The push by businesses large and small to become more “data-driven” is a trend that many industry experts predict will radically change the face of marketing. Count John H. Bell, vice president of enterprise digital marketing at Travelers, among the believers. He says the insurance company’s use of data has strengthened the performance and accountability of its content and brought disparate groups together.
Building a data-driven, analytical culture, Bell asserts, is a team sport rather than the responsibility of one person or a single department. And to ensure collaboration among business groups, he advocates routine meetings, where performance data can be discussed and action steps decided.
“Discussion is the key to actually ingesting insights from data and putting them to work today,” Bell says. “Getting the right group of people in the room — content, marketing, social, business, analysis — and reviewing the data to find true lessons is key. No report, no dashboard will ever replace the power of collaboration. Getting an advantage from data in marketing is art and science.”
Bell, who will speak at the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference, July 15 - 17 in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., provides more perspective on Travelers’ data-driven mindset.
Q. In what tangible ways has data strengthened the
performance of your B-to-B content marketing and the company’s culture?
A. Old-school B-to-B marketing needs come from anecdotal observations — usually from the salesforce — about what would be useful and what might resonate with prospects and customers. It’s disturbing how many sales and marketing groups at various companies still rely solely on this anecdotal source to understand marketing needs. With digital data, we are able now to really understand what content and what stories and material will actually help prospects and customers solve business problems. By looking at data in search and social, we are looking at actual behavior and at demand. By looking at the performance of content, we see instantly what is resonating in terms of what is shared and consumed. Combine that with other qualitative and quantitative data — including those salesforce observations — and we are walking the walk of being customer-centered.
Q. Why do many B-to-B companies still struggle with putting social and data-driven content at the center of the marketing function? What are the biggest challenges?
A. The biggest challenge with putting digital data at the heart of marketing is meaningful analysis. Too many people fall into the trap of just collecting data. Deriving insights and practical, applicable information is a whole other step. Finding the right brain (actually a left and a right brain) to do that inside or outside the organization is tricky. We have a person in charge of analytics and insights for this very reason. I see an advantage to having that person very, very close to our business and our marketing. Without her, we just have a flood of data because it’s so easy to capture data now. That’s the trap of believing that the advantage is purely a technology one. And that’s the reason so many organizations are putting technical budgets and infrastructure directly in the hands of the marketing organization, so that they can push to have the data and technology in service of real marketing needs.
Q. You have been at the forefront of digital marketing and social media for more than 20 years. What valuable lessons have you learned along the way?
A. If I were to stop and think of three truly valuable lessons, here’s what comes to mind: First, establish a learning culture. I never stop learning and never expect to. If everyone in my organization can be both teacher and student on any given day, and we build in the forums for learning, then we grow and get stronger. Second, being customer-centered is right; you just constantly need to figure out how to live that way. There is a lot of talk about companies and marketers wanting to be customer-centered, and while that may feel like one of those overused aphorisms, it is more important than ever. You have to work hard to find new ways to do that all the time. Sales visits, mining digital data, real research — these can all help. And third, when you feel the most certain about something, never forget you could be wrong. In business, we are all trying to build confidence in an approach to drive action. That causes us to “behave with certainty” such that others see your path as less risky. That’s just business. And to remain human and build relationships based upon humility, you have to be a little less righteous. In my best moments, I try to remember that no matter how convinced I am in a POV or course of action, there always remains the possibility that I am wrong.