Back in 2017, when the Economist published a brilliant article on ‘Data being the new oil’, the world took notice. The conversations abounded about what organisations like Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook were doing with data. And as marketers, most of us did not go beyond keeping a closer eye on how we could use such data. In fact, many of us were complacent about responding to the new data ‘oil’, and, for the most part, left it to the geeks and data scientists to explore.
Fast forward to today: Oil is almost overwhelmingly available everywhere, but few want to buy it during this pandemic. That’s a bit like the story of data, too. Over the last few years, an enormous amount of data has become available to us marketers, but we face stumbling blocks when we want to do something with it. How do we make sense of it? How can it be converted to something meaningful? How can we use it to determine our marketing and business strategy?
It’s not easy answering these questions, but if you take charge of data, there’s a good chance you can transform your marketing department and build your personal growth path towards a promotion. Our long-term clients, NTUC Income, tasted success when they embarked with us on a similar data-driven transformation. Take a look at the highlights of that transformation journey.
The full case study is up on Think with Google here
Becoming a master of data: The path of Neo
Whether you’re a newbie to data or an old hand, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the comparison I’m going to make with “The Matrix”.
Getting started with data is a bit like being in the Matrix and seeing just this:
Dotted lines everywhere, and frankly, a bit too overwhelming. Perhaps you’d like to go back to the old simulated reality where everything was packaged to make it easier to understand. But wait a while longer, concentrate on those dots hard enough and you’re eventually going to see this.
Making out those intelligible shapes is the first step to gaining mastery over the data Matrix. Get familiar with it, explore the kind of shapes and forms you see, and the more you practice, the more likely that your final stage within the Matrix looks something like this:
Being able to stop and dodge bullets is a pretty cool ability in any universe/dimension/department, but as a marketer, this means you’ll be able to dodge ideas driven by poor data, and stop a poor campaign from ever getting launched in the first place. You’re in essence, going to be able to protect your marketing department from making bad decisions and back the ideas that will truly add value to the customer and the business.
Skills that help you navigate the data matrix
So how does one gain Neo-like abilities and become The One that can save the Marketing Department from drifting into irrelevance? It helps to start by thinking of every skill as helping you through successive stages of mastery.
Skills that help you master data
In the data mastery stage, we recommend you get familiar with data. It sounds easy, but the problem here is that of plenty. Today there are so many tools available that generate so many forms of data for you. Data based on highly specific metrics, data that slices and dices to ‘N’ number of permutations, data from various sources — the key test here is to be able to capture the data correctly each and every time and demonstrate the quality of your data every time you share it. It’s not easy to do that when — referring to our previous metaphor about oil — data is available in abundance. So, focus on your ability to choose a metric, capture the data, clean it up, and make sure it’s error-free before sending it out.
Many metrics may seem important to capture, but don’t focus on all of them. Start with a key metric you understand very well. Pull out 3-4 excel files around that metric, using the tools available to you — there may be many of these tools, with each report looking just a little different from each other. Learn to work the UIs that help you access the data you need, and get familiar with the reports themselves. Remember only to work with a few reports or you’ll risk getting overwhelmed — just enough is good enough.
Pretty soon you will see yourself being able to make sense of the data better than before, and those around you will become confident that the reports you send in are accurate, error-free and relevant. And that’s step one — you’ve mastered the data
Skills that help you master insights
Getting familiar with data is like watching ants. They look like a mass of beings moving without a plan, or sometimes moving towards a non-existent destination, but look a bit closer and you see patterns and relationships emerge and you understand the larger forces that are guiding them.
Of course, for those of us who watch marketing data, there is a range of techniques and tools to explain patterns and tell the story behind the numbers. The key behind all of them is successful visualisation. For me, communication expert Nancy Duarte is a seminal voice in this area — every one of her tips has helped me graduate from being a meat and potato pie-chart kinda guy to being more haute-cuisine (and more relevant) with the kind of visualisations I serve up. Do a bit of research in this area and you’ll begin to see that every chart format has a story and a purpose — for instance, weighted charts are extremely relevant for sales data, while the funnel is the best way to visualise and understand conversion flow-through.
There’s one black swan at this stage: most marketers can get sucked into a PowerPoint vortex, updating slides every time additional data comes in. To avoid this, I recommend tools like Tableau and Google Data Studio which automatically update visualisations with fresh data.
Skills that help you master action
Congratulations, you’re able to understand patterns and tell the story of data. You’ve come to the final part of the three-fold path, which is mastering action. Or have you?
The tricky thing about reaching this stage is that you can only master action by taking action. Many data-driven marketers forget that, which means they process the data and arrive at patterns and trends, only to be sitting on this treasure trove of insights without acting on them. As we say at Happy Marketer, there’s truth in data, but there’s proof in performance. So the key step at this stage is to act upon those insights.
The result of this may not look very different from how it used to look previously. The marketing campaigns may still look the same, the collaterals may still look broadly the same, but the process behind the execution has become more robust and the optimisations to your campaigns have become more informed. Perhaps, you would have understood your segments better, and slightly altered the messages, CTAs and creatives to make personalised campaigns.
Parting notes: Data Analytics gets better as you get better
Circling back to our Matrix metaphor, remember how the Matrix looked like in the beginning? All random numbers and units? You probably will see all data the same way to begin with — a lot of numbers and relationships that don’t make sense and may even be overwhelming. As your skills increase, you will begin to see that all that data has underlying patterns and can be visualised to form a big part of your business storytelling. And as you master that, you’ll see how data can inform your marketing capabilities.
The only question is, are you ready to take the red pill, and see everything differently? Are you ready to don the data hat, transform your marketing department and secure your promotion as a marketing leader?
Join us on Thursday, 14 April 2020, for episode 4 of the #HappyWebinars, where we’ll look at how CMOs can don the loyalty hat effectively. If you haven’t signed up yet for our #HappyWebinars on The Marketer who Wears Many Hats, and want to attend the remaining 3 episodes in the series, here’s the sign-up link.
* This article has been co-authored with Celia Vincent