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Scaling Marketing’s Big Rocks

Jed MoleJune 30, 2014

Isn’t marketing complex these days! Media has fragmented, data has gotten big and the marketing technology sophisticated and clever. However, across all this change, there seem to be some ‘big rocks,’ themes as persistent and hard as rocks themselves, that marketers continually wrestle with and often mark the difference between success and failure.

Let’s take a look at some of these big rocks, the ones that won’t go away and the ones that need careful management if a brand is to create sustained success. I’ve identified the magnificent seven, starting with silos.

When I first worked in data-driven marketing 18 years ago, we bemoaned the degree to which customer data was siloed across different databases. Then came the trend towards massive customer data warehouses. The thing is, many of these data warehouses took forever to finish, if they were finished at all! The growth of data, the rate of change and new data sources meant their scope became a moving target. First campaign management tools, then email platforms, then mobile, then social arrived in turn, each offering a ‘convenient’ but often isolated silo in which to hold and manage customer data. Add to that analysts wanted their own, more static data marts, separate from the growing number of real-time databases and it’s hardly surprising that many marketers still today, 18 years on, struggle to see their customers. That’s why the smartest marketers are working closely with their IT colleagues to strategically create and maintain the ability to get the right data to the right place at the right time, even if virtually or on-demand, so that in turn they can do likewise with the message or offer.

Now that, in theory, we have the right data in the right place, can we actually put it together in a way that makes sense? Customer identification is second of the magnificent seven. It’s incredible to think that, in the renaissance of 1-to-1 direct marketing, we still find ourselves working with growing masses of unidentifiable consumer data. The reality is, even with a name, address, telephone number or email, it’s still difficult to piece together an accurate picture of the consumer. Not all data comes with the aforementioned ‘keys’ for matching, some of them conflict each other, some of them are out of date. It has always been, and will always be true that all data-driven marketing is only as good as the data it is built on. If you can’t recognise the consumer, you can’t begin to understand and engage them. Of course, when you have nothing, anything sounds attractive, and that’s the case with cookies and digital data. The problem is, a cookie has never bought a thing, ever. It’s always real people who are best approximated through the help of cookies. The future lies in being able to go beyond the cookie and being able to bring data together to better identify, understand and serve the consumer.

The customer comes in at number three! I recently attended a big data seminar from a major marketing software company. In the hour and a half presentation, I heard the word ‘customer’ used three times; I deliberately counted. And, each time, it was sandwiched between the words single and view. It’s just not good enough. The presenters talked of segments and profiles, of campaigns and platforms. They talked of single customer views as tools and technology, not as people. It’s almost as if people were lab rats, waiting to have marketing done to them. The essence of the whole data-driven marketing ecosystem and industry is to use data to be able to deliver great customer communications and experiences across all media, channels and devices at scale, but because it’s enabled by 1’s and 0’s, by software and hardware, it’s too easy for us to lose sight of the human aspects.

Fourth of our magnificent seven is whatever’s shiniest and newest! There is always something just round the corner, something new. If a marketer got to grips with MySpace, Facebook would turn up, followed by Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram and WhatsApp. And, away from social meda and apps, the marketer is continuously tempted by a growing range of marketing software, from data visualisation tools to marketing automation and from business intelligence software to data management platforms: so much to play with! Marketers need to be mindful of this temptation and accept there’s always something next and new. An oft committed crime is to allow the new toy to become the focus rather than the plan or strategy it is there to serve. The marketers who plan for this, who manage strategies and marketing ecosystems that can adapt to, integrate with and on-board new technologies, will be the marketers who stand the best chance of generating results from the shiny new cool stuff.

At five, privacy. In the days of direct mail, privacy and its related legislation was all about the T’s & C’s, all about the ‘legalese’, or that’s how it felt. Privacy was no less important then, but it did feel more abstract and certainly less personal. Today it is on the lips of every data-driven marketer because it’s on the lips of practically every consumer. Every day, we operate in and experience a world where data helps us get the things we want. Today, as consumers, we are likely to share our data if it brings us value and we will share our data only with the brands we trust. At the same time, our tolerance for poor marketing and mistakes by brands is very low. Quite simply, while privacy has been around as a ‘big rock’ for a long time, there is arguably nothing more important as we seek to win the hearts, minds and trust of consumers. The consequences of getting it wrong range from more restrictive legislation to the unthinkable.

Apparently there’s quite a popular topic going by the title of ‘big data’. It seems that from marketing to transport, from healthcare to astronomy everyone is talking about big data. Acxiom are no exception to this. We’ve always had a lot of data to work with and the volume of data grows at ever more astounding rates. But it’s not just the volume of data, it’s also changing in terms of its velocity (simply put, think of real time vs batch data feeds) and variability (think of unstructured and transient data versus highly structured and constant data). So, there’s more data and it’s coming at us in more challenging forms. We know there are masses of potential in it, but where is the signal within the noise? The best guidance to marketers is to accept data is changing and growing, to focus first and foremost on making it make a difference to the consumer and finally, to invest in it, proportional to the potential you can reliably project.

Finally, seventh out of our magnificent seven ‘big rocks’ is brand and creative. There was a time when the data-driven marketers and brand folks would eye each other with deep suspicion. The data guys were techie propeller heads and the brand guys were all fluffy. Brand has always sat close to the CMO and has traditionally looked down on its data-centric cousin. Then, armed with access to the world of ‘digital,’ data grew in importance and confidence. Brand and data began getting closer and closer together. Today, as research has proven the single biggest reason consumers will share data is because they ‘trust’ the brand. Brands today know they rely on data to understand, communicate with and serve their customers, but if they erode rather than build trust, they’re on the road to ruin. The brand generating trust, working inextricably with the data-driven marketing, is the new table stakes going forward. And as for creativity, while we once had packaging, ads and direct mail, our new digital, data-enabled ecosystem allows expressions of creativity and personalisation light-years ahead of just five years ago. Brand and creative are alive and well, but are now in a very committed relationship with their data cousins. And if they’re not, there may be trouble ahead.

The seven ‘big rocks’ of data driven marketing: Silos, Identification, Customers, Shiny New Things, Privacy, Exponential Data and Brand and Creative, have all been around for some time and have evolved. While they tend to offer us more possibilities, there’s no doubt it’s difficult to get it right. More than anything, working through these seven there is a clear sense that they’re very much linked and interdependent. Brands and marketers need to master data, technology and privacy alongside their traditional marketing skills to make sure the customer comes first and knows it too.