If there is one area of business that can benefit more than most from big data it is surely marketing: the blunderbuss approach of the past can now be replaced with marketing that not only means something to its audience, but also helps build long-term relationships.
The first problem this throws up, though, is that there is now so much data – one recent report suggested that every person on earth now produces 1.7 MB of data every second – that asking where to start may grind things to a halt before they even begin.
As with all ‘embarrassment of riches’ problems, however, the answer is to focus on the fundamentals first.
We all swim in a sea of data, said Siobhán Smith, global marketing manager at Expleo Group, but the point is to focus on business insight rather than become distracted or even overwhelmed by the mass of data itself.
“I think you have to start with what insights you want to get: you start with what insights you need and who you want them from,” she said.
As a global consultancy, Expleo has become expert at understanding the uses of data in marketing, and Smith said that while businesses are all turning to data to drive change the objective remains to inform classic business decision-making processes.
“The first step is the audit or research to understand the market. You need external information to confirm, or not confirm, as the case may be, what you think,” she said.
However, the scale of data means more can be done than was hitherto possible: significant advances in sales and marketing technology have personalised and strengthened customer and prospect relationships, accelerating lead generation and prospect mapping, even providing the ability to track intent and create demand, Smith said.
Obviously then, marketing has been truly transformed, with customers now reachable on an almost individual basis based on a wide range of criteria.
“The technology is there, the challenge comes with connecting the dots, integrating the different elements of your tech stack so that it paints a true view of your customer,” Smith said.
In order to do this effectively, businesses need access to clean, usable and relevant data – and given how much unstructured and noisy data is out there, this itself means a process is required.
One great advantage of data is that it means marketing can get to where it needs to be, which eliminates wasted spend and ensures customers are not alienated.
“From a customer point of view, they don’t want or expect ads or outreach that is irrelevant to them anymore. They are well aware of the precision with which marketers and salespeople can target them,” Smith said.
As if this wasn’t self-evidently true, there is also evidence to back it up: Smith pointed to a 2021 report from Hootsuite that demonstrated that, in the B2C space, 97 per cent of Instagram users have engaged with an advertisement on the platform.
“Then if you look at the B2B market, there is a significant rise in account-based marketing, with some organisations deciding to only use this approach, which is essentially treating one account, or a group of accounts as a market in their own right. You get right into the detail, utilising the marketing and CRM tech at your disposal, using the same budget but you don’t prepare your campaign for the mass market, you may only create it for 50 people.
“That will be an interesting trend to watch mature over the next few years,” she said.
B2B and B2C are different and yet the same: while being distinct markets, they are nonetheless related and while approaches differ, the ability to use data and analytics to understand customers and potential leads is transformative in both.
“At the end of the day you’re selling to people,” Smith said.
More broadly, data should not lead to a tunnel vision that sees marketing only in terms of direct sales: there is more to advertising than classified ads, after all. “People need to be asking: ‘What’s our brand strategy?’,” she said.
Smith pointed to research from Les Binet from marketing and communications group adamandeveDDB, which demonstrates the value of marketing.
“The hardest thing for a marketeer to prove is return on investment, but actually there is evidence out there for things like the need to increase spending during recessions.”
Indeed, Binet’s report ‘The Long and the Short of It’ shows, among other things, that metrics have a crucial role in measuring brand effectiveness and that rational and emotional metrics should be used for different purposes.
One factor that can make the difference between success and failure is a culture that embraces change.
“Start-ups and agencies are at a great advantage when it comes to adopting and leveraging the latest marketing technologies because they are lean and agile. They tend not to have legacy systems and large workforces.
“The start-ups do have drawbacks, of course, but they partner more because they lack access to bigger markets. We have partners we can bring to them, and that’s where synergies can form,” she said.