Driving growth with data: How marketers can help brands to overcome the barriers

Manjiry Tamhane

Manjiry Tamhane

Global CEO

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I’m fascinated by how businesses can transform performance through data, AI, technology, and advanced analytics. One piece of research that I’ve been following with interest is Forrester’s The State Of The Insights-Driven Business

Its most recent report found that businesses with advanced insights-driven capabilities are eight times more likely to say they grew by 20% or more. However, the report also noted that these advanced capabilities “remain largely elusive”. 

To discuss what is getting in the way of brands equipping themselves with these capabilities to drive growth, I chaired a marketing effectiveness focused discussion at WPP’s Doing Data Differently event. Below, I have pulled together the most important takeaways.

Three current pain points stopping data-informed growth 

To set the scene, WARC Managing Editor Paul Stringer outlined three pain points that marketers are grappling with currently: 

  1. A lack of clear data strategy. Often, this can be due to a disconnect between the c-suite and marketing or between the c-suite itself. Either way, if there is no alignment, then progress will be limited. 
  2. Media fragmentation. As every marketer knows, audiences are being spread more broadly and thinly across an increasing number of channels which makes it harder to get a holistic view of performance. 
  3. Measurement mishaps. Two mistakes are being made when it comes to measuring marketing effectiveness: either the wrong thing is being measured or the right thing is being measuring but in a way that doesn’t connect it to the rest of the business. 

Important culture lessons from a CDO 

As a former Chief Data Officer at The Economist Group and ITV, Karine Serfaty has seen first-hand the challenges inherent in creating a culture that enables decision-makers to leverage data-driven insights. She shared two key lessons from her career to date, which has also included a stint as SVP for Data and Insights at The New York Times: 

  1. Business strategy and data strategy is a two-way street. If you want to drive growth through data, then data needs to play a part in setting business strategy. To enable this, data collection and unification needs to be embedded throughout the business. 
  2. If you want data to drive decisions, then you also need the people who receive the data to have the authority to make decisions at the same frequency and with the same granularity as the data itself. 

A decision-maker’s perspective on marketing effectiveness 

Hedwig Vollers, Senior Director of Global Media and Digital Brand Experiences at Mars, said her company faced the same challenge as many others – working out what the real value of media is. To solve this, Hedwig shared two practical things she implemented: 

  1. First, she asked all the media directors at a local level what five KPIs they would pick to decide if their media is working. “They all chose the same five, so that’s what we decided to use as our dashboard,” Hedwig said. “It empowers them as they have the data they want while keeping things simple.” 
  2. Hedwig has also embraced scenario planning, which she defined as: “If we put more budget in this market or that brand what’s the impact going to be?” Crucially, the media team took the finance team on the same journey, so it understood the modelling, trusted the outcomes, and learned how sales and ROI were impacted depending on the objective. “It changed the conversation, and media is now seen as a value driver,” Hedwig said. “We now have more aligned objectives, which takes the pressure off the media team as we all talk the same language.

Three things you need to know about measurement strategy 

Measurement that is trusted is crucial to proving the ROI of marketing investments in today’s uncertain climate. Paul supplied a great overview of how the measurement space has been evolving: 

  1. MMM is making a comeback. This is in part due to technology, which can do modelling more quickly than previously. There’s also been a change from some of the big tech companies. Meta, for example, has shifted from talking about attribution to being an active funder of research that uses MMM to prove the long-term effectiveness of advertising.  
  2. In today’s volatile environment, businesses need to be planning for multiple potential futures not one. As Hedwig demonstrated, some advanced advertisers are using data-driven simulations to work out what might happen in different scenarios. This helps organizations to act in a more nimble and flexible way. 
  3. As the phasing out of cookies reaches its conclusion and new privacy regulation continues to come into force in different markets, Paul foresees “a slightly mad scramble” for other types of measurement solutions, including those based on AI. But he warned: “I worry about AI-based solutions being a bit of a black box, so marketers need to think carefully about how they’re using and implementing this type of measurement. If they can’t explain the decisions that they’re making to stakeholders, then they risk damaging the credibility of marketing.” 

Three action points for marketers 

To finish our discussion, I asked all three participants to share an action point that would help marketers and the companies they work for to enable growth through data 

  • Hedwig: “First, focus on your business need rather than the data. Second, there is creative brilliance that you cannot capture in data but is nevertheless extremely important to take account of.” 
  • Karine: “One of my guiding principles is to aim for data by design – i.e., what you need – rather than relying on data that is a by-product of your operations.” 
  • Paul: “Always remember that marketers are supposed to be the voice of the customer. I’m worried about marketers seeing the customer solely through the prism of data and underplaying qualitative methods, such as interviews and focus groups, as a means of understanding them.” He cited the McDonald’s UK Raise Your Arches campaign which was based on “a brilliant piece of ethnographic research”. 

Contact Gain Theory to discuss how you can become an insights-driven business. 

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