How Analytics Can Help Marketing: Are You Wasting Your Single Biggest Competitive Advantage?

I love marketing, but there’s one thing about our industry that drives me crazy. Like, one-eye-twitching, about-to-turn-over-a-table crazy. 

As an industry, we can access more performance data about our audiences, campaigns and channels today than at any time in history. Advertisers from 100 years ago would have killed for a fraction of the information that you and I can pull up instantly on our laptops. (Not sure if you knew this, but they didn’t have Google Analytics back in “Great Gatsby” times.) 

But how many of us are actually using all this data to get better results from our marketing? From umpteen years of professional experience in the field, I can tell you: pretty damn few. 

If you saw the latest Nielsen Annual Marketing Report, you know exactly what I mean. According to Nielsen, only two-thirds of marketing teams feel confident about their ability to measure email’s ROI — and that was the highest performer among all digital marketing channels! 

Source: Nielsen Annual Marketing Report (2020)

And they’re pouring massive amounts of money into tactics like display, video and social, even though they’ve got maybe 50 percent confidence. 

It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. This. Way. 

No matter what channels or media sources you use in your campaign, in 99.9 percent of cases, you’re already generating the data you need to clearly show the value that your marketing is (or isn’t) creating. And you have the power to use that data to help your brand / agency / Legion of Doom achieve its bottom-line business goals. 

You just have to know how to leverage that data as a source of insight for your marketing strategy. That starts by asking different questions when you plan your campaigns. 

Starting With Who

Right now, most campaign planning starts with “who” — who is the customer I need to target? It’s an approach that puts the audience at the heart of your company’s marketing strategy.

When you ask “who,” you’re immediately confronted by a series of other questions:

  • What is my strategy for reaching this customer? 
  • Why should I target this customer? 
  • When will I execute my strategy for reaching this customer? 
  • Where will I invest my budget so I can reach this customer? 

Focusing on “who” is a logical, streamlined way to plan a marketing campaign. It helps you identify and address the most essential pieces of your campaign. If you have data to help guide these decisions, that’s great, but you can make informed guesses even if you don’t. 

But the “who”-centric approach is limited because it’s static. Once you think up your plan and execute it, you basically sit back and wait for the monthly report to see how you did. 

It’s very restful, right up to the point you get fired. 

Think About How, Too

While considering the audience is important, we shouldn’t stop there. Instead of concentrating solely on “who,” you should also ask “how” — how is marketing demonstrating value and driving business growth? 

When you ask “how,” you’re presented with an entirely different set of questions, ones that can provide valuable guidance. 

  • What results are we generating for the business? (So we know if our strategy is actually succeeding.) 
  • Why are we (or why are we not) achieving our goals? (So we can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.)
  • When will we reach our campaign’s goals? (So if our campaign is off pace, we can redirect resources or change tactics in order to get back on track.)
  • Where should we spend money next time? (So we can use these results to direct our efforts in the future.)

While a “who” approach is centered on the customer, asking “how” focuses your attention on overall marketing performance, how marketing is demonstrating value and driving growth. You’re looking at how customers, channels and tactics all work together to produce results. 

Focusing on “how” is a more active, holistic process, and you have to have data to answer those questions. You’re not waiting until the end of the campaign to see how things are going. Instead, you’re constantly learning what is and isn’t working, and you can use that information to optimize your tactics and spend mid-campaign — increasing marketing’s ability to make better decisions today and for every campaign going forward. 

And that’s really what marketing analytics is supposed to be.

Barriers to How

I know, I know — this all sounds pretty utopian, like I’m 30 seconds from breaking into “Age of Aquarius.” 

Asking better questions is only part of the solution. You also need access to all the data that’s necessary to answer those questions, and you need that data collected and stored in an easily usable format. Many marketers struggle because: 

Their data isn’t aggregated. Focusing on “how” requires you to bring all your marketing, media and sales data together in one place, as a single source of truth, so you can see performance in one view, across all your channels.  

Their data isn’t automated. While you need all your data in one place, your team shouldn’t be manually downloading data from source systems and then cutting-and-pasting everything into Excel or Google Sheets. To answer “how” questions, you need timely access to updated data. Ideally, this should be on a daily, not monthly schedule.

Their data isn’t unified. Your data needs to be turned into unified datasets that use a set of common metrics and dimensions for all your sources, whether that’s social, TV, search, email or some other channel. That way, it’s possible to assess your entire campaign’s impact on awareness, engagement or conversions and make apples-to-apples comparisons.

Do this, and your data — automated, aggregated, unified — will provide a foundation for answering your most important questions about marketing performance, no matter if you’re asking who or how, where or when, what or why. 

Try Alight’s Analytics-as-a-Service Solutions 

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