One of the biggest changes for marketers over the next 10 years will be to become more and more data-driven. Think about what that actually means. If you are a direct marketer, that’s all about more precise performance measurement. If you are a researcher, it may mean more efficient ways to learn about your customer. For a C-suite executive, it is the promise that unleveraged customer data (i.e. “big data”) will be massaged into some useful form and then, ta-da, the miracle happens and all marketing, not just direct marketing, becomes instrumented and completely scientific.
Someday maybe. How you see “increasingly data-driven” depends on where you sit. I am interested in all of it but am especially focused on how insights and actions derived from data can make digital marketing more effective today. I am intrigued by the visions of the future peddled by the big tech providers. They paint a picture where we manage millions of unique relationships touching those customers in all of the right ways and places.
But my job is to sell better today and I have found that combining new data sources with a social, analytical culture produces results.
Understanding customer intent via social and search signals
We telegraph our intent every time we go into Google. Just look at the recent Google and Millward Brown study on B2B Marketing. About 71% of B2B researchers start on a generic query, which means that may be putting in terms related to a business problem, solution or possibly a product category but not your brand name. By understanding what our customers (and here I mean prospect or customer) are trying to actually do, we can do a better job of “meeting” them in search results in a helpful way. Marketers examine Google Trends and other search related signals today to inform their strategy, content and media choices.
Sorting insights from social media mentions is harder especially for B2B product categories that may not spark a lot of big social network chatter. If you’re lucky, you have a category that has vibrant conversations in known forums. Plastics manufacturers are just not waxing poetic on Twitter or Facebook even though 36K of them may be all over the LinkedIn group for the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Listening to public conversations can give marketers useful insights to augment a content strategy and the creation of the actual content itself.
Deciding on the right performance data
The performance of content, social promotions (paid and organic) and search rankings mean a lot more today than generic web site performance. The exception, of course, is for ecommerce or service-oriented web sites where completion of task is key to satisfaction and/or revenue.
If you have embraced a content marketing orientation, the time people spend with your content, the amount of content consumed, what topics are most in demand and the degree to which the content is shared matters a lot.
But digital signals whether they are from search, social or the performance of content don’t magically fall into our laps. Nor do they get delivered with a bow from a vendor with ready-to-go instructions for what actions to take next. We have to talk about what the data means to really get anywhere.
Building a culture of dialogue and analysis
This is the lynchpin to truly becoming data-driven. It’s not finding that new magic source for data. It’s not hiring a ‘chief data officer.’ It is making it part of everyone’s job to find meaning in these new data sources and making it routine to analyze and apply the learnings to their work. As Daniel Goldberg from Google put it, “Turning data into actionable insights can be an unstructured process.”
We have a meeting culture where I work. Many of the companies I have worked for have put meetings at the heart of collaboration across business groups. Now, we can all go off about the inefficiencies of meetings and the abuse of that format, but it is how work gets socialized, assigned and agreed to.
Holding a weekly meeting to review and discuss performance data can help everyone be a little more analytical. Routine meetings to discuss and decide the action steps on specific research - like what are people searching for and talking about when it comes to moving to a new home – can give everyone on the team the experience of applying insights to their work.
Reports on what people are searching for or what were our top performing pieces of content last week are only really useful when we get the marketing team together to discuss the data and come to a limited number of next steps. For those most energized by data, this feels like a terribly inefficient process. Perhaps someday we wont need the discussion. I suspect it's the way we really find actionable insights and will for some time.
The promise of becoming increasingly data-driven is terrific. The operational application today is simpler and has as much to do with new behaviors like weekly editorial meetings as it does with new data sources.