Russell Parsons: Don’t put data before strategy

By replacing its top marketer with a chief data officer EasyJet risks eliminating the one person that could make sense of what the data actually means.

You might call it a relentless desire for continuous improvement or an inability to leave the hell alone, but there is an obsession with redefining what marketers do and what they’re called.

Unnecessary elongation or distortion of the 4Ps is commonplace, as is the monthly unveiling of new checklists that seek to define fundamental change while signalling the future, but are instead exercises in saying the same thing in different ways.

Elsewhere, it seems for many that the marketing manager/director or CMO title is no longer enough to illustrate their responsibilities, with the name of the person responsible for defining and executing strategy becoming more descriptive – chief marketing and technology officer, for example – or more a statement of intent – chief growth officer, among others.

READ MORE: Coca-Cola and the rise of the chief growth officer

These are attempts, often driven by marketers themselves, at better reflecting the job of marketing with the potential knock-on effect that they change the narrative around marketing, positioning it as more vital, both in its embrace of technology and in its contribution to business success.

What these changes don’t do, however, is signal that marketing has been relegated to an afterthought.

It’s difficult not to conclude that that’s exactly what EasyJet has done.

In summary, the airline announced last week (23 January) its chief commercial officer Peter Duffy, who oversaw marketing and revenue generation, is to leave but will not replaced directly. Instead, it is recruiting to hire a chief data officer.

There’s no utopia without first working out what you’re trying to do with your brand and for your customers.

Speaking to the Financial Times, new CEO Johan Lundgren said the position would help it “further build on work we have already done with data science to exploit the opportunity of the billions of data points [we have] within the organisation”.

There is no doubt the millions of passengers who choose EasyJet – that use its app, that pass through its hubs, that browse its website and use its partners’ services – will generate billions of data points. What they will not do is generate a single insight.

There has long been an assumption that data has brought us to the gate of marketing heaven. That it is just a matter of time before the gates are unlocked and untold riches revealed.

But there’s no utopia without first working out what you’re trying to do with your brand and for your customers. Only then does any piece of data mean anything to anyone. Only then can you glean any kind of insight. Seems to me the perfect job for a marketer.

The promise of data is far from realised, and will perhaps never be when compared with the huge expectations. I am struggling to remember too many instances where data-driven communication has propelled my experience of a brand from good to great. On the contrary, most attempts at personalisation have left me cold. What has improved my ‘customer experience’ is helpful service, from a person not a data point.

Data is undoubtedly a good thing – it can help bolster the efficiency of a media campaign, it carries the potential of making mass communication more meaningful and it certainly helps make better decisions about where budget should be allocated, as in the case of Diageo and its Catalyst platform.

In the case of the airline sector EasyJet sits in, it has the potential to help make a sometimes fraught experience that bit more palpable. What it can’t do is take into account macro environmental factors, competition, or attitudinal and behavioural shifts. In short, someone who can help make sense of what the data means. Only a marketer can do that, a good old fashioned, honest to goodness marketer, or whatever a company chooses to call them.

Hide Comments3 Show Comments
  • Tadas R. 30 Jan 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Many companies are going through similar changes. Marketing is moving in the wrong way because available consumer data and business objectives speak the same short-term language. I have written an article about it:

  • Pete Austin 1 Feb 2018 at 3:04 pm

    “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” John Wanamaker. The purpose of data is to tell you which half, very quickly, so your money isn’t wasted – that must be a good thing, surely?

    With personalization you make this decision more accurately, for each individual shopper, because what works for one person is wasted for another.

  • Nigel Hollis 20 Feb 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Thank Russell Parsons for a common sense viewpoint on the use of data. You can only define wasted if you know what you are trying to achieve.

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