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Weekly INsight: Data, Data Everywhere

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote this line in 1798: “Water, water everywhere, nor not a drop to drink.” The speaker in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a sailor on a becalmed ship surrounded by salt water that he cannot drink. Fast forward to 2018 and turn the water into data, and we have a new story, one that is filled with modern-day marketing challenges, often fueled by the sea of data surrounding modern-day marketers.

INsight #1 is no surprise; brands are awash in data, not in a becalmed marketplace but in a turbulent red ocean. The turbulent red ocean was the challenge posed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their 2005 book, “Blue Ocean Strategy.” They proposed a system where companies can find noncompetitive markets where they can maximize their opportunities while minimizing risk. It worked for a few companies, like Cirque du Soleil, the Blue Ocean Strategy poster child. But not all brands were so fortunate. We have to wonder what ”data” elements the creators of Cirque du Soleil used to create their model.

INsight #2 suggests that the greatest challenge marketers face today is not that data is everywhere, but rather that we just do not know what to do with it. It’s difficult to organize. It’s difficult to manage. And it’s in a continual state of flux – quickly overriding what we just knew. More data should make a brand more relevant to its customers and should make the sales conversion rate from prospect to customer more efficient and streamlined. That has not happened. In study after study, we read that sales complains that marketing does not deliver quality leads, and marketing complains that sales does not follow up on leads because they think the leads are poor quality. Operations does not follow up on lost or under-performing customers in a timely way because no one has figured out how to best employ data-driven marketing automation.

The marketing challenge is that it is no longer enough to simply know your audience. Marketing teams need to understand what is driving the audience up to the point of purchase, the context leading to the final purchase decision and responding with the right message, creative and timing to grab their attention and push the decision-making forward to a sale.

Last week, I lectured a class of high school seniors in their Business and Economics class. My topic was to explain the old economic concept of “Factors of Production.” You know: Land, Labor, Capital and Entrepreneurship. I decided these four factors need to be updated and proposed the following seven factors:

  • Technology – A defining role; think digitally
  • Distribution – Delivering the goods and services
  • Capital – Money and more
  • Leadership – To build strategy
  • Vision – Translating today into tomorrow
  • Knowledge – Replaces brute force
  • Team – This was labor; today it’s more

INsight #3 identifies a significant omission. DATA. How could I not highlight data as a key factor in doing business In the Age of NOW? I define data as the plankton that feeds the entire marketplace ecosystem and hope you agree. Just like the salty water Coleridge wrote about, data is everywhere, but we cannot consume it in its raw form to optimize business growth.

Thus, the new challenge – transforming data into knowledge. During the Q & A session after my high school talk, one student, who planned to study marketing, asked what aspect of marketing was most important. My immediate answer was to focus on “data science,” and if the school does not have such a curriculum, find a school that does. I’m not alone in this thinking. In a February 2, 2018, post from the World Economic Forum in Davos, McKinsey & Company noted two important trends on world business leaders’ minds:

  1. The application of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and, more importantly, advanced analytics “is generating more thoughtful and nuanced conversations.” Their reality is that machines cannot be effective on their own and need humans. The issue become how the machines can augment humans. Data is at the heart of AI. In the marketing ecosystem, data alone will not deliver outcomes that will propel inspiration to create the next sale.
  2. Finding talent – specifically data scientists. There are a limited number of these kinds of people according to McKinsey, so the competition is intense. This was augmented by comments indicating the need to train senior people and managers to understand how to work with these data scientists.

My fourth and closing INsight is that we don’t need more data scientists. We need DATA TRANSLATORS. Data is flooding the marketing ecosystem. Our challenge – to borrow a phrase from our president – is to “drain the swamp” and translate masses of disparate data streams into a clearly focused mosaic to guide marketing and management decisions that will  create the mythical blue ocean we all dream about.

Bart Foreman – Executive Strategist @ Infinity Direct
Turning old ideas into new thought leadership

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Bart Foreman • February 18, 2018


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