Data is the lifeblood of any modern business.
As the data economy proliferates, firms are collecting greater and greater volumes of the stuff – especially marketing departments, faced with a new, fragmented, multi-channel world. But raw data alone is useless – the way it is processed and analysed determines the value one can extract from it.
This opportunity hasn’t quite been grasped by all marketers – the data laggards, if you will. When SAS approached transforming its marketing model to accommodate the rapidly changing requirements of the new economy, its head of global marketing, Adele Sweetwood, realised that, while there was plenty of information out there on available new technology, trends in the sector, and how to approach modern marketing, there was a dearth regarding the fundamental structural changes organisations would have to make to accommodate new ways of doing things. So she wrote a book, The Analytical Marketer.
On a recent trip to London, I caught up with Sweetwood, where she explained the changing role of the chief marketing officer, and why getting to grips with data will make or break the businesses of the future.
“When it came to becoming a more analytical marketing organisation, we were faced with new expectations from customers; how they wanted to be interacted with; new channels that were coming into the marketing space, an influx of data from all different sources. We were figuring out where we were going to go, and how were we going to do it. But we didn’t really see a lot of information on the business side of things: what kind of people? What kind of structures? What has to change in culture?”
Somebody else’s problem
The role of the chief marketing officer is changing rapidly, and growing influence within an organisation as it does. But how has the role changed? “I think every industry is a little different,” says Sweetwood. “But today’s chief marketing officer has to be more technically advanced, certainly more digitally native. In today’s marketing organisations, customer data is front and centre, and marketing as a function probably has the most valuable customer data for the company.”
This adaptation is a culture shock for many – the metamorphosis from traditional print, out of home, and linear campaigns, to real-time data analysis in little under a decade. It engenders a change of attitude, but also a deeper understanding of the beast that has been unleashed, and the responsibilities that entails.
“It’s a mindset shift for marketers, they have to understand the value and impact of the data, and they have to shift from thinking it’s somebody else’s problem, to that actually, it’s their problem,” says Sweetwood. “They’re generating as much data as they’re consuming, and so you have to be more conscious of how you generate that data, and what the value in that data is.”
Like many industries, data has been seen as an issue for IT bods, rather than one marketers should know how to assess, analyse, and understand for themselves. “You have to have increased respect for data and analytics, and you have to be very comfortable with using it yourself, instead of asking somebody to do a report for you. It’s on your desktop, you have the tools available,” says Sweetwood.
She says that by shifting the onus from IT departments, and instead working with them, marketers accept a personal responsibility for data analysis which is better for the business in both the short and long term. “It allows you to test, it allows you to fail fast and move on,” she says. “You get a lot more data about the channels, and what works in those channels, so you can optimise,` or not use that channel anymore. When you start trying out different channels, you’re not processing the volume of data you’re collecting, and how best to leverage it. And I think that if marketing departments solely relied on IT departments in the past, and IT departments don’t know the business in the same way, seeing those changes, you’re going to have a disconnect.”
Getting on top of data practices really is make or break for businesses of any orientation in the digital age. But with every opportunity comes challenges, and with data, privacy is key. For SAS – a world leader in fraud and security intelligence – privacy was always the name of the game. But not for all. “I just don’t think people realise how much data they’re collecting,” says Sweetwood. We touch on the approaching General Data Protection Regulation, and the lack of preparedness demonstrated in survey after survey, with less than a year to go. “If you’re not paying attention to that now, you’re going to have a different set of issues. But it is going to be a challenge. I’ve always said, and people don’t necessarily agree, but as consumers, as buyers, we have the control, we can tell somebody what we want them to know about us, even though sometimes it feels like you’re being tracked in everything you do. That’s still a choice. And if you want to have better experiences with the companies you deal with, you are going to have to be willing to give up some data to do that.”
£ Elliott Haworth is business features writer at City A.M.