OPINION: Marketing with data - evolve or die

Vlad Ivanovic
By Vlad Ivanovic | 19 March 2013

Data-driven marketing is something that Australian marketers and agencies need to be adept at leveraging to be competitive in today’s media environment. Marketing with data allows teams to produce a larger volume of creative work faster while delivering consistent and quantifiable business value. It also tackles a number of challenges traditional marketing hasn’t yet managed to overcome. 

Subjectivity is the bane of the marketing industry. It turns sharp communication ideas built on clear insight into mediocrity. It lives in committee meetings and HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) feedback where well-intentioned individuals (usually) set their opinions loose on a piece of carefully constructed thinking. The end result is a shell of an idea that is not effective in market.

In order to overcome subjectivity and its associated issues digital marketers need an objective approach to making decisions about marketing and creative output. This approach is in use today by some of the most successful digital businesses of modern times and it places fact rather than opinion at the centre of its process.

The approach gives quantifiable proof that a certain idea is worth investing more resources in. It produces evidence as to the particular variation of the idea that performs the best. It gives us a clear understanding of how our marketing activities correlate with business outcomes. The approach is data-driven marketing, something we can all benefit from using today.

Humans are naturally opposed to change, however in order to utilise data-driven marketing and be commercially competitive in an evolving marketplace, the industry needs to start approaching the way we qualify ideas differently. The core differences between data-driven and traditional marketing are:

Validation vs the Big Idea: Producing a ‘Big Idea’ requires a long process that uses a large number of resources and delivers one creative idea. Marketing with data involves testing many ideas constantly. Digital marketers identify an idea that will have an impact on core metrics and condense it into its simplest format (the start up term for this is Minimal Viable Product). The idea is then tested in market - if it changes behaviour the idea is validated and gets to evolve, if not, it dies and we all move on with no sleep lost.

Learning vs campaigning: Traditional marketing happens in campaign cycles where media (and budgets) are weighted at the commencement of a campaign in order to drive cut through. With data-driven marketing the objective is to rapidly test, learn and optimise. New ideas are constantly tested in the market. When an idea is validated, it is scaled and executed in a new context. Its performance in this new context will determine whether is extended further or not. It’s a continuous evolution where knowledge of what does and doesn’t work is constantly built on.

Pessimism vs optimism: This is an important difference. In the traditional marketing function digital marketers optimistically believe every idea will work - not surprising considering the amount of work and emotional capital poured into the production of an idea, however this belief is fundamentally dangerous in that it isn’t built on a proven understanding of a market’s dynamics in relation to the specific creative idea. The data-driven marketer has no such belief. Everyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s until it’s tested in market.

Though there are some fundamental differences between data-driven and traditional marketing, ideas and insights are still created, brand values are still communicated and stories are still told. Ultimately we’re still using communication to bring brands to life, however the mechanism for gaining feedback is now faster and more accurate.

Vlad Ivanovic,
Digital Strategist
MassMedia Studios

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