By Evan Wood
As marketers, we intuitively understand that data and analytics are here to stay. The proliferation of digital devices, growing ease of capturing data from these and other sources, and proven ability to use data-driven customer insights to drive superior business results—all support organizations’ increased investment in analytics strategies.
However, we are still very much at the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” stage: most brands have benefited from only a fraction of the value that a data-focused strategy can deliver. That will change for the better in 2017 as more organizations seek ways to leverage data across their marketing initiatives.
To facilitate an understanding of how this might unfold (and hopefully generate some ideas on how this might be applied in the readers’ environments), I’d like to offer a data and analytics corollary to the Forbes perspective presented in its October 2016 article, “The Top 10 Trends Driving Marketing in 2017”:
- Increased focus on customer experience. Customers increasingly expect an outstanding customer experience and know that organizations can deliver it if they really choose to do so. To plan, develop and produce the right experience requires insight based on comprehensive data. Marketers need to understand exactly what data assets they have, what gaps exist, what data they still need and where they can it to develop the elusive 360-degree view of the customer.
- Engaged and effective measuring: analytics 2.0. Brands are no longer talking about getting started on their analytics journey. Instead, the conversation is increasingly oriented toward proving that the journey they are on is worthwhile and delivering results. Marketing practitioners today need to have a clearly defined measurement plan associated with their analytics-driven marketing initiatives, not just at one point in time but as part of an ongoing roadmap. The key focus for analytics in 2017 will be “show me the money.”
- Lean on the new marketing lieutenants: marketing technologists and data scientists. These roles are now integral to marketing success. Traditional marketers who may not be versed in analytics need to learn the language of marketing technology in order to communicate effectively in this data-driven world. And while embracing marketing technology, brands must be careful not to fall into the trap of the CRM investment debacle many experienced at the turn of this century. Technology after all is only an enabler; successful analytics will always require the human touch to ensure data and analytics are correctly applied to address key business challenges.
- Personalize everything. If there is one thing marketers need to live by in 2017, it’s the adage “Know thy customer.” Because we can. The data exist—from behavioural and financial information to media preferences and social values. It’s time to move beyond the basic demographic and transactional data that the majority of organizations continue to rely on and leverage the many other sources to build rich and actionable customer profiles. Personalization will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without them.
- Better video content . . . and more of it. There is no question that video content drives engagement in general, and the increasing investment in this medium is warranted. Yet video isn’t for every customer and cannot simply become a blanket strategy. Like any element of the marketing mix, video will appeal more to some segments than others. Accordingly, marketers need to understand the media consumption habits and preferences of their customers to target them effectively with video content and ensure the efficient allocation of often scarce marketing resources.
- More social media marketing. More volume alone, no. More personalized and relevant content, yes. Similar to video content discussed above, social media need to be targeted and engaging to specific customer groups. The low cost of this medium – like email marketing in years past – does not justify blasting out generic content. Furthermore, marketers need to understand where and when different customer segments are engaging with different social media platforms. Neither customers nor social media channels are homogenous.
- Embrace the IoT. In 2017 we will see continued and increased connectivity among billions of devices. The generation of new data will be enormous. Making the data useful will be the key challenge. Brands therefore need to avoid the temptation of trying to capture everything because they think they should. This is the Big Data trap. As the saying goes, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." The focus for marketers must be on knowing their objectives, understanding what data can influence those objectives and concentrating on harnessing and interpreting the data that matter.
- Chatbots and AI go mainstream. We’ve already seen the power of technology and machine learning at work. Think Google, Netflix, the rise of FinTech (essentially financial algorithms replacing the traditional advisers) and “intelligent” sales robots in retail outlets. The application of advanced data processing and analysis will continue to drive improved customer experiences. But while this is part of the ecosystem within which we operate, many of us need to make sure we’re making use of data to drive more modest enhancements to our marketing initiatives. Think small, incremental gains, not home runs.
- Right-time marketing instead of real-time marketing. Every customer has his or her own preferred methods and timing when it comes to communication. While real-time communication has been top-of-mind for many marketers in the last few years, the focus needs to evolve to messaging that is timely, relevant, engaging and genuine. In other words, less like marketing and more like a conversation that has its time and place. Data can help define who wants what and when, and despite what we may believe, customers don’t want to hear from us 100 percent of the time.
- Prepare for marketing to own digital transformation campaigns. There is no question that digital plays a significant role in any marketing strategy, often at the very heart. But data and analytics extend well beyond the digital realm with the potential to transform every aspect of the marketing mix, not just digital. As the stewards guiding the customer relationship and experience, marketers need to champion the use of data, analytics and measurement to not only demonstrate results but to inform and inspire their organizations. Effective storytelling is critical in making this happen and is therefore becoming a key competency in the marketing function.
As we proceed through 2017, it is clear that the use of data and analytics is on the rise. With the promise of superior business results, better customer experiences and more efficient allocation of resources, analytics initiatives are at the top of the strategic priority list for many organizations. But the keys to success will be ensuring that brands have the right data to work with and are able to develop the actionable insight to create the experiences customers are increasingly coming to expect.
Evan Wood is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales Operations at Environics Analytics, and the Chair of the CMA’s Customer Insights and Analytics Council.