Building a Data-Driven Marketing Culture

Posted on by Joshua Reynolds

tech-technology-data-analytics-300To CMOs, it’s become an aggravatingly familiar refrain: “You have to build a data-driven marketing culture.” Talk to any industry pundit, attend any conference, or read any industry website and you’ll hear it over and over again.

This imperative is valid: Any CMO who isn’t thinking about data probably won’t be a CMO for much longer. Even so, marketing leaders haven’t received much help.

Part of the problem is this: When those pundits, conferences and publications broach data cultures, the advice is often technology-centric. Technology is undeniably important. Without mobile devices, ubiquitous sensors, cloud platforms and other recent advances, the data boom wouldn’t exist. But most marketers aren’t struggling with data because of technology. The real culprit is culture.

Indeed, “data culture” is just the newest iteration of the quandary Nicholas Carr described in his 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “IT Doesn’t Matter.” Carr argued that because most technologies are eventually commoditized, they offer only short-term competitive advantages. Enduring benefits therefore derive not from tech itself, but from the way a workplace culture utilizes the technology to devise and execute strategies. This was true for word processors and it will be true for data analytics too.

So how can CMOs proceed? Here are six tips to help marketing leaders build data cultures.

  1. Embrace employee skepticism.

Purchasing a product doesn’t guarantee your employees will use it— see the BYO phenomenon for all the examples you’ll ever need. Data solutions are no different, and to get buy-in from their teams, CMOs need to set a tone that acknowledges employee concerns.

In a 2013 study conducted by The Economist, for example, EMC CTO William Schmarzo noted that many employees are “reluctant” to embrace decisions made “on the basis of data rather than expertise.” Marketers, being a generally creative and intuitive bunch, are particularly likely to feel this sort of tension.

If you’re a CMO whose workforce faces this anxiety, you won’t build a successful culture by simply ordering your employees to shape up. Rather, you must listen to and validate their concerns, and be prepared to explain why data is an asset to, rather than a destroyer of, creativity. A CMO might explain that whereas data can reveal why consumers are or aren’t buying, it will never be able to replace the human creativity required to turn this information into a persuasive ad, for example.

  1. Not all data is created equal.

If data is going to infuse marketers with a sense of cultural purpose, the data has to provide valuable information—which is easier said than done. A recent Deloitte study, for example, found that 82% of CMOs feel uncomfortable interpreting consumer analytics. The reality is, currently marketers’ data methodology is far from ideal.

Marketers who rejoice over retweets and page views are often missing the mark. Social data isn’t valuable on its own; it’s valuable when it includes trends that correlate to the brand’s revenue, as these correlations reveal which topics drive consumer intent and how marketers can tap these topics to improve business outcomes.

CMOs must contextualize why certain metrics are worth tracking. When employees understand the value of a metric and how that metric contributes to business, personal and social goals, the employees are much more likely to coalesce into a data-friendly culture.

  1. Invest in training.

Many marketing pundits have blamed data struggles on the job market. “It’s hard to find those people who have a perfect mix of data skills and creative thinking,” they lament.

Get over it. Those “unicorn” candidates will become more common in the future, as data culture becomes more pervasive, but as this article’s first tip suggested, data isn’t about replacing existing employees with a shiny new fleet of data scientists.

To build a data-driven culture, CMOs must invest not only in visualization tools that make analytics accessible to non-technical employees, but also in training that allows marketers to make the most of the new tools. Again, it’s not about the technology—it’s about building a culture that empowers people to use technology.

  1. Failure can be a good thing.

Most marketers at major brands already track consumer data. Relatively few are using this data to activate strategies, however. Why? When the data points in unexpected directions, it takes bravery to place a bold bet. No one gets yelled at for following conventional wisdom, after all.

But according to a recent study by MIT and Deloitte, employees will only embrace bold action if company leaders concede that failure is often a prerequisite to success. Data cultures are new and alien to many marketers. Even if the employees are tracking the right metrics and feel a sense of social and professional purpose, they’ll still be hesitant to engage in a new process that might lead to failure. To make data a way of daily life, CMOs must give marketers the freedom to experiment with and learn from data.

  1. Marketing can be the cornerstone of a data culture.

Marketers aren’t the only ones under pressure to become more data-driven; virtually all departments within major corporations feel this urgency. But as Deloitte CMO Diana O’Brien has observed, marketing departments can set the tone for the rest of the company.

“Now that customer behaviors and preferences are not only measurable but actionable, the rest of the corporate structure has had to shift towards a more integrated approach or risk disruption and obsolescence,” she wrote in a recent article, noting that data’s rise has been tethered to an increasingly customer-focused world.

Whereas customer-centricism is new to some departments, CMOs have always had this focus, O’Brien continued. “That’s why the customer-centric business imperative is one that falls squarely on the shoulder of the CMOs.”

Joshua Reynolds is head of marketing at Quantifind.



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