It's Time for CMOs to Take Charge of Big Data

Three Strategies for CMOs to Get Ahead With Data-Driven Marketing

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Big Data is still more of a Big Mystery in most marketing departments. Part of the problem is that too many executives think they need to wrap their arms around all analytics and come up with a comprehensive big data strategy. They either want one that's equated to a series of data-driven tactics or to the building of a complex infrastructure. They also want a plan large enough to encompass the vast swaths of ever-increasing information.

Big data is now native to marketing. Data tools have finally matured enough to become useful, practical and available to CMOs and customer strategy executives. We are now in the age of intelligent marketing technology. More broadly, machine learning is the single most important trend in data and analytics for everybody, not just those trying to use it to unlock revenue growth and new value for customers. Machine learning is going to be the most disruptive economic change since the industrial revolution. Period. All executives -- but especially the CEO, CMO and those in strategy -- must get ahead of this trend now.

Conservative estimates put the investment in data-driven marketing technologies at more than $3.3 billion in 2014 alone. While the power of machine intelligence to make sense of this data often sounds futuristic, machine intelligence is already here and completely transforming one industry after another. And in the vast majority of cases, it makes better decisions than people do. Consider the Chicago and Los Angeles police departments, which use algorithms to predict crimes before they occur. Or the Microsoft engine that predicted the recent World Cup winners with perfect accuracy, even though the field was rife with upsets. Can you imagine how disruptive this technology will be to the sports gambling industry?

Although the initial temptation might be to start searching for specific solutions to improve current processes, it would be a misstep. The first step is to review your business objectives with a lens toward how to achieve them through data-driven marketing technology, and then develop data and analytics strategy plans that are solutions-agnostic but fully appreciate the marketing tech landscape.

Here are three marketing strategies for CMOs to take charge of big data:

1. Drive customer-centric marketing technology. For those companies where the analytics group is focused on a narrow set of objectives, CMOs need to lead the evolution of marketing technology as a driver of customer centricity. A fundamental component of how a company benchmarks its customer centricity is through its data and analytics strategy. Today, customer centricity not only uses customer data to provide highly relevant customer experiences, but it generates relevant new data and uses technology to make real-time personalized customer decisions, where possible.

Intuit's QuickBase blog is a great example of personalization based on data. The blog is adaptive and offers content based on the user's stage of the purchase funnel and previous interactions with the website, such as e-book downloads.

2. Integrate branding and big data. We are at a critical juncture, where traditional methods of insight development to guide brand and strategy -- such as surveys and interviews -- are now matched by the insights generated through social listening, search and other third-party digital data. This is not to say that digital data is a replacement for traditional methods; rather, when coupled they present a richer and more informative view for brand and strategy development. Search data, for example, can tell you not only how often your brand is searched for, but also how closely your brand is associated with your brand proposition or tagline based on the clickthrough rate on keywords -- in other words, real behavioral data.

3. Leverage addressable media and third-party data. On average, media companies can realize 30% greater margin per eyeball when their marketing platforms are addressable. In addition, the use of digital channels to consume entertainment is growing rapidly. This means more and more media will be digitized and addressable (at the household and individual level), and targeting will become data-rich. This is a boon for highly targeted advertising. but it also presents a strategic opportunity for marketers to communicate brand propositions. Although brand discipline will remain a relevant concept, the ability to communicate separately to different groups now allows for more "flavors." For example, the Republican National Committee ran a campaign last year using targeted data to reach Hispanic, Asian and African-American voters.

The explosion of behavioral data does not mean that big data is now the exclusive domain of marketing. The nature of data is that it is so big that no one department in a company can own it. It can't even be contained by a single industry. However, good marketing leaders realize that the real data problem centers around the abundance of choice, and those are good problems. Solving them is not a nominal task, but doing so will strengthen brands, spur growth and increase profits.

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