In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” English poet Samuel Coleridge laments, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Of course, he’s talking about how, despite its depths and vast expanse, the great blue ocean can’t begin to quench our bodily thirst.

These days, some digital marketers might say the same thing about data. Like the seven seas, today’s volume of data is almost unfathomably vast. The question for digital marketers is how to harvest this data deluge as an asset, a resource and an enabler of business advantage.

We’re all familiar with the concept of big data, which is really just a cute way of describing the idea of data processed at massive scale and speed, where the trail thrown off by all of our varied digital interactions and experiences becomes the fuel for decisions, insights and actions.

Riding this data trail makes us far better aligned and more responsive to opportunity and threats. It allows us to drive revenue by delivering the right offer to the right customer at the right time; to improve customer loyalty and retention by identifying and resolving their issues with speed and precision; and to see around the dark corners where opportunities—and risks—lurk.

But not every marketing organization is data driven and getting from here to there is easier said than done. My colleague Andrew Frank writes extensively on the data-driven transformation and how it can make your digital marketing strategy almost spooky in its effectiveness.

What is “here” and what is “there”? I like to think of it as a three-step progression:

1) Retrospective—where historical data yields truths about the past that allow us to understand patterns and performance—and to make inferences about the future.

2) Predictive—where models simulate scenarios based on historical data to make predictions about the future—with statistical confidence.

3) Real-time—where predictive analytics are extended into the execution space, allowing real-time calculations to trigger events—offers, for example—optimized to a moment in time.

Online and offline, every purchase you make, every path you take—brands are watching you. And they’re using data to optimize offers and experiences to match your expressed and implied interests, preferences and your circumstances—in life and on planet earth. Your mobile device is like a location beacon—and location is a key data attribute for digital marketers. Digital marketing moves too fast to rely on anything less than data-driven decisions.

But, as I’ve said before, relying on data alone isn’t enough. This is a game of both head and heart. When you rely too heavily on data, you can become too reactive, too myopic in your thinking. Data obsessed marketers can become like the day trader glued to intraday data.

But increasingly, the velocity of business will require direct linkages between analysis and execution, where business insights and action both happen in real time. This sort of thing is old news for the folks on Wall Street—but just imagine what it will mean on Main Street.


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