Marketers, Unlock the Possibilities Within Data

The Analytics Explosion Demands You Develop a Strategy for Taking Advantage of It

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Gordon Wade
Gordon Wade
Fate has played a terrible joke on those thousands of people who entered the marketing and advertising profession to escape the rigors of math. That's because the digital revolution driving the crisis of centricity is all about data, math, analytics, chi squares and sigmas. Everyone in advertising and marketing must recognize that their creative output will be shaped by advanced analytics more than ever before.

Everywhere throughout the marketing ecosystem, huge amounts of data are being collected. Powerful new software and hardware tools are assembling, filtering, comparing and modeling the data. Agent-based modeling used to be an artifact of military planning, replete with massive mainframes crunching through troop and weaponry capability to arrive at a prediction of battlefield outcomes. Now companies such as DecisionPower offer a software license to marketers who can input data of all kinds on consumers, competitors, retailers, ad copy and ad spending. From these inputs, the software will predict marketplace outcomes. Even better, the software lets you rapidly change inputs to create multiple scenarios. Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Nielsen and Dentsu license this software. Other companies have developed internal software or license other third-party approaches. Scenario planning has never been so fast, so easy and so reliable.

New approaches
Now a new capability, exception analytics, is exploding on the scene. An Israeli company, Verix, offers the opportunity to filter through masses of data to identify anomalous events that may indicate an emerging problem long before the human brain could become aware of the trend. This approach is the opposite of 1990 online analytical processing analytics, which required that one be aware of a problem before he analyzed it. This new approach identifies potential problems so that you may ascertain what's going on. Managing data overload suddenly is turned into competitive advantage.

Another rapidly growing source of data ripe for analysis is the public conversation on the internet. Many companies offer analytical services targeted at these public conversations about products and services. Now new, second-generation analytics services such as those offered by Wise Window enable new and more insightful ways to understand the online conversation. These new approaches allow marketers to understand consumer attitudes with the intimacy of an in-depth interview and the panoramic perspective of multiple focus groups. And, because we are talking about responses from thousands of people, this "qualitative" data can suddenly take on the statistical validity of conventional survey data. It's no wonder many seasoned marketing research professionals are forecasting the end of the command-and-control survey procedure that has informed the advertising and marketing decision process for the past 80 years.

The best example of how the new data and analytics advances can be practically applied was given at the 2008 ANA Annual Conference by Mercedes and its agency, Rapp. Mercedes wanted to sell a small number of their new "green" SUVs in the United States. A mass campaign for such a small number of available vehicles was out of the question, so they decided to use the new data and analytics to identify and persuade a target market perceived to be intensely attracted to and capable of affording this unique, expensive Mercedes. Rapp proceeded to mash up (cross-compare) lists of individuals with a demonstrated interest in all things green, a history of purchasing green products, the economic capability to pay for a Mercedes and known car-buying propensities. They combined dozens of databases covering a number of behaviors that suggested a propensity to buy a car like the new Mercedes, such as eco-friendly magazine subscriptions, cause-based organization memberships, website hits on green articles, TV-viewing habits and political contributions. Using the final list, the marketing team put together a creative strategy and a multi-component integrated campaign that quickly and profitably sold all the available SUVs.

What does this explosion of data and analytics mean for marketing as a discipline, for organization and for the creative process?

First, it means that a marketing-information strategy is much more important than it was 20 years ago. Every company must ask itself what new data are available and how to leverage them. What are the touch points at which a customer is open to persuasion?

Focusing lens
Second, companies must have a data-manipulation capability similar to what Rapp offered to Mercedes. For some companies, that capability may center on one expert able to rally all the internal and external assets and vendors. In other companies, the capability will be an entire department with a mix of proprietary databases and robust communication and response analytics.

Third, companies need to bridge the gap between the left-brained, math-oriented analysts capable of identifying an attractive target and the right-brained creatives able to translate functional goods and services into emotionally compelling offers. For their part, creatives need to see the analysts and their new tools not as a constrictive force limiting creative possibilities but as a focusing lens informing the creative function so that it becomes even more effective.

The explosion of digitally derived data and the sudden appearance of powerful tools to analyze that data have caused the crisis of centricity. Whether that crisis turns out to be a threat or an opportunity will depend on how marketing leadership responds to the possibilities locked in the data.

Gordon Wade is the founder of Centricity and a consultant to the Association of National Advertisers. A thought leader in marketing, he has pioneered ground-breaking disciplines such as category management and shopper marketing.
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