Nanette Kirsch leads marketing for Keen Decision Systems, software to help marketers make data-driven decisions that build winning brands.
The ANA Educational Foundation (AEF) recently published a report on marketing talent, suggesting that the profession suffers from a skills gap when it comes to data and analytics. As Marketing Dive reported, “Students pursuing careers in marketing lack a sturdy mathematical background that could help them better analyze and interpret the troves of consumer data companies are now putting a premium on.”
At Keen, we see it a bit differently. As a company that offers predictive marketing analytics solutions, it’s our experience that the gap is less about technical skills and more about critical-thinking skills.
The core responsibility of marketers is to attract and retain customers. This demands a forward focus that benefits from the visionary, creative and innovative mindsets that are hallmarks of marketers.
The increasing access to data creates opportunities for marketers to generate and validate their future-focused strategy through data-driven insights. But this doesn’t require a data science degree or even a strong mathematical orientation; it requires a pragmatic approach and strong critical-thinking skills in order to adroitly identify the boldest and most compelling strategies to drive business growth.
Without the right data, however, those bold decisions can mean too much risk for the business and become career-limiting for the marketer.
The growth in digital media over the last decade has compounded the volume of marketing data available. And in 2019, businesses increased their spending by 9.2% for research and intelligence, according to the CMO Survey.
So how can marketers most efficiently and effectively put that data to work? If you give your data scientists a large data set, they’ll happily dive in and pull out a wide array of fascinating findings. But too often, they lack the context to ensure their insights are relevant to the business decisions at hand, or relatable to other findings that, together, can provide useful guidance. In this paradigm, marketers are tasked with finding value in the insights made available to them.
I don’t believe this problem is solved by asking marketers to become data scientists. Rather, I believe it’s time to invert the paradigm and put the proverbial horse, in this case, the business decision, before that cart chock-full of marketing data.
In this framework, marketers’ highest value comes from challenging the strategies available to achieve their growth goals and then deploying data experts and analytics technologies to deliver insights in service of those goals. And then, seek to continuously refine and optimize their strategy as new data becomes available. The emergence of analytics technologies can accelerate the utility and accessibility of data for this type of decision support.
Every day, marketers are making decisions: How much do I invest in marketing and where? Should I launch this new product? Which campaign should I produce?
Here are the steps a data-driven marketer should take to make the best decision:
1. Frame the decision. Your framework should articulate the choice, as well as the determining factor(s). Is your primary goal to drive more revenue or greater household penetration?
2. Pursue data that supports your decision. If you have analytics resources on your team, share your framework and ask them to provide data you can use to help guide your decision. If you have to do the legwork on your own, be cautious not to get lost in the data, and tether the data you extract to your framework. If it doesn’t inform that framework, it is not useful to your decision-making.
3. Test and refine. In today’s market, it is easier to make short-term decisions. When possible, especially if the data has sent you in a new direction, conduct a short-term test. Gather live data that, again, supports your frame; reassess and either refine or redirect as a result.
4. Be bold. As a marketer, your responsibility is to drive value for your business. Real value doesn’t come from weak-kneed decisions. It comes from well-informed and well-reasoned decisions that take calculated risks to break from the pack and make a big impact. With a stronger, data-driven framework behind you, you’ll have the insights and confidence to make those moves.
In the ANA Educational Foundation report’s executive summary, Ed Timke, an instructor at Duke University, frames it like this: “When working with data, it’s important to ask really good questions. It might start off with one question and then evolve. One shouldn’t take the initial question at face value, though. Instead, one should interrogate it and push to understand the dimensions of that particular problem.”
The report also states, “Data can play a crucial role to make key business decisions. The data itself doesn’t make that decision. People ultimately make those decisions.”
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