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How the data revolution changes marketing

TRENDAFRiCA April 3, 2013

By Grant Shippey

Marketers must become more nimble in their mindset in order to create highly responsive, highly adaptable, highly relevant, continually evolving, and cost-effective campaigns.

Before the turn of this century, perhaps the biggest challenge facing social sciences like marketing was the scarcity of good data from which to draw insight. As a result, marketing strategies were usually developed off the back of spurious findings derived from things like a sample of one or gut instinct.

Alternatives were expensive either in terms of hard costs or in terms of time. You had to commission research houses to do field work or focus groups or get independent studies undertaken by academia or business analysts. While these were more robust in terms of methodology, they too were hampered by data scarcity; a few focus groups, for example, do not an adequate sample size make.

The result was hit-and-miss marketing campaigns, acrimonious boardroom discussions founded on subjectivity, and rather disturbing witticisms like “I know that only 50% of my advertising works, I just don’t know which 50”.

As many of us working in marketing know, for the most part these outcomes haven’t changed, which is unfortunate because the main challenge has. Today the problem isn’t having too little data, it’s having too much.

The data explosion

According to EMC, global leaders in enabling businesses and delivering information technology, a person born today will generate more information in one year than all the information held in the Smithsonian Institute. If this data were easily accessible and navigable, it would be possible to dramatically reduce the guesswork in marketing.

We would know with high degrees of certainty how to target the right individual with the right product at the right price, using the right message. Wastage could be substantially reduced and we would know exactly which 50% of a campaign is not working (if such a 50% exists) and then adjust it, so that it does.

Think for a second how campaigns could adapt and evolve over time…  Initial ideas could be devised and tested – in say a digital environment, in the wild, not in some artificial research space – and learnings could be rolled out to the more expensive above-the-line mediums if necessary. Bottlenecks, be they from messaging, in-store or points of sale, could quickly be identified and fixed. And the data generated by the campaign – the feedback – could close the loop.

Accessing and navigating the masses of data available, however, is precisely the nature of the problem we now have. No one can simply open up a spreadsheet and read columns and rows of numbers and identify insights and strategies.

Massive data presents a whole new set of challenges, for example:

  • Identifying the relevant sources for the data.
  • Centralising it all to one usable and secure location.
  • Sense checking it and eliminating noise and errors.
  • Aggregating and analysing it in a useful way.
  • Representing or visualising it in a useful way.
  • Ensuring that it remains up to date.

If you don’t deal with these challenges, you may as well not have had all the data in the first place and it is this inertia that seems to be keeping marketing in this country from progressing. Tools need to change, the skillsets need to change, the systems need to change, but most importantly we need to change before the changing world leaves us behind.

We will slowly be forced out of our comfort zone as marketing platforms and services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, internet radio, iTunes, Amazon, digital TV and Groupon wreak havoc with the market place. 

Redefining the game

Thankfully, tools and services are beginning to emerge to help marketers take advantage of the data explosion. Tools that will wade through the sourcing, maintaining and analysing of data to ultimately visualise the information in ways that allow for meaningful and objective discussion and strategy.

There are two key changes, among many, that I would like to highlight.

  1. Firstly, a move from generic (averaged views of South Africa that tend to service ‘spray and pray’ type campaigns) to hyper-localised (views that see markets in the country at street-level, each with their own character, wants and needs). In essence, the ability to tailor messages to a neighbourhood rather than to a province.
  2. Secondly, the more people reveal of themselves online via their likes and behaviours, the more relevant offers will become. Retailers like Amazon are already taking advantage of this, however the future use of data will allow for information on customers to be drawn from several online platforms.

People are happily telling us on Facebook about the movies and music they ‘like’, on Hello Peter and in call centres about the service levels they expect, on Foursquare about the locations they frequent.

Having this level of data is akin to having the lights turned on bright in a very dark room. It will take time, but your eyes will adjust and when they do you will be amazed at the visibility you never knew was possible.

*Grant Shippey is CEO of Amorphous, developers of Hudlr, a hyper-local insight tool that provides businesses with detailed demographics about the residents in any location around South Africa.

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