A Marketer's Lens: Data is marketing's greatest gift... and barrier

Libby Hodgson.

A version of this article first appeared in The Annual 2016 as part of The PhotoEssay series.

Big data, always on, paid, earned and owned media ... marketers have never had more tools at their disposal or more distractions. What is the big issue in marketing?

For me, it’s that the abundance of data has become marketing’s greatest gift and its biggest barrier. The ability to measure almost everything places a focus on ROI and efficiency that can stifle the risky, creative and audacious plans that deliver great marketing.

Annual trend lists have called out customer experience and content for several years. While I don’t dispute their importance, these principles must go beyond the digital space and become the cornerstones for how customers interact with brands in every sense.

Achieving that under the harsh spotlight of measurable return is a tough brief. Pause to consider some of the great campaigns such as Dove’s Real Beauty or Red Bull’s Stratos Jump. Could they have proven an ROI at inception?

For Taronga Zoo, the centenary in 2016 created the opportunity to put these principles into practice while addressing a strategic challenge. The analogy of an iceberg is very true for Taronga, with visitors to the zoo seeing just a fraction of the science, research and conservation that occurs onsite and beyond.

My brief was to shift that understanding and the centenary year was my vehicle to do so. To capitalise on the innate passion Sydneysiders have for Taronga, a year−long program of celebrations was developed. This program ranged from a promotion that allowed people to visit the zoo for $1 on its birthday, to an event celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid, to a ballot that attracted over 100,000 requests to join Taronga on its 100th birthday.

And then there were those events that shone a light, literally, on Taronga’s centenary commitment to save 10 critical species from extinction in Australia and Sumatra. Working with creative legend Ignatius Jones, this commitment was brought to life (light) through a successful activation for Vivid Sydney and culminated three months later with the Taronga Birthday Parade through Sydney’s CBD.

Through these activations, Taronga did not just tell its guests and supporters it was in the business of conservation – it let them experience and share that vision and passion. It was a risky plan and the returns were far from guaranteed, but it felt right.

More than 150,000 people added their names to the zoo's database, attendance targets for Vivid at Taronga were smashed and the streets of Sydney were shut down as more than 15,000 people supported the Centenary Parade.

On top of that, Taronga achieved its most successful ever annual visitation rate, received the greatest number of donations in a 12−month period and saw a measurable jump in brand awareness, reflecting success right through to the bottom line. As Taronga is a non−profit organisation, this bottom line goes straight back to the conservation work.

Could I have put my hand on my heart in 2014 and said these results would be achieved? No, but I hoped they would and my gut said it would be okay. Businesses have to be accountable and, as someone who started out in direct marketing, I will always look for ROI and data−driven insights. But, there has to be room for ideas, for risk, for marketers to do what marketers do best – build brands.

At the end of the day, it is the old rules that still apply – heart leads head, a physical experience will always outweigh a virtual experience, and a proposition that people can rejoice in is what gains the truest brand advocates or, in Taronga’s case, champions For The Wild.

By Taronga Conservation Society Australia director of marketing, Libby Hodgson

For more see:

A Marketer's Lens: Print is a key force in our marketing mix, by Domain's top marketer Melina Cruickshank

A Marketer's Lens: Don't grumble over challenges, by Fox Sports head of marketing, brand & social, Chris Gross 


A version of this article first appeared in The Annual 2016 as part of The PhotoEssay series. The theme this year, was broad. Simply: 'discuss'. AdNews editor Rosie Baker asked marketers to write about 'elephant in the room' topics. The taboo subjects that are a concern, and get talked around - but never fully addressed. What in their businesses are the friction points, the bones of contention - where do they see the industry going to hell in a hand basket.

The photoshoot aimed to capture the heated conversation and boisterous discussion of topics that only emerge in the aftermath of a dinner party. The equivalents of politics, religion and sex in marketing and advertising. These will be the topics that dominate the agenda in 2017. Download the digital version of the magazine for $4.49 to see the whole series.

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