritise long-term brand building over short-term profit decisions are often where the greatest tensions exist in a business. It is for this reason that marketers must ensure they are using the right data to help them make better decisions, balancing the return on investment with the return on brand.

“I firmly believe that as marketers we have a responsibility to prove our investment. The marketing department oversee the biggest investment in the whole company in terms of spend. Therefore, there is a responsibility to show that the investment is being used wisely,” says Evans.

Lucozade Fitwater
Lucozade launched a £3m campaign in September to bring ‘Fitwater’ to market

He argues that data is marketing’s friend as long as marketers use their judgement to ask the right questions and don’t get swamped by the amount of data, which can cloud the issue.

“It’s the interpretation of the data that’s the key point. And every data source has its limitations. It can only be part of the answer, but it’s there to help you,” Evans cautions.

READ MORE: Lucozade plots biggest ever product launch as it enters water market

While not every single piece of work has to drive a short-term uplift in sales, Mondelēz’s Matt Stockbridge agrees that marketing still needs to prove it can make good investments.

“The C-suite will be making decisions like, shall ‘I invest more in advertising or media? Should I be investing more below the line in promotions or price?’ And clearly if other parts of the business are better able to explain the impact of the work they’re doing and the effect it has on the bottom line they’re going to win those arguments and probably historically have done so.

“Now we can show we’re a driver of growth in the business and we need to embrace that rather than just thinking that means the death of creativity.”

You can have data for everything, but who’s got the budget for that? It’s important to have a level of pragmatism and make sure you bring the rigour, but don’t let it get in the way of the execution

Adam Rostom, Ovo Energy

For Monster’s Andrew Warner, brands that combine data insights with creativity  in order to differentiate themselves will always have a competitive advantage.

“One of the differences today is that you can have that creativity and intuition, build a hypothesis and, if you’re smart about it, find a way of demonstrating quite quickly a use case based on data,” says Warner.

“I don’t mean terrible ad testing, which can be used as a crutch by marketers who say ‘I’m a bit nervous about spending all this money on a TV commercial, I’ll do a test which I know will make my ad like everyone else’s, but then I can present the data back to the company and if it doesn’t work it’s not my fault.’ That’s being risk averse.”

The speed of change means that marketers need to have confidence in the strategy not to panic if the data shows they have had a bad week, as the next week could be great.

“The speed at which data is available can sometimes create kneejerk reactions and you have to have that strength as a leader to stay the course on the strategy, but at the same time have the flexibility to keep an eye on the data,” Warner adds.

“You have to be a more nimble than in the past and able to react to feedback to realise opportunities, because if you can get to market quicker with good ideas you have a better chance of winning.”

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Comments
  • Pete Austin 11 Oct 2017 at 10:00 am

    Data is not about producing great marketing – that requires luck or skill – it’s about stopping under-performing “bad” marketing very quickly, before the costs spiral.

  • Jote Bassi 11 Oct 2017 at 11:28 am

    Too much data means analysis leading to paralysis. The best Marketeers have intuition and good instinct which has been forged from front line sales exposure or actually meeting customers – not hiding behind spreadsheets and expensive insight reports.Over reliance on big data has ushered us into the most dull, predictable, unskilled era of marketing, self fulfilled by a new generation of formulaic, pseudo accountants titled as CMOs.

  • James Gambrill 11 Oct 2017 at 2:08 pm

    I think much depends on how you define ‘data’. Qualitative feedback from customers is still data, but could be construed by some as gut instinct. It’s also important to differentiate between advertising and marketing of course, much of the above relates to measuring advertising metrics, the work that has to go in before an advertising campaign is launched has to be based on a whole mix of data and other insights and testing to get the core elements – product, pricing, positioning right or campaigns will fail whatever the medium. I do agree one of the most valuable contributions of data is to help stop spend on what’s not working…

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