Friday, September 16, 2011

Quitting The Data Race For Favor Of Something Better

Got data?

If GSP was asked to create a tagline for the challenges facing CMOs over the past five years, it could do worse than this simple device. That’s because for some time now the marketing executive’s agenda has been dominated by the need for and interpretation of information. Theirs, their industry’s, their consumers’. Yet the greatest challenge facing the CMO today is much different from what perplexed them just a few short years ago.

Five years ago, the CMO was buried in data. Data purchased from vendors, industry and subscription data they’d accumulated over the years, data from their own analytics teams. What they needed was help sorting through those heaps of information, determining what was important, and figuring out what it meant. But more often than not, attempts to construct effective systems of data analytics were reduced to exercises of frustration.


For one thing they were told they must have data they frankly didn’t need. This is because, whether willfully or not, nearly every marketing organization entered a “Data Race” in the last five years, amassing stockpiles of information as a testament to their marketing prowess. And there were the data companies, happy to indulge their fears of “falling behind”. The result was a fattening of already confusingly plump data assets, a race with no absolute goal.

Compounding problems introduced by the Data Race was the fact that many CMOs were sold snake oil. Much of the data proffered by vendors was not sound. Not in structure or sample size or other glaring element, but rather in purpose. The data sold simply had no breakthrough purpose. Its “insight value” was blank or redundant to another data source or far too narrow to make an impact. In the most extreme cases, data they snapped up measured how consumers engaged with a product or service in the past, not their intent for the future, effectively leaving organizations to market to consumers in similarly out-fashioned manners.

Worse yet, the CMOs own organizations – and often their consultants – could not save them. Primarily because the analytic teams in these organizations (which many spent millions of dollars to construct and fortify) were built on the notions of academia. The collection of people assembled into a top organization’s analytics team was the smartest group of people one could hope to meet, with impeccable academic credentials. But for all their qualifications, their devotion to making the algorithm a centerpiece of the marketing plan doomed their ability to connect the consumer experience to anyone outside the Ivory Tower. And the CMO’s high-minded marketing and business advisors (not the least of which their Advertising Agencies) were either too indifferent to care or unwilling to challenge the analytics team’s righteousness.

What this experience should teach us is that there is no substitute for marketing instincts. And, in part, this leads us to the greatest challenge facing the CMO today. And it’s not “having the sharpest marketing reflexes”. That’s like saying the lion’s greatest challenge is eating its food, ignoring that its real challenge is catching the food in the first place (or, for the smart ones, motivating someone else to catch it for them).

No, the greatest challenge facing CMOs today is knowing what questions their marketing programs need answered and understanding how data can provide those answers. Doing so requires marketing executives to be at once thorough and audacious. Thorough because they need to explore the information gaps that could help them improve their program performance, leaving no stones unturned. Audacious because anything can be measured, and they should never relent to anyone telling them differently. Being told “no” means they are talking to someone who can’t say “yes”.

The CMO can then set off to what any good marketing executive does best: designing hypotheses and collecting the answers that either prove or disprove them. With these in hand, the CMO can develop marketing programs that correctly address important consumer needs and root solutions in accurate benefits. The ability of the marketing executive to do this is the most important measure of their worth. Truly, data does not transform a bad marketer into a good one. But it does turn a good marketer into a great one.

Got instincts?