In today’s hyper-competitive business environment, where an enormous amount of new data is being generated every day, more and more companies are trying to increase the usability of this data. As Tom Davenport and DJ Patil note in a Harvard Business Review article, “If the information most critical to your business resides in forms other than rows and columns of numbers, or if answering your biggest question would involve a “mashup” of several analytical efforts, you’ve got a big data opportunity,” hence the rise of the data scientist as one of the “Sexiest Jobs of the 21st Century.” These folks are tasked with turning data into actionable insights and these insights turn into knowledge the company can use to make decisions, measure and manage performance.
This ability to understand the relationship between data and knowledge is essential for marketers that want to be able to tap into the power of data. In 1990, Stephen Tuthill from 3M illustrated the distinction and relationship between data, information, knowledge and wisdom in his “The Data Hierarchy”. To briefly recap, the basic idea is that data, unprocessed facts and figures without any added interpretation or analysis (which is often strings of alpha-numeric or graphic images) carries no meaning.
It is important to remember that whether structured or unstructured, data is at the bottom on the pyramid. It carries no inherent meaning until we begin to synthesize and analyze it and use it toanswer specific questions. Once we begin to organize and sort data, it can then be used to answer a specific question. At this stage we are interpreting the data so that it has meaning and relevance. When we are able to assimilate this information so we can use it to take action or make a decision, we gain knowledge.
Peter Drucker wrote in The New Realities (also in 1990), that “knowledge is information that changes something or somebody — either by becoming grounds for actions, or by making an individual (or an institution) capable of different or more effective action.” When we process this knowledge and distill out the essential principles, data, information, and knowledge are transformed into wisdom.
So why do we care about an idea that is over 20 years old? This 20 year old concept can be very helpful as we all try to grapple with Big Data, that mountain of unstructured data being generated from social media, websites, video, store transactions, etc. There are a number of technological issues associated with the capture, storage, and management of “big data”. However, using The Data Hierachy reminds us that the real value of data is in the knowledge and wisdom we can derive from it. This means we need to have the analytical skills and capabilities to identify and relate the patterns found in the data, the information, to our business operations.
Here are four tips for translating data into business value:
1. Define the specific business question and identify and prioritize the information you need before you dive into the data. Data can be like a siren, dangerous, beautiful and luring. Consider the factors that will impact the quality and use of your data.
2. Itemize the information you will need to achieve the business objective and/or measure your performance.
3. Data and information must be relevant to a specific purpose. Determine what data (unprocessed facts) will be relevant, gather and record it. Data sources may be internal or external; public or limited access; hard or soft; qualitative or quantitative; formal or informal. Take particular care when you use data that has already been processed into information for a purpose different from your own.
4. Prepare to act. Information-driven insight are only as valuable if you act upon. Data of any kind offers organizations the opportunity to derive detailed, timely insights (information) and act on them with greater speed and agility (knowledge). Achieving this type of real-time responsiveness will require organizations to become far nimbler about how you manage business processes and workflows.
Achieving the vast potential from data calls for a thoughtful, holistic approach to data management, analysis and information intelligence. Organizations that take strategic approach to using data, whether they are leveraging the Data Hierarchy or some other paradigm, will be better prepared and positioned to generate business value from their data.
In a recent conversation with one of our customers, a VP of Marketing at a well-known company, we discussed the challenges associated with her leadership’s request to submit the fiscal year’s budget before her team had finished the planning process. “Without a plan”, she asked, “how can the right investment be determined and requested?” Before it was even complete, her budget was under fire, and there was the concern that no matter what number was supplied, the budget could be cut back. Understandably, frustration ensued.
This very situation is an example of why it is so important to build a measurable marketing plan that is directly aligned with business outcomes. Once the outcomes are identified and it is understood which ones Marketing is expected to impact and how, the conversation shifts from talking about activities to talking about business value.
Here is the advice we offered, and perhaps you have some additional thoughts:
- Comply with the request. If you can, avoid allocating dollars by activities. Rather, try to allocate the dollars by marketing objective.
- Finish the plan, including the required investment. The plan must illustrate the connection between marketing activities and programs, and the marketing objectives and business outcomes.
- Use the plan as a scenario analysis tool.
- Take the allocated budget and apply it across all the programs, activities, and tasks, indicating where there are variances. This will provide insight into whether you have any funds that can be moved to cover shortages. If you can, and all the efforts are adequately funded, then you are set. If not, you will need to determine if the objective can be accomplished by eliminating certain programs, tasks and activities. This is where the fun part begins.
If you’ve created the plan so that the line-of-sight is clear, the implications to the outcomes will become evident as you allocate funds across the different scenarios. It will also become clear whether slight or major adjustments to activities, programs, or performance targets are required. If major adjustments are needed, or should it appear that the funds are too lean–there just isn’t enough wood behind the arrow to warrant even doing the tasks–you will need to engage in a prioritization conversation.
Which outcomes are more important?
Which objectives are more important?
It may even be necessary to change a strategy or eliminate a business initiative. Or, it may just turn out that the leadership team believes that everything must be addressed and give you the money. Then of course, the onus will be on marketing to deliver, but you will have the means to be successful.
None of us would agree to play a card game with cards missing from the deck; we would know that the odds of winning would be significantly diminished. Yet surprisingly, many marketers are willing to implement marketing programs sans analytics.
In the past few weeks I have attended several marketing conferences. At each event, marketers are talking enthusiastically about how to make Web sites, SEO, social media, email campaigns, and mobile better. However, there is very little conversation about how to be smarter. Analytics is an essential card — actually an ace — in every marketer’s deck for enabling fact-based decisions and improving performance, and most importantly, for being smarter.
While the ace alone has value, when played with other cards its power is truly revealed. And when it comes to analytics, the other card is data. Yes — we have all heard the common complaint about the elusiveness of quality data. Unfortunately, data quality has been an issue in organizations for so long that it has now become the ready excuse for why marketers cannot perform analytics. To harness the power of your analytics card, identify your data issues and create a plan to address them.
Another reason that you may overlook this missing card in your deck is that guessing or gut instinct has been working well enough. Unfortunately, this approach may not suffice in the long-term and your “luck” may run out as organizations push to make “smart” decisions. As marketers, analytics is our opportunity to actively contribute to fact-based decisions. Through analytics, marketers achieve new insights about customers, markets, products, channels, and marketing strategy, programs and mix. It also enables marketing to help improve performance, competitiveness, and market and revenue growth.
As the importance of analytics gains momentum, marketers with analytical acumen will be in great demand. According to some resources, the complexities of data analysis and management are becoming so enormous that there is a shortage of people who are able to conduct analysis and present the results as actionable information. Taking the initiative and honing your analytical capabilities will enable you to make sure you have this ace in the deck — and preferably, in your hand.
Most of us are already working with a time and resource deficit. Try to find a way each quarter to bolster you analytical skills. Attend a conference, read a book, take a class, and bring in experts you can learn from. Here are some key analytical concepts and skills to add:
· Quantitative Decision Analysis
· Data Management
· Data Modeling
· Industry and Competitive Analysis
· Statistical Analysis
· Predictive Analytics and Models
· Marketing Measurement and Dashboard
If you can build your analytics strength, you’ll always have an ace in your pocket.
If you’re like us, you probably have one of those piles on your desk that keeps being moved from one corner to another. You know that pile you need to get to but avoid because it will take some real effort to tackle. For many marketing professionals, marketing accountability, analytics and ROI are in this pile. Not too long ago at a marketing conference where Laura was speaking, the organizers had set up round tables with specific topics for discussion over breakfast. Laura was sitting at the measuring marketing ROI (return on investment) table (of course, where else would I be sitting?) which was strategically located right next to the buffet line. While she was sitting there waiting for people to join her, she kept hearing people say, “Oh measuring marketing,that’s just too hard.” There were hundreds of marketers attending this conference, and about 2 dozen tables of 10 were set to accommodate the early risers. Yet only four other brave souls joined her.
We must stop avoiding this topic and tackle the pile. As Sylvia Reynolds the CMO of Wells Fargo says, “Marketing must be a driver of tangible business results…we must start with the goal in mind and a clear way to measure that goal.” ROI is important for accountability–besides being able to justify spending and enable us to run the marketing organization more effectively and efficiently, knowing what is and isn’t working helps marketing achieve greater influence and serve in a more strategic role. Various surveys suggest that over a third and as much as 42% of marketing budgets are not adequate enough to achieve the outcomes and impact expected.
Perhaps your organization like many others is in the thick of budget planning. A key part of budget planning is to establish and validate the money you plan to spend. The more aligned marketing is with the outcomes of the organization and the more the plan includes performance targets and metrics, the more likely you will be allocated the budget you need to achieve the expected results.
So what does it take to tackle this Marketing Accountability pile? Here are six affordable steps any marketing organization can take to start whittling away at the marketing accountability and measurement pile.
1. Focus. Nothing of importance miraculously gets done on its own. To effectively tackle the marketing measurement pile will take all of Covey’s seven habits: from taking a proactive approach and beginning with the end in mind, that is the outcomes you are expected to impact, to keeping the effort a priority when other things present themselves as urgencies to making marketing measurement a win/win for you, your team, and the rest of the organization. More than likely, you are going to need a cross-functional team to tackle this pile – people from finance, sales, IT, operations, etc. working collaboratively together to define the metrics and hunt down and organize the data.
2. Plan an attack. You know that age old question, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer being, “One bite at a time.” This is true for the marketing accountability and ROI question. If this is a new effort for you, you need to break it into manageable pieces. Quantify your objectives, decide how you will measure them, collect the data that you need to meet the objectives, establish a baseline, gain commitment to the measurement plan, and finally, measure.
3. Get data: “Data is the new creative,” declares Stephan Chase of Marriott Rewards. Establishing metrics, determining effectiveness, understanding efficiencies, all take data. Without data you cannot monitor and measure results. And don’t assume that you have the data that you need to measure your objectives. For example, if you want to measure how many new customers you interest in a new product, you may find that you need first to determine what a “new” customer is. This may require different views of your existing customer records or new strategies for evaluating.
4. Analyze: Once you have the data, the challenge is to generate insights that facilitate fact based decision making. One of the most valuable applications of data and analytics is in leveraging your metrics. The metrics are what enable continuous improvement as you strive to achieve and set new performance standards. Just looking at numbers doesn’t tell you as much as evaluating trends or creating statistical models that help you identify an optimized approach to your marketing efforts. Consider looking at your measurements for what isn’t immediately obvious such as what might have happened if that campaign had gone to the three bottom deciles of customers?
5. Use a systematized process: You may need to set up systems and processes that enable you to capture and track results on an ongoing basis. Many organizations put a substantial amount of energy into initiating these programs and then let them fizzle as other priorities surface. It takes both process and discipline to sustain a measurement effort. Systems help you automate a process so that the process can become a manageable part of your day-to-day operations. Today every marketing organization is moving at a breathless pace. Implementing test and control environment can keep you from having a fatal, head on collision
6. Train. Many marketers are unaccustomed to living in a metrics-based environment. You may need to invest in measurement, analytics, as well as data training and skills development. Start by taking a skills inventory. Find out who in the organization has data management, analytics and measurement skills. Decide what skills they need to perform at your expected levels. Develop training that fills the skill gaps. Doing this in-house allows you to tailor to your needs, but consider courses from universities, associations and external consultants to fill out your requirements.
Moving marketing performance metrics from the “too hard to” pile to the “we can do it” pile can reap rewards for the entire organization.
For more information on Marketing Alignment and Accountability, download our Free White Paper: Charting a Course for Marketing Effectiveness: Alignment & Accountability