It’s hard to believe that I started in this business 20 years ago. Ah, the days of Compuserve, fax machines, monochrome-screen computers and DOS. Communications’ programs consisted primarily of print and TV ads, thick brochures, direct mail and the occasional billboard. We relied on yearly studies to measure awareness, pulled clips from industry publications or looked to our clients’ sales forces to provide feedback on how well the programs were working. The data points were few and far between, and we were desperate for information to show the impact of marketing communications and why we’re being paid so handsomely. Fast forward 20 years and we’re barraged with more information than we can absorb and it’s coming at us from every angle – social media, online advertising, website analytics, e-mail, PR coverage, sales, in-store traffic and the list goes on. No doubt that we’re fully immersed in the era of “Big Data.”
A recent article in the New York Times, “The Age of Big Data,” describes the impact that data will have across industries with advertising and marketing squarely in the sweet spot. The promise of big data is to allow for more insights that lead to better decisions by marketers and the ability to more closely tie marketing to sales.
So now that we’ve got access to the data and information, what are the challenges we still face as marketers?
Determining what to measure. We can measure lots of action points by customers and prospects, but what’s most important? For those selling products online, the ultimate measure is more than likely an online purchase but it’s more difficult for a business-to-business (B2B) model where sales cycles are long and not transaction-based. In those scenarios, identifying points along the sales path that ultimately lead to a sales inquiry are the conversion points. Downloading a white paper, watching a video, filling out a customer contact form, etc., are probably as close to the sale as you can get. Focusing in on what points are most important in the evaluation and sales process and aligning them with business objectives is an absolutely critical step in being able to measure the success of marketing communications.
How to measure it. With the explosion of big data comes the explosion of companies claiming that they can capture and report on the data. It has spawned some really great new tools…it’s also given rise to some companies that don’t live up to the hype. Evaluating and investing in the right tools can make or break how well the marketing program can be measured. Whether you’re measuring online advertising programs and their resulting conversions, brand perception, awareness, public sentiment, social media conversations or retail traffic, make sure you’ve got the right tools and right people to measure them consistently.
Turning information into knowledge. Big data is not, by its nature, useful data. A study conducted by Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership and the New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA) – The 2012 BRITE-NYAMA Marketing in Transition Study – unveiled how challenging this can be:
- 91% of senior corporate marketers believe that successful brands use customer data to drive marketing decisions
- Yet, 39% say their own company’s data is collected too infrequently or not real-time enough
- And 51% say that a lack of sharing customer data within their own organization is a barrier to effectively measuring their marketing ROI
The survey found both widespread adoption of new digital tools and support for the use of new data to drive marketing decisions as well as measure marketing ROI. However, significant gaps exist between desire and execution as companies strive to measure marketing ROI. The overall picture of marketing by large corporations revealed significant need for improvements in the use of data, the measurement of digital marketing, and the assessment of marketing ROI.
Acting on the insights. The investment of both time and money into gathering and evaluating big data falls down if there’s no framework for using it to drive better marketing programs. It seems like an easy, logical conclusion but it’s not so easy to execute day-in and day-out, especially in using cross-platform data results. Taking findings around public relations media coverage and applying them to social messaging or using website analytics to inform advertising strategies requires superb internal communications driven by marketing leadership. Many firms are hiring and leveraging Marketing Data Analysts to serve as a clearinghouse for measuring, evaluating and communicating important data points to decision-makers. It’s something you can expect to see more of as the data becomes more complex.
Twenty years ago, we couldn’t get our hands on information to measure marketing communications; today we have the data in excess and there are still challenges with showing ROI. We’re definitely much better off in showing the true value of communications and tying it to business outcomes. And, as we adapt, we become better able to measure and act on the data. Challenges or not, it’s a great time to be a marketer – what’s got you excited about the future?