Research: Three lessons from the most successful marketers

Published: 27 June 2017 By Stefan Tornquist

A new study, conducted in partnership with Google, explores how the use of data and analytics within modern marketing is evolving to accommodate a fluid, changeable reality.

The study (The Customer Experience is Written in Data) uses the insights of more than 700 executives at large consumer-focused brands to look for advantages to be gained and pitfalls to avoid in creating and executing a marketing data strategy.

With disruption a real possibility for slow movers, the report is less focused on where average companies are today than where they are going. It attempts to highlight the factors that differentiate successful, forward-looking companies from their peers.

To that end, respondents have been divided into two groups, based on performance. “Leaders” are defined by significantly exceeding their top 2016 business goal and comprise roughly a quarter of the sample. The remainder are designated the “mainstream” for comparison.

Leading marketers are truly data-driven

Most companies say they want to be “data-driven,” but it’s a goal that eludes many. One reason is that not all senior executives have internalized it; only about half (51%) of mainstream company respondents report that being data-driven is a top priority for their chief executives.

That’s in contrast to those from the most successful organizations, two-thirds (67%) of whom say that executive leadership is already committed to being data-driven, both within marketing and the larger business. Most of the remainder believes that this priority will apply to their organizations within 12 months.

Efforts to master customer data were initially focused almost exclusively on digital advertising opportunities, but a market-wide focus on customer experience has expanded brands’ motivations. Today, data is recognized as the foundation of marketing strategy, customer understanding and accurate decision making.

Data isn’t an abstract goal at leading companies; it has become part of their culture. Some of the clearest distinctions between forward-leaning brands and their peers are their everyday uses of data, and applying data strategy principles.

Figure 1: To what extent does your organization make decisions based on data/analytics insights in the following areas? Respondents: 652

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Leading marketers believe in collaboration and open access

Creating a structure for more efficient and innovative interactions within and between business units is central to a more responsive and flexible business. Respondents see the availability of data, and its fluid movement, as a pillar of their reimagined organization; 86% of senior executives (SVP or higher) agree that eliminating organizational silos is critical to expanding the use of data and analytics in decision-making.

In fact, they see this level of restructuring as fundamental to success. Eighty-four percent of senior leaders agree that business structures/organizational silos are the biggest barrier to communication and information sharing.

Enabling marketers to better communicate with analysts and with each other across sub-disciplines and teams is seen as essential, especially as marketing departments come to rely heavily on data. Across all respondents, 93% agree that collaboration between marketing and analytics teams is essential to driving results.

While collaboration is critical, another way to break down silos is to go one step further: enable and encourage access to data and provide the necessary training to use it. The potential payoffs are significant:

  • Marketers at every level can work with data on their own deadlines.
  • Everyone has a stake in how data is collected, defined and used; employees move toward a culture which assumes that data will be a part of decision making.
  • Analyst time is freed up to guide the expanding pool of data users and ensure alignment with KPI definitions and strategy.
  • Further, analysts and data scientists can focus on higher order questions instead of prosaic performance and segmentation questions.

Leaders have internalized the potential for information flowing freely across the organization; they are 57% more likely than the mainstream to strongly agree that open access to data leads to higher business performance. (58% vs. 37%) Security underpins any successful initiative to share data more widely, and leaders are 31% more likely to include the standards and processes related to data security and privacy in their strategic documents. (68% vs. 52%)

Leading marketers see strategy as a tool for a daily advantage

Strategies can be dry, distant documents, or they can be dynamic tools that focus decision making, speed processes and enhance the business benefits of data and analytics.

Leaders are 35% more likely to have a documented data and analytics strategy (66% vs. 49%). More importantly, they are more likely than the mainstream to have strategies that are useful to the largest share of stakeholders in marketing on a day-to-day basis. Figure 2 compares adoption across a range of elements by the two groups.

Figure 2: Leaders vs. Mainstream - Do the following apply to your organization today? Respondents: 622

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What is an organization trying to accomplish with data analytics? Under the surface there might be a hundred answers, but at any given time, the company can only effectively support a handful of priorities. Only 53% of mainstream companies report that their strategy associates current, specific business goals with the data practice, compared to nearly three-quarters (74%) of leaders.

Misalignment creates issues of priority and resource allocation; half of all respondents say that lack of alignment in goals/objectives for data and analytics presents a significant or critical negative impact on their organizations.

This lack of clarity often extends to how important metrics are defined and measured. In fact, 45% of all respondents say that unclear definitions of KPIs present a significant or critical negative impact on their organizations.

To address this, 70% of leaders’ strategies include definitions for KPIs in both earned and owned media. These definitions are fundamental tools for marketers. They ensure that internal discussions use the same data in the same ways, and provide a specific frame of reference for external conversations with third parties such as technology vendors, agencies, measurement services and data providers.

The Customer Experience is Written in Data report also covers:

  • How leaders are investing in technology
  • The importance of trust in data and how to build it
  • Encouraging data access across the enterprise
  • The real impact of technology integration
  • Deploying strategy as a service

Econsultancy subscribers can access the full report here.

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