As data becomes plentiful – even overwhelming at times – more agencies are hiring specialists in data-driven marketing. Their role is to work through data complexity and find a clear way to impact client campaigns.
Data specialist Diane Bégin, Vice President at ruckus Digital and APEX PR, guides you through the challenging world of data in marketing and PR. She answers that all-important question: is there a role for creativity in this brave new data-driven world?
How new is it for a PR or marketing agency to have a data analytics specialist on staff, and is it the way of the future?
As communicators, we’ve always had to understand metrics to pull insights from them (e.g. media impressions, Google Analytics, etc.). But as communications platforms expand and analytics tools get more complex, we’re seeing more agencies hiring folks specifically dedicated to data analytics.
In the profession, we all still need to have a decent understanding of analytics to be able to show value in our work and how it impacts clients’ bottom lines. However, having go-to experts to help make sense of the data – whether you have someone in-house or externally – is definitely something that is here to stay.
We are inundated with data, but not all of it matters, so having data experts to make sense of it will continue to grow in importance.
Is marketing now truly a science, in that data can be measured and analysed, and then lead to action?
I wouldn’t so much call marketing a science, but effective marketing does have science and marketing working hand-in-hand.
Science in mainstream earned media, for example, goes back to the days of one of the founders of public relations, Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew), who used Freud’s work to change behaviour through campaigns. Just like data science is interdisciplinary (i.e. it’s not just scientific methods), and I would argue that marketing is also interdisciplinary.
Understand a client’s objectives to effectively use data
In our pre-interview chat, you indicated that one of the biggest obstacles to effectively using data is understanding it. How can marketers develop strong data interpretation skills?
The foundation to effectively use data and understand it is by first starting with your client’s business objectives – what do they want to accomplish? Whether it’s 100,000 new credit card sign ups, a favourable ‘net promoter score’ type of ranking for a municipality or getting a million downloads of an app, you need to find out what those objectives are.
From there, work backwards to determine how your efforts will contribute to that. Having an understanding of those business objectives helps in making sense of whether you should care about one thing or another by being able to pose questions and to see if the data can answer those questions. (Or to start your conversation with your go-to data expert.)
Anyone who’s worked with basic data, such as a mailing list, knows only too well how important quality is. If organizations have lots of data but it’s poor quality, is cleansing the place to start?
Yes, quality is key when working in data, otherwise how can you determine any insights if the data is flawed? I’d rather start from scratch and get it right than ever use poor quality data.
Apply the RACE formula
With cleansing out of the way – what are the key next steps marketers and communications people must take in order to begin making data-driven decisions?
The evolution of the RACE formula (research, analysis, communication, evaluation) applies here. The formula was established in 1963 but instead of thinking of it as a linear process, we now look at all four elements and constantly iterate our approaches based on feedback from our environment rooted in both qualitative and quantitative data.
Recent Canadian CMO research by our agency under the CMO Lab banner however showed the importance of integration in planning, through to data-driven evaluation across paid (social media, digital, OOH, etc.), earned (relations, influencers etc.), shared (social media) and owned media (website, intranet, etc.).
The data shouldn’t be looked at in silos but rather as a whole. Through aligned planning and measurement to business objectives across all PESO platforms, we are in a better position to provide holistic reporting on the effectiveness of all activities with relevant KPIs and benchmarks (i.e. not just a random number we’re trying to hit).
Agility is always key and tactical elements like A/B testing will also always continue to be part of ongoing programs.
2018 is said to be the year of predictive analytics – where data will help practitioners create predictive models that tell us which consumers are going to be the best targets, and what kinds of actions we can take to potentially turn consumers into clients. How can marketers leverage predictive analytics? What kinds of tools, data, and insights should they be seeking?
Things like search data, weather triggers, creating lookalike audiences or using beacons for example, to get very tangible data on predicting the consumer journey are part of what we’re doing right now. But there are new things coming out every day.
Instead of specific tools, data and insights practitioners should be seeking and staying informed about new tools (whether through regular work group discussions, industry events, online articles, etc.). And you can’t know it all, so find a good group of folks to help keep you on top of your game.
A continued role for creativity
Given the rise of data and use of artificial intelligence in marketing, is there a role for creativity in this automated world?
Of course, just like any other changes that have impacted our work as communicators, there is still always a role for creativity.
We have no idea yet where automation can take us and those who are keen and eager to tap into its potential will continue to see gains within their work.
What kinds of skills should marketers and PR people of tomorrow be equipped with?
They should be comfortable with the notion of constantly being uncomfortable.
Things move quickly and you have to jump into every day and be willing to solve problems in a new way; the environment changed from the last time you did something similar.
About digital expert Diane Bégin
Diane Bégin is an online content and social media specials who supports clients in both internal and external communications. With a Master of Arts in Communications and Technology from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Diane has solid experience in video production, speech writing, event planning, government relations, and communications planning. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.