The digitization of information is transforming almost every aspect of business and industry, including marketing. One of the biggest impacts of data based marketing is the ability to use measurements to increase efficiency.
If you could go back 20 years, you would find global brands committed to large productions for TV and other types of creative campaigns. These productions were super-expensive, cumbersome to manage and took a lot of time and resources to create. Large companies worked with agencies that brokered creativity. These agencies basically had to take a big risk, spending extraordinary amounts of time and money to come up with something that they thought would resonate. When they were finally ready to move ahead with a campaign, it was hit or miss. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. If you were a marketer with a hit rate of more than 50%, you were considered a legend.
Fast forward to today, when even the smallest brands have the ability to experiment in real-time environments where they can bring out not just one or two productions, but hundreds of productions. We now can take multiple creative ideas to multiple groups of people and test in real-time to see what resonates. And as you’re reducing the speed of the customer feedback loop, you are also reducing the cycle time from one creative moment to another. The feedback that once took possibly six months is now delivered within hours or days. Suddenly you can come up with a lot more creative ideas in those six months than what was done in the past.
Data Promotes Efficiency
Marketing that is more digital, mobile and social is naturally more amenable to being measured and then optimized and improved. This means data actually drives a higher level of measurability and therefore accountability. If you’re a CMO, it performs two critical functions: (a) testing hypotheses and (b) making your marketing more effective.
Marketers in the future will have the ability to drive measureable creativity. By this I mean that although most people think of creativity as an abstract quality that certain people are born with, your ability to become more or less creative in marketing can be driven by how fast you get feedback about what you’re doing. Organizations that know how to use data have the ability to measure and provide feedback much more quickly, allowing creativity to expand at a faster rate. In the marketing discipline, it could even be argued that data is changing the paradigm about whether a person is creative or not.
At Lenovo, the majority of our marketing today has a large digital and social component. One of the benefits of this approach is the ability to deploy in areas where you can move the needle the most, even if you have a limited marketing budget. By using data to measure effectiveness, you’ll know when you’re moving the needle and by how much. Seeing the promise of greater efficiency, we are pushing more aggressively into digital based marketing as opposed to traditional formats. Over the last few years, we have accelerated our focus on measurable marketing, driven by the fact that it has broad reach and we can optimize as we go.
My personal experience is that when you really start thinking about testing and targeting content in a dynamic environment across several segments of your entire customer population (in our case it’s about a billion plus people that come to the Lenovo website), you start getting insights that are deeply meaningful. You understand behavioral tendencies. You’re able to take a piece of content and make it really relevant to a specific group of people.
Challenges in Focusing on Data
Changing a marketing organization to focus on data can be challenging. This is especially true of Big Data, which involves both structured data and unstructured data in multimedia formats. My personal experience includes many of the problems that others typically face and I have come away with some thoughts and conclusions that may help others.
- Watch out for Big Data hype. There’s currently a lot of hype around the concept of Big Data, especially sales hype associated with analytical tools. Remember that no tool can solve the problems that traditionally plague data scientists, including data integrity, incompatible data formats and distributed data. In reality, a lot of Big Data problems can be traced to what may seem like small data issues.
- Start by asking questions. Instead of worrying about building a data infrastructure, start small and begin by asking questions. Once you have one or two well-defined problems and can articulate what it is you’re trying to solve, you can get your bearings and iterate from there—rather than the other way around.
- Technology should be secondary. Technologies in this area are still evolving. Keep your framework flexible, but don’t get caught up in chasing new technology.
- Get advocates on your side. Gather internal advocates who see value in data and understand what it can do from a business standpoint. Once you have that, you will have more support for using technology to experiment with different ideas.
- Invest in the right people. Certain fundamental skills are needed to work with many of these new technologies, so don’t expect someone currently in another role to become a math or statistical wizard overnight. Although you may be able to get a business person to understand and do some of this work, you should find people with the skillsets that these new technologies require. Don’t expect a business person to help move the paradigm forward while they’re trying to learn an entirely new skillset.
- Don’t be afraid of failure. It may not be a huge insight, but I have found that people who work with data need to have the ability to stomach failures. Your ability to experiment more drives better results, but you may often find yourself having to change course as one idea after another comes up short. Become comfortable with the fact that experimentation and failure are part of the routine.
Like we have discussed, the future of marketing will be shaped by data. However, exactly how companies embrace this paradigm to drive creativity or even buy into the paradigm that data will help drive creativity will depend on the company’s culture and DNA. For now, it is safe to assume that measureable creativity could drive competitive differentiation and potentially competitive advantage for companies.
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Ajit Sivadasan manages the global web strategy across 70+ countries as VP/GM at Lenovo. Over the last 9 years he has architected and built Lenovo’s web capabilities working with an internal team spread across 10 countries, growing the business 4x and profits by over 8x. Ajit is a frequent speaker at industry events and in academia. Ajit has spent the last 15+ years evangelizing and practicing eBusiness strategies in global markets.