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Marketing, data and measurement: from the blackboard to the dashboard

data measurement roi Apr 28, 2021

By Andrea Tartaglia – Co-Founder/Director @ The Marketing Leaders Ltd.

Something Nick said in last week’s blog entry really resonated with me: at the beginning of our marketing careers, we probably had only 10% of the data we have today and yet we created great marketing.

And the marketing was not great only because it was creative, innovative, groundbreaking, … (add any other awesome adjectives you think appropriate). It was great because it was effective. It was delivering results.

Both aspects (creativity and business impact) are great to have but, in the end, it is effectiveness that is the most important. What is the point of having a creatively admired marketing activity if it does not drive the results it was developed to achieve?

My first job was account manager in an advertising agency. There I was trained according to a very clear approach that favored effectiveness over ‘creativity’. The agency did not aspire to win accolades and Cannes Lions. It wanted to be recognized as the best partner for Brands wanting to increase their market share, grow their business, etc. And it was excellent at that.

That experience and the approach I learnt at the agency stayed with me throughout my career. It thought me about accountability, about making sure my marketing campaigns always deliver against their business goals, pushing me to understand the commercial implications of strategies and activities and to measure their impact.

Measuring marketing effectiveness has been around for a very long time but has come to the spotlight even more in recent years.

This not to say that marketers have only been accountable for their work recently. They always have been (or always should have been).

However, the fact that we have more data available at our disposal means we can have a much greater level of sophistication in measuring the effectiveness of marketing activities.

 

As mentioned, we have more data. Data is more readily available. And we have better tools to analyze it to help us taking better decision and measure impact.

This is why we now talk about growth marketing, performance marketing and the likes. And we have analysts as key roles in marketing departments.

This is the way we make sense of this higher level of sophistication. The basic principles and tasks are not different from what we did (or should have done) way back when… They have evolved and are playing a bigger role in the strategic and executional processes, driving changes in the organizational structure of marketing departments and how the various roles are played within marketing teams (and the wider company organization). 

We talked about ROI in the last couple of posts on the TML blog (here and here). That is clearly just one of the ways to measure marketing effectiveness and there are hundreds of other KPIs to track depending on:

  • Timeframe: are you looking at analyzing the impact on your sales from a temporary price drop? Or the long-term effect on your Brand coming from an awareness/equity building campaign?
  • Buyer’s journey: is your marketing strategy and associated activities aimed at generating awareness or interest towards your products and services? Do you want your target audience to decide and eventually buy your products and services? Or you want them to repeat their buying behaviors or even become advocates for your brand?
  • Lifecycle: are you setting up a new brand or working on ensuring longevity and growth for an established brand
  • Stakeholders and what they are interested in: is there anyone else inside and/or outside the organization interested in understanding the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns? The finance team will be looking at some metrics, that are likely to be different from sales and senior management.

This list is not exhaustive. I just want to make clear how complex the ‘data rabbit hole’ is .

The one thing we must be careful now is the danger of over-analyzing the data, which can cause decision paralysis.

The risk is to lose agility when spending too long gathering and manipulating data to help with decision making.

Also, we must realize that not everything can be measured and there is still a lot of value in relying on our own judgment (which comes from years of experience, our skills and acumen, our creativity, our gut). And of course, there are many other kinds of insights available that can help informing decisions and compensate for data points that might or might not be available when needed.

Being data driven is great but can be problematic if pushed too far.

Being data informed is a good ‘compromise’: an approach that still uses data to take better decisions while avoiding being slow and completely dependent of the availability of ‘perfect’ data.

The most important thing in the end is to use data to learn, assess and adjust as needed. So, we can improve the effectiveness of our marketing (in relation to the goals that it is tasked to achieve).

Ultimately by measuring the effectiveness of our marketing we are reaching that accountability I mentioned above. If not for the company we work for, for ourselves.

And there is one final point I have been pondering.

 

Lately I spent some time investigating AI and machine learning as a way of helping with data analysis. It is clear that new technologies can certainly help speeding up the process of gathering and analyzing data, building econometric models, identifying dependencies and cause and effect relationships.

All incredibly useful and a great help with avoiding data paralysis.

However, based on my experience and my limited understanding of these new technologies, I am concerned that looking at past data and trends you might end up reiterating the trends and might lose sight of any changes in the trends which can cause deviations from the expected outcome of certain activities.

I am reassured by the experts who are telling that AI and machine learning are best placed to identify (and quickly) any changes in data patterns and trends. They might not be able to predict the outcome, but they can flag the issue more effectively than any other method.

In any case, it is worth keeping an eye on this (one more reason to be data informed rather than data driven).

 

In conclusion, the way we measure marketing effectiveness has certainly changed over time. There are so many advantages from having a greater and more accessible set of data to help with understating the impact of the various marketing activities. And the increased level of sophistication is to be welcomed.

Moving from the blackboard to the dashboard is a process that has increased efficiency and effectiveness.

But every now and then I still pick up the pen and jot down ideas or a note pad. Or the marker and fill in flip charts with hypothesis and plans. I no longer have access to a stick of chalk and a blackboard…