A major force shaping this world of digital marketing is the move to a more deterministic approach to everything from the creation of marketing assets to the design of campaigns.  “Know your customer” has gone from lip service to hip science.  The lofty notion of business intelligence has gone back to the basics of business analytics whether it’s involving big, little, predictive or psycho-graphic data.  And it’s all in the name of accelerating outcomes.  Those outcomes may be the strategic business of market expansion or the fast spinning activity of ramping sales. It may be the cross-functional work of new product development or a singular focus on improving customer service.  Regardless, this journey that is turning marketing into a more scientific, data-driven discipline is proving to be a treacherous path, with shaky guardrails, for many digital marketers.

Dancing with Data

We’ve set ourselves up for success or failure based on the promise that we can create lines of sight to the truths that lie in the data. Well now we have to deliver. But that data dance needs careful choreography and rehearsal.  You may as well get good at this because data-driven marketing decisions are the hallmark of successful digital marketers of the future.  But the data dance is more Latin salsa than Viennese waltz. You won’t be learning a box step and then spinning around in circles. It’s more like Zumba and developing rippled abs and marketing muscle.

You need to ensure your data sources are clean and complimentary and your hypotheses don’t get in the way of new insights. That can be a very difficult step for marketers who often act on instincts and gut feel. You also have to make sure data comes together in ways that get to the truths about your market, your offers, and your buyers. Even bad news, like failures, can offer valuable lessons.

When Data Lies

Data-driven decisions are good, right? Who can argue with facts? You want to sell a crazy idea to your executive team – hit them with the charts and graphs, and if you can animate them, all the better. But data can also lie to us. Without standards of practice, skilled mathematicians with honed interpretative skills and the right models – you can run aground very fast. Even with the basics in place, many marketers struggle to make analysis actionable.

It’s frightening to think that today nearly 60% of data is still coming from internally owned sources in a world where most of the marketing relevant information is external to the enterprise. Many of these organizations admit their analytics capabilities are immature and disconnected. That’s a symptom of islands of marketing expertise and functional disciplines that have yet to be integrated and rationalized.

Getting to the Truth

One of the recommendations coming out of Gartner’s Data-Driven Marketing Survey 2013 is to make marketing analytics a strategic advantage by focusing on strong leadership, role training, analytic skills, and tactical use of system integrators.  Think of your data strategy as a tapestry. Each thread represents a source and stream of data. They collectively create pieces of the overall image. Not until they are expertly woven, and you can stand back and see the entire set, do they reveal the complete picture.

Don’t miss hearing Andrew Frank when he reveals additional insights on data-driven marketing in a webinar on May 30 titled “How Data is Transforming Marketing.” The data alone is interesting. The conclusions are the unvarnished truth.

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