The data is there for the taking

A wealth of readily available data is one of the many benefits heralded by the growth of online marketing. However, not many companies are actually taking advantage of it. Lucy Fisher reports

The explosion of online marketing and the pace of technological change has led to a glut of easily available data for marketers but few are making the most of it. Just 68% of professionals have a data quality programme, according to Data Strategy’s Marketing Data Survey, which took place this February.

Experts claim the reasons for this vary. Some companies have legacy systems which are so out-of-date that the thought of starting from scratch is terrifying. Others lack awareness of what data can do – or “glaze over” when the word is mentioned – while others might be accused of being simply lazy.

Many in the industry believe that there is a culture clash between “old-school” marketing directors who grew up on a diet of TV advertising and a new generation of digital natives, who may be more aware of the latest metrics for measurement.

Robin Caller, managing director of online lead generation specialist, Goallover, says he has noticed such a chasm in terms of marketers’ attitude gaps: “Some in their 60s don’t care to understand data and online. Likewise, some in their 30s could be accused of banging on about online to the neglect of everything else.”

But experts agree that one thing marketing professionals have in common in the current climate is that they are having to think more carefully about accountability. After all, the technology itself is overflowing with data and can provide more information than anyone could possibly use.

It’s the willingness to use the data that we’ve been bad at, admit both marketers and agencies. Donald Hamilton, UK managing director of behavioural targeting specialist wunderloop explains: “We need that data-crunching capability in the agencies: WPP spends more of other people’s money than bankers do.”

Knowledge gap

In many cases, practitioners warn – and most strikingly in the email channel, they say – there’s still an “alarming” lack of knowledge.

Forty-four per cent of marketers are concerned that the effectiveness of their business’ email marketing is hampered by a lack of strategy, up from 32% last year, according to the annual Email Census by Econsultancy and Adestra.

Lisa Neville, operations director at data consultancy EDM Media, reveals that her clients fail to demand insight from their findings.

“Some don’t even ask for stats after we’ve sent an email broadcast. But just think what people would say if we told them we could tell them at what point people switched channel during a TV ad. We can do this with email,” she adds.

It seems that, for many, data is viewed as a cost centre, rather than an opportunity or revenue generator. But any brand which collects consumer data is potentially sitting on a goldmine. Understanding what makes people spend is even more important than ever when economic times are tough.

Indeed, savvy practitioners find it immensely frustrating when transactional data is ignored. “Sainsbury’s and Tesco have taken simple, basket-level transactions and turned them into real insights. Some brands find it scary. It isn’t. I think, ‘Come on – start wowing me,’” says Julie Screech, agency Proximity London’s head of data.

Some brands are now following Screech’s lead; while a number of businesses are hiring specialists, others are turning to their databases and actively cleaning their data or thinking about strategies in this area for the first time.

This mood of increased awareness could be viewed as one of the positive outcomes of the current economic environment. Sainsbury’s, News International and Cancer Research UK are just three examples of large companies which have employed additional data or insight experts in recent months.

Sector uptake

Certain sectors have seen a more visible surge in understanding about the benefits of effective data management than others. Industry veterans claim FMCG and retail are two areas in which such long-awaited moves are being made.

Andy Taylor, head of marketing and product development at data supplier, infoUK, adds: “Telecoms and utilities, which don’t have large margins, are also looking to build value with increased data cleansing, identifying lookalike customers and so on.”

And, with data cheaper and more freely available than ever before, there’s no excuse. Mike Colling, of data-led media agency Mike Colling & Co, suggests that perhaps this has actually been a problem. The ease of obtaining data has led to a lack of respect for it; he says that all the successful campaigns that his agency has recently worked on have used data in a channel-agnostic way.

For about six months, he says, his team have been combining the use of email and paper mail communications by looking at online interactions on an individual level in order to work out who might react best to a traditional mailing.

“Best practice is combining the discipline of the old, with the newer techniques. For this, you need to keep data clean and up-to-date across all channels,” he says.

This may sound ambitious. But it can be as simple as understanding what points of contact there are within an organisation; bringing them together in a compatible format; looking for patterns of behaviour; and, most importantly of all, acting on them.

For those marketing directors who want to stay in their jobs, the data tells us that there is no longer any choice.

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