The Grand Reopening of the U.S. Economy Will Happen, Plan for It

We are in uncharted territory, much as we were in previous economic downturns and recessions. Yet, do know, another expansion will follow … eventually. There will be a grand reopening of our economy, and as marketers, we need to plan for it.

I love defaulting to optimism – even in the darkest of times. It’s been part of my survival mechanism through all sorts of crises. That being said, we are in uncharted territory in this new normal, much as we were in previous economic downturns and recessions. “The Great Recession” of 2008-2009 was largely Wall Street born and Main Street slammed. But remember, the Great Expansion followed. A possible recession stemming from COVID-19, however, would be largely reversed, with millions of livelihoods suddenly denied, and both Main Street and Wall Street being slammed in tandem. Yet, do know, another expansion will follow … eventually. There will be a grand reopening of our economy, and as marketers, we need to plan for it.

Listening to the U.S. President talk about getting parts of our country back to some semblance of normal by Easter may seem wild-eyed and some might say irresponsible. In reality, China is reportedly already back on line – after six-to-eight weeks of paralysis. Does this mean a possible “V-shaped” recession (very short), a “U-shaped” one (mild), or an “L-shaped” one (long term)? We don’t know.

It’s always dangerous to make prognostications, but we can learn from patterns elsewhere in the virology. With the United States now the most afflicted nation in sickness, we yet have a massive fight ahead to control viral spread. And doubt and fear have taken hold as two debacles have come about, one public health and one economic.

Unfortunately, there is no “on/off” switch for the viral crisis. Even when its spread is curtailed, which will happen, we’ve been shaken and edginess is going to remain. That’s only human.

Patterns of consumption will not resume as if nothing happened. Unemployment shocks will not reverse as easily as they came. So there will be a “new” normal.

However, a reopening is coming. You might say that’s my optimism, but folks – we are going to be okay in a time. It may not be of our choosing, as Dr. Fauci faithfully reports, but one that will be here nonetheless. As marketers, let’s get ready for it.

Look to Your Data to Prepare for What’s Next

Recessions are actually good times to look to the enterprise and get customer data “cleaned up.” The early 90s recession gave us CRM, and database marketing flourished. The end of the Internet 1.0 boom in 2000 brought data discipline to digital data. And the Great Recession brought data to the C-suite.

So let’s use this time to do a data checkup. Here are four opportunities:

  1. Data audits are often cumbersome tasks to do – but data governance is a “must” if we want to get to gain a full customer view, and derive intelligent strategies for further brand engagement. Quality needs to be the pursuit. Replacing cookie identification also is a priority. Understand all data sources to “upgrade” for confidence, accuracy, privacy, and permissions.
  2. March 15 might be a good date to do an A/B split with your customer data inputs – pre-virus and during-virus. What new patterns emerged in media, app usage, mobile use and website visits? Are you able to identify your customers among this traffic? If not, that’s a data and tech gap that needs to be closed.
  3. Customer-centricity or data silos? It’s always a good time to tear down that silo and integrate the data, yet sometimes healthy economic growth can mask this problem. Use the recessions to free up some time to actually get the work done.
  4. Test new data and identity solution vendors to increase match rates across your omnichannel spectrum – to better create a unified view of audiences, both prospects and customers. I’ve already seen one of my clients come up with a novel offer to analyze a subset of unidentified data to drive a substantive lift in matches.

As we work remotely, it’s important to understand that this current state of crisis is not a permanent state. Only once the virus is conquered, on its weaknesses not ours, can we really have any timetable to resume the economy. That being the health science, it just makes great business sense now to “stage” your data for that eventual Grand Reopening.

Marketers Must Take Stock of Their Data-Driven Power Now

With the 2020 elections already underway, social media marketing is in the spotlight. Although I am not sure if the spotlight was ever really off of its data-driven science since the 2016 election. Although all of the major social networking platforms have been dragged in front of congress to discuss how they use data, it was the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that drew the most media attention and become the poster child.

With the 2020 elections already underway, social media marketing is in the spotlight. Although I am not sure if the spotlight was ever really off of its data-driven science since the 2016 election.

Although all of the major social networking platforms have been dragged in front of congress to discuss how they use data, it was the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that drew the most media attention and become the poster child.

What data-driven marketers need to recognize is that what happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica was not some off-the-books, sneaky misuse of social data. Rather, it was executed very much in line with the broader vision of social media marketing. That has implications for how we use social media as part of our digital marketing mix.

Why Data-Driven Marketers Must Take Stock Now

What makes social media a powerful platform for marketers is that it not only targets individuals based on demographics, but it could also targets based on their location, personality and current context.

Considering all of the conscious and unconscious information users can share on social platforms, there is a powerful amount of information algorithms can mine to generate marketing content and messages most likely to resonate with users. Not only can social media know where you are and what you like, but also your closest friends and your emotional state on any given day. It is even likely that social media algorithms have a better understanding of your underlying emotions and motivations than you do. To anyone who has spent time micro-targeting, this is not a surprise. Given enough data, a shockingly perceptive algorithm can be developed. This is why social media had mile-high stock valuations even when platforms were still hemorrhaging cash.

Let’s face it; marketing has always included an element of manipulation. The function of consumer insights and research is designed to provide marketers levers for manipulation. With some exceptions, we have been able to sleep at night knowing that the consumer stood a chance or that we were also offering a real benefit, so some manipulation was just part of it. When we started using rich data with algorithms to develop more targeted models, many of us saw this as the ultimate example of customer empathy. This was going to empower marketers to become highly relevant to their consumers.

Those who were not on board were behind the times. (To confess, I used to view most cautionary voices as laggards or technophobes. Some were, some weren’t, but they were also right to worry.)

Today, we need to take stock of how that empathy is used. With great empathy comes the power of even greater manipulation. Despite all of the data policies out there, we are not addressing the real question: How much manipulation is too much?

Is it fair to push an antacid ad at someone who posts about a visit to the county fair and winning the pie-eating contest? Seems “big brother-ish,” but benign?

How about pushing anti-anxiety medication ads to a college student going through a breakup during finals week?

While this sounds horrible, we technically can.

Don’t Do It Just Because You Can

How companies manage and leverage consumer data is becoming part of the company’s ethical standards, but we need to extend beyond data privacy to data use.

Just like use of child labor, environmental footprints and other ethical standards, standards on the use of consumer data will be a critical way that companies define their brands and the role they wish to play.

3 Top 2018 Marketing Posts That Predict 2019 Outcomes

As a regular contributor to Target Marketing, I thought I would use my last post of 2018 to take stock of the marketing posts I did through out the year. Being data-driven, I began by looking at the data to find the most-read posts.

As a regular contributor to Target Marketing, I thought I would use my last post of 2018 to take stock of the marketing posts I did through out the year. Being data-driven, I began by looking at the data to find the most-read posts.

A clear lesson for me is that the wonkier my post, the less popular. (I know! I am surprised as you. I have so much technical and boring perspective to give!)

Nevertheless, below are two posts that the wisdom of the market indicated were my better contributions to the marketing world. I also added my closing thoughts for the year for both posts. Lastly, I also include my personal-favorite post, which I file under the “business fiction” category — for the benefit of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Data and the Decline of Sears

My top post for 2018 discusses how the downfall of Sears was not about its refusal to adopt new technology and embrace data. In fact, since 2005, Sears strongly embraced a data-driven culture.

Rather, the problem was that Sears’ leadership did not show visionary boldness, and focused its data-driven energies on mostly tactical wins.

I would like to emphasize that data-driven thinking was not the downfall of Sears. In fact, it yielded great results where applied. Rather, it was the narrow-minded application of data-driven thinking that resulted in the downfall. This is an important lesson for those who believe that transforming into a data-driven culture is an inoculation from obsolescence.

Marketing Strategy: Nike’s #JustDoIt Campaign and Kaepernick

The second-most popular post hypothesized what the long run game plan was behind Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. There were three hypotheses.

  • First, that Nike is simply focused on the issue of racial justice and not looking to weigh in on all of politics.
  • Second, that Nike is trying to drive dialog by alternating between liberal and conservative talking points, and the Kaepernick ads were the starting point.
  • Finally, that Nike is actively seeking to become a brand associated with left-leaning politics.

It is the last hypothesis that worried me the most. Not because of my political beliefs. Rather, I think it is bad for the country if companies also join the hyper-polarized state of American politics.

To my personal relief, it seems since then that Nike is focused on the specific issue of race. Their follow-up campaign, featuring professional soccer player Raheem Sterling, addresses the need to speak out against racism — even if it isn’t easy to do so.

Looking at 2019 and beyond, I think Nike has wisely positioned itself on the right side of history.

‘Nobody’ Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

My personal favorite post, which came in sixth, is a fun read. It features a dialog with a fictional consultant named “Nobody.” It distills, through dialog, a reoccurring theme in most of my posts. Data and analytics cannot replace managerial courage.

To 2019 and Beyond!

If there is a prediction for 2019 I would like to make, it is that we will begin (just begin) to see data and analytics become accepted as valuable tools and not a replacement for decisive action.

For a concrete example of this, I would refer the reader to my top post of the year regarding Sears.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous 2019!

The Decline of Sears Is a Story About Narrow-Minded Analytics

I am a data-driven marketer, but I also talk about the dangers of using analytics for narrow-minded goals at the expense of long-term advantages. The story of Sears and its eventual bankruptcy is very illustrative of what I mean about narrow-minded analytics — used for short-term gains at the expense of longer-term goals.

I am a data-driven marketer, but I also talk about the dangers of using analytics for narrow-minded goals at the expense of long-term advantages. The story of Sears and its eventual bankruptcy is very illustrative what I mean about narrow-minded analytics — used for short-term gains at the expense of longer-term goals.

I know, because early in my career, I had spent several years at Sears. More importantly, I was there when Sears was bought out by Kmart holdings.

In 2004, Sears was already in decline. But it was still a force to be reckoned with. Despite the fact it had struggled to improve its soft lines (apparel, textiles, etc.) performance, it was still the go-to retailer for hard-line goods, such as appliances and tools. Management was also trying new formats and new product lines to rejuvenate the Sears brand.

Then the announcement came. Sears will be bought out by Kmart Holdings and ESL investments, run under the leadership of Eddie Lampert. The feeling among Sears employees was immediate demoralization. It was as if an old but proud ship was under attack by a ghost pirate ship under the flag of a cursed and dead brand.

Sensing the fear, senior management began preaching the benefits of a more efficient, data-driven management mindset that ESL investments would bring. Along with more resources, the data-driven culture would reward “smart risk-taking.” By better leveraging data, Sears would climb out of its slow descent to once again become a dominant leader in retail.

In this spirit, I became involved in an aftermarket pricing project, where we leveraged pricing and sales data to determine the optimal price of thousands of parts used in the repair and maintenance of hard-line goods. The project netted over $10 million in the first year alone, and the team was recognized with the “making money” award (Yes, that was the name of the award). As more price optimization projects came online, tens of millions of dollars in bottom-line revenue were being realized quarterly.

While the pricing initiatives were a brilliant use of analytics, senior leadership didn’t take advantage of the analytical talent to address the issue of the declining top line. Where was the data-driven strategy for top-line growth? Were we simply collecting cash for the big transformation? Was something already in the works? As we tweaked and re-tweaked algorithms to squeeze more profits, the brand atrophied. Long story short, you have what Sears is today.

However, this story is not an indictment of the transformational powers of data-driven thinking. Rather, as I have written in previous articles, such as here and here, this is an indictment of management’s ability to exercise visionary, data-driven thinking. Analytics is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t replace courage and visionary thinking.

Sears was so busy picking up loose change off the floor, it forgot to look up at the bus barreling toward it.

With analytics, this is easy to do, because it is exceptionally good at optimizing for your current environment. Changing the rules, however, requires the blend of analytics and courage.

Some argue that Eddie Lampert and ESL investments always planned to juice and kill the Sears brand. Eddie Lampert has denied this from the beginning. I believe him, because there was a time when Sears’ coterie of store brands (such as Kenmore and Craftsman) still carried immense market value. That was the time to begin stripping Sears.

This is simply a story where the potential and power of data-driven thinking was advertised as an opportunity for transformational change, but was frittered away picking up loose change.

3 Tips for Dealing With the Stress of MarTech-Driven Marketing

As a marketer in today’s data-driven world, it is very hard to keep your head on straight. With thousands of martech solutions in the market vying for your attention, combined with the pressure to make data-driven decisions and justify expenses, it is easy to become overwhelmed by martech-driven marketing.

As a marketer in today’s data-driven world, it is very hard to keep your head on straight. With thousands of martech solutions in the market vying for your attention, combined with the pressure to make data-driven decisions and justify expenses, it is easy to become overwhelmed by martech-driven marketing.

The result is a constant feeling that you are falling further and further behind. While that may be, it is also likely that you are in good company as this is a common anxiety among most marketers.

Here are three tips for dealing with the anxiety from tech-driven marketing.

Understand and Acknowledge the MarTech-Driven Marketing Landscape Is Needlessly Complex

It’s not your job to sort it out. There are thousands of martech solutions out there and you can’t/shouldn’t keep up with all of them.

If you did, you would hardly have time for your day job. It is better that you understand the technologies as broad capabilities (such as marketing automation, CRM, content management systems, etc.) then focus on determining if you need that capability and why.

Then carefully select vendors with that capability to work with on specific solutions.

Ignore the Noise and Get Back to Marketing Strategy

Too often, marketers are letting the marketing technology world dictate how strategy should be run.

For example, when discussing lead development strategy, I had a client tell me that their marketing automation vendor was looking into it. This is akin to having your building materials provider design your dream home. Some may offer basic design services, but the result is likely to be staid and semi-custom, at best.

Similarly, most martech companies do not want to be in the business of developing your marketing strategy, but they oftentimes are forced to do so in order to get you comfortable with leveraging their technology.

No one wins in this scenario, and what often results is a generic marketing strategy.

The key is to understand what broad martech capabilities are relevant for you and to build a custom go-to-market strategy that reflects your brand’s vision and purpose.

Then incorporate data-driven capabilities — and lastly, evaluate a specific solution.

Don’t Be a Slave to Your Data

I often hear marketers ask, “How can we better leverage all this data?”

This is like starting your holiday shopping by asking, “How can I leverage all of the available retailers out there?”

The more sensible questions should be: “What do I want to achieve and how can data help me get there?”

Then, look into your own data to determine if the relevant data is there. If it isn’t, don’t fret. Many times, the relevant data is cheap to generate, and you should begin to understand what it is you specifically need and how best to generate it.

Concluding Thoughts About Tech-Driven Marketing

After many years in consulting with Fortune 500 companies on marketing data and technology strategy, I can confidently tell you that the vast majority of marketers feel overwhelmed and not in control.

What I can also say is that most marketers do not struggle with what to do; rather, they struggle with what not to do.

With a torrent of marketing solutions available today, it is easy to lose focus. Successful marketers understand that martech solutions affect how you think about marketing and customer strategy execution. However, they also understand that smart, brand-centric strategies drive solution selection — not the other way around.

How Big Idea Marketing Can Live on in Data-Driven Storytelling

In an era not so long ago, creative directors lived in a world where the big idea was the champion — and that champion came from highly compensated (more or less) idea makers, both themselves and their creative teams, and the big idea was put to the advertising test. If big idea marketing were provocative enough, then it might win creative awards at a global creative festival. Other creatives would fawn, congratulate each other, and champagne would flow. Not a bad outcome, if you’re a creative director.

big idea marketing
Credit: Pixabay by Mohamed Hassan

In an era not so long ago, creative directors lived in a world where the big idea was the champion — and that champion came from highly compensated (more or less) idea makers, both themselves and their creative teams, and the big idea was put to the advertising test. If big idea marketing were provocative enough, then it might win creative awards at a global creative festival. Other creatives would fawn, congratulate each other, and champagne would flow. Not a bad outcome, if you’re a creative director.

But did the advertising work? Did it achieve a client business objective? Did it engage customers and produce sales, orders, leads …? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Back then, only direct marketers cared about measurement.

How Data Has Changed Advertising … Forever

Enter data. Well, data entered the advertising marketplace when direct mail and direct selling made its debut. But not to discount direct mail pioneers and their cousins in direct-response print and broadcast and telemarketing, let’s fast forward to the digital era. Wow! Today, do we have data!

Combine that creative genius with a heavy dose of data insights and strategy, and now we have data-driven creative — where creative effort is measured against action. No more gut instincts and guesswork. Agencies and in-house marketing departments can prove that their creative ideation works and, in fact, can use prospect and customer data to drive the creative ideation to predict and produce defined business outcomes.

Is there still a role for big idea marketing? Of course! In fact, breakthrough creative is indeed a mechanism for breaking clutter. But now, we have the means for one more de-clutter breakthrough: relevance. Using data insights to drive strategy, combined with compelling creative and storytelling, and now we’re proving our C-suite mettle.

There’s a role for creative festivals.

Rethinking Ad Festivals

But how about a data festival … or a data-driven storytelling festival? Well, we may just have one, and it’s been around for a while. It’s the International ECHO Award Competition, with its call for entries now underway. (I’m a member of the Data & Marketing Association ECHO Board of Governors.)

If an agency today is not proving its command of creative, data and relevance, then it’s not proving its presence as a business driver — no matter how many creative trophies are in the case. Winning an ECHO is different. It’s always been about data-driven storytelling, and it’s always been about strategy, creative AND results, more or less in equal measure. ECHOs serve as proof points for agencies, and in-house marketing teams, that they have data chops. They serve as signals to C-suites that ECHO winners are trusted business partners who know ad tech, martech, data management platforms, analytics prowess and have a discipline to test and measure — all in equal faith to the creative big idea.

Left brain, right brain. Yes, there’s still necessary discussion today about data, measurement and unfettered creative. But in today’s world, we can have both creative and relevance through data. In fact we must have both to capture elusive consumer attention, and to produce action … to prove our worth.

This roster of agencies let’s fast forward — and their agency groups let’s fast forward — have been named ECHO Award finalists, and Diamond, Gold, Silver and Bronze ECHO trophy winners in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Who will be joining them in 2018? In October, in Las Vegas, we’ll find out.

Credit: DMA

Great Marketing Analytics Can’t Drive Managerial Courage

Great marketing analytics can’t drive managerial courage, but the reverse is true. Recently, I decided to have coffee with an old acquaintance of mine. He has been in almost every company imaginable and has such a specialized role that he is in constant demand.

Great marketing analytics can’t drive managerial courage, but the reverse is true.

Recently, I decided to have coffee with an old acquaintance of mine. He has been in almost every company imaginable and has such a specialized role that he is in constant demand. Every few years, there is an explosion on innovative management books designed to put him out of business — yet he remains in high demand.

Nobody was already at the café when I arrived. He was sitting in the middle of the café wearing a shiny grey suit, black shirt and sunglasses perched on his slicked-back salt and pepper hair, purposefully baiting my awe and contempt. He flashed a big toothy grin as I approached.

“Hi, ‘Nobody.’ I hope I did not keep you waiting,” I said, trying to hide my disdain.

“Nah, it’s all good,” he replied. “I was just people watching.”

“So what have you been up to?” I asked.

“Same old, same old … consulting business is as good as ever.” To punctuate his point, he grinned and leaned back with hands behind his head, as if he were ready to fall back into a hammock.

“Yeah, tell me what you do, again?” I asked.

“My consultancy focuses on accountability. It is really a simple model. When something breaks down in the workplace, or there is a failure to perform, I am called in to take accountability. Usually, when I show up, people will be stressed out. The guilty parties think someone else is responsible or are looking to share the blame, leadership does not want to create a toxic environment, and everyone wants to just move on. As a result, I come in. Everyone points to me, and they agree that it is Nobody’s fault.”

“Wow! And what do you charge for this service?”

“Depends, but it is usually a large percentage of gross revenue or net profit, depending on the size and type of failure I assume responsibility for. Business is great!”

My memory of our last conversation is suddenly jarred.

“That’s right; last we talked, we discussed how the wave of data-driven management was going to put you out of business. Wasn’t there some concern that measurement and analytics were the new wave of human capital management and that through measurement, greater accountability would come about?”

“Nobody” brightened up and leaned forward. His eyes opened up and his jaw slackened in awe of his luck.

“Yeah, that was what I was afraid of,” he said, “but it turns out, this big data threat has turned out to be a big hoax. You see, I was not called in because accountability was difficult; I was called in because accountability was icky. No amount of data and measurement will help my clients generate a healthy approach toward accountability if they don’t have the vision of what good accountability looks like. “

I had always disliked Nobody. While he feared the disinfecting power of data, I spent a good part of my career preaching the gospel of insightful data. I had always seen him as a Luddite; someone unaware and clinging to old ways. However, after this insightful confession, I found a sudden rush of respect for him. He knew things about business that I was now just learning for myself.

“Nobody, you are right,” I said. “I don’t deal with accountability directly, but I am often asked to help clients with data-driven customer strategy and marketing effectiveness. I have found that the analytics part is easy. However, it is often lack of clarity, purpose, and vision that prevents data and analytics from being effective.”

He smugly flashes that familiar, self-satisfied, toothy grin and instinctively my resentment reappears. However this time, it’s a different resentment. This time, my disdain is seeded with a healthy and well-deserved sense of respect and fear.

“You know your business model is still destined for obsolescence,” I insist. “It is just a matter of time. Wait till artificial intelligence shows up.” I am embarrassed as soon as the words part my lips. I feel small and helpless, like a kid fighting off a bully by threatening to call in an older sibling.

“Nobody” senses the change in our dynamic. He leans in closer than at any time in our conversation. Like a Bond villain, secure in his advantage, unafraid to share a horrifying truth.

“YOU-DON’T-GET-IT.” He pauses after each word, maximizing the dramatic effect, entirely playing out the Bond villain cliché.

“Data, AI, analytics — none of this matters, unless you have the courage and vision to use it in transformative ways. In fact, in this data-driven age, managers are so enamored by what they CAN do, it is hard to think about what they SHOULD do. As a result, my friend, managerial courage and vision are harder than ever. ”

Damn, he’s good.

Thank You, Arthur Blumenfield, Joyful Storyteller

This past week, we bid farewell to a gentleman and a marketing pioneer, Arthur Blumenfield. For those of us in the New York marketing community, who revere data and data-driven marketing and media — as well as the camaraderie of our community — Arthur truly was a leading light.

This past week, we bid farewell to a gentleman and a marketing pioneer, Arthur Blumenfield.

For those of us in the New York marketing community, who revere data and data-driven marketing and media — as well as the camaraderie of our community — Arthur truly was a leading light.

Arthur was full of stories, and he was a masterful storyteller. He was also joyful, and one couldn’t help feeling the warmth when you were with him. One of my favorite stories was a visit he had taken to Jerusalem, where the locals told him to get a room at the Yimcah Hotel. Up and down he rode the bus route, having to remind the forgetful bus driver a couple of times to drop him off at the stop nearest to the hotel. Peeling his eyes along the route, looking for the hotel — back and forth, as other riders jumped in to say the bus had passed the hotel. Really? Finally, when he actually had the correct stop, he exited the bus and wandered about, finally discovering the Yimcah Hotel, otherwise known as the Y-M-C-A.

That was it, you never knew if it was urban lore — or a true experience. But it really didn’t matter, it was Arthur sharing a tale, and earning a laugh.

He loved his regular OGLE meetings — Old Guys Lunch Experience. Last summer, I received a coveted invitation.  And Arthur truly had a plan for inviting me there. There were plenty of folks in our field — with wisdom a-plenty — with their own stories to be told, and shared. He shared with me Eddy Boas’s book, “I’m Not a Victim, I am a Survivor — how one of our industry’s own endured the Holocaust in a camp with his family, only to survive, rise and build a career in Australia and beyond as a direct marketer. Arthur’s career crossed paths with many such personalities, most of them colorful like himself.

His accomplishments professionally preceded him:

  • He invented the de-duping processes for mail data files, as well as “Me-Books” — that’s personalized print and storytelling coming together;
  • He served as longtime treasurer for the Direct Marketing Club of New York, earning both Silver Apple (1994) and Golden Apple (2013) honors. The company he founded, BMI Global OMS, a family business, was a Silver Apple corporate honoree itself last year;
  • He was a founder of Direct Marketing Days of New York;
  • He cared deeply for the education mission of DMCNY — and our collective support for the future of our field;
  • He developed an order management system first used by the Direct Marketing Association (now Data & Marketing Association) for its conferences; and on and on.

He loved his craft, he loved our field, and loved most of all his family — husband, father, grandfather.  You know when you were invited to a summer outing in Easton, Conn., it was an extended family affair.

Thank you, Arthur, for your warmth, stories and achievements — all of which you so readily shared. We are all the better for it, and — in your spirit — I’m hopeful that any of us can pay it forward at least half as good as you did, with that ever-present smile. That would be remarkable.

Confidence in Data Depends on Confidence in Analysis

It’s striking how marketing organizations — specifically, data-driven marketing organizations — seek to overcome challenges in people, platforms, partners and processes through analytics.

Push-me, pull-you. Chicken or egg?

Data or Analytics?

As I continue discussion on the “The Data-Centric Organization 2018” research report (Winterberry Group, in partnership with the Data and Marketing Association and IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] Data Center for Excellence, it is striking how marketing organizations — specifically, data-driven marketing organizations — seek to overcome challenges in people, platforms, partners and processes through analytics.

Data and Analytics in marketing
“The Data-Centric Organization 2018” | Credit: The Winterberry Group by The Winterberry Group

Analytics spending may be tiny (just 2 percent of data services budgets, according to another Winterberry Group report, “The State of Data 2017”) but the significance of data analytics cannot be understated. We all want it, need it and compete for it in a tight pool for talent, because smarter data activation — predictive models, marketing attribution, triggers (and more), what we might call data strategies — depends on it.

Ad tech and marketing tech are inviting, but they require professionals with analytics fluency in order to flourish.

The report states, “As reported in 2016, practitioners consider data analytics the most critical skill to support the future of their data-driven marketing efforts; however, emphasis on data management and processing has increased, and technology/IT has declined in priority.”

While it’s popular to think that brands are pulling more and more data skill sets in-house, there is actually good news for at least some third-party agencies, consultants and ad partners in this quest for analytics prowess: “Data users credit their supply chain partners with supporting their efforts to derive value from the use of data,” the report concludes, “ … and are helpful when it comes to optimizing the use of marketing technology, as well.” Thus, success in audience activation depends on these partners.

Nonetheless, deepening analytics bench strength is a near-universal concern, both in-house and among marketing service providers. Until such expertise is attained, marketers will remain only moderately confident in the marketing tech and ad tech in which they invest.

So how do we get to a better place? Analytics consultancies are playing a “foremost role in supporting data activation,” followed by third-party data managers and in-house database managers. Organizations say they are becoming less reliant on brand agencies, media agencies and marketing strategy consultancies in this regard — perhaps indicative of the high regard given to data intelligence and to firms that live and breathe data in their everyday practice.

Can we do it? It’s going to take time — and talent — to get our people and skill sets caught up to our tech. I’m a big believer in STEM and marketing education to help us achieve our data-driven storytelling dreams. But we’re talking thousands of such professionals in need. That may mean not only attracting legions of college students to our field, but also boning up in mass the skills of existing current marketing practitioners — supplemented, perhaps, by artificial intelligence and AI’s own skilled handlers.

For marketing to thrive — it has to be data-driven. We do not have the luxury of choice.

Marketing AI Is Overhyped, and That’s Good

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

AI
“artificial-intelligence-2228610_1920,” Creative Common license. | Credit: Flickr by Many Wonderful Artists

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

New research by marketing automation provider Resulticks shows that 73 percent of marketers are either skeptical, neutral or simply exhausted by the hype around marketing AI. In addition, large numbers of marketers think that vendors using industry buzzwords are full of it. This is not surprising, considering how most vendors are probably over-selling their AI solution. In the same Resulticks study, only 18 percent of marketers claim that AI vendors are delivering the goods as promised and 43 percent felt they were over-promised.

However, for those of us who have lived through (and even reveled in) industry catchphrases, from “marketing analytics” to Big Data to “MarTech,” these statistics indicate that “Marketing AI” is on a strong growth trajectory. This is because the combination of huge industry-level investments and a few success stories is generally a recipe for a new frontier of innovation. Some time ago, I wrote an article on the VC investments being made in data-driven marketing technology and many of the technology solutions were still evolving innovations, like marketing automation. Today, the phrase “Marketing AI is also heading toward becoming broad and meaningless, with heavy investments in the sector. In a few years, underneath that generic umbrella will evolve smart, pragmatic solutions which will become part of the standard tool kit. For example, under the Big Data and MarTech labels, we now have well-adopted solutions, such as CRM, programmatic buying and marketing automation. While there are still bugs and varying degrees of success, there is also a large body of fruitful use-cases which demonstrate how these tools can be very effective.

So, what is a marketer to do in this environment where marketing AI has yet to evolve to a stage where it is a stable and valued marketing tool? The most important step is to set low expectations and begin to dip your feet in the water. Experimenting now is critical, as new skills sets and operating frameworks will be required to fully take advantage of the coming AI-driven innovations, and building those individual and institutional capabilities will take time.