Calling Yourself Data-Driven Isn’t Enough For Marketing Today

Eufemia Didonato

Janet is President and CEO of data-first digital marketing agency Marketing Mojo and focuses on measuring marketing success. getty Amid the pandemic, data — its collection, its accuracy and the insights we gain from it — may have never been more paramount. But the accuracy of data collection is important for more […]

Janet is President and CEO of data-first digital marketing agency Marketing Mojo and focuses on measuring marketing success.

Amid the pandemic, data — its collection, its accuracy and the insights we gain from it — may have never been more paramount. But the accuracy of data collection is important for more than just public health — it’s important to how we run our businesses, too. Data is prevalent, almost overwhelmingly so, for marketers. Many marketers aim to be “data-driven,” but what does that really mean? And are we collecting and interpreting our own marketing data correctly?

It’s arguable that measuring marketing’s success is more critical than ever. In an uncertain time when many budgets have been stripped and businesses are reticent to invest in marketing because of economic uncertainty, marketers face reduced investment and job insecurity. According to Forrester, over 52,000 advertising jobs are at risk due to the Covid-19 pandemic through 2021, and it’s expected that agencies will see negative growth over the next year. So how can we compete and win with such a daunting outlook?

While it’s been fashionable to describe ourselves as data-driven, we often rely on data points that can’t directly demonstrate an impact on the organization’s revenue. This oversight in measuring and connecting marketing and sales data often leads other departments to perceive marketing as a cost center versus a revenue center. According to the 2018 State of Pipeline Marketing Report, more than half of the marketers surveyed said that marketing is perceived as a cost center in their organization.

They may be right. In a 2016 Chief Marketer article, the authors cited a study that found that over 50% of C-suite executives “didn’t think that the company’s marketing expenditure was even significantly driving top-line revenue, never mind bottom-line profits.” So how do we change the image of marketing as a department that focuses on spending money to one that focuses on generating revenue? I think the answer is transforming our organizations into data-first marketing organizations.

What is data-first marketing? As the name implies, it requires data to be the first part of any marketing strategy and execution rather than an afterthought — something that’s measured only after our campaigns are already running or complete. Data-first marketing requires us to focus not just on planning for and measuring data but also on ensuring that the data measured informs us about success in meeting real business metrics, not just those that may matter to the marketing team.

Applying data-first marketing methodologies and ethos can help actively demonstrate value to the business by providing the C-suite with the specific metrics they crave. While we can still measure certain metrics that are internal to our department, this means setting aside vanity metrics, such as likes and shares, and focusing on providing data to business stakeholders that directly address how marketing contributes to revenue. Website traffic may look impressive, but it means nothing if visitors are not converting into prospects and customers.

So how do we begin this shift? First and foremost, we must assess where we’re beginning and plan out a journey to achieve data-first marketing evolution. What are the business goals that are important to your organization? They’re likely goals such as pipeline development, opportunity close rate and ultimately revenue and lifetime value. Now how can you measure marketing’s impact on those goals?

Start with what you have, and grow. In my new book, Data-First Marketing: How to Compete and Win in the Age of Analytics, I share how to start with mapping out the tools and metrics you currently have access to along with the data you still need to glean marketing’s impact on revenue. For example, while the marketing team may have access to directly generated marketing metrics, such as marketing qualified leads, does the team have access to sales and revenue data? How can you ever measure the true revenue outcomes of campaigns without the ability to tie these campaigns to sales data that reveals those revenue outcomes?

Consider the metrics that are important to your CEO, CFO and other members of the C-suite. Ensure that you’re working closely with the sales team, too. A 2019 survey on sales and marketing alignment by LeadMD and Drift found that while sales and marketing executives perceived that the teams were aligned, that perception did not correspond to actual performance.

According to a 2017 survey by Televerde, some of the main causes that sales leaders indicated for misalignment between marketing and sales were:

• Lack of regular communication (37%).

• The lead qualification process (30%).

• Differences in how sales and marketing successes are measured (33%).

Ensure that the marketing team is closing this alignment gap with sales.

Calling yourself “data-driven” is not enough. Determine how your marketing team measures in achieving data-first marketing by asking the following questions:

• Do you have a symbiotic relationship with other key stakeholders, such as sales? Is the team aligning with sales by regularly communicating, codeveloping the lead qualification process, and confirming sales and marketing measurement unification?

• Does your team have strong soft skills, such as critical thinking, in addition to hard skills, such as marketing platform expertise?

• Does your team possess a growth mindset?  

In addition to assessing the team itself, assess how the team interacts and what tools it’s integrating to achieve a data-first approach. You can take our assessment to review how the organization as a whole, from the team to the tools, is progressing toward achieving data-first marketing mastery.

After taking the assessment, identify the holes that exist and create an action plan to fill those holes. Focus on:

• Aligning marketing and business goals.

• Ensuring that your data from measurement tools is fully integrated.

• Correctly analyzing data, working to avoid biases.

• Considering and assessing data at the beginning and throughout the marketing campaigns.

• Training and coaching your team to measure and analyze with an eye toward meeting business goals.

We can’t wait to get this right. As companies turn to digital marketing as one of the few reliable ways to reach customers in this pandemic, we need to get it right. Our companies — and our jobs — may depend on it.

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