Commentary

Data In The Age Of Wisdom (And Foolishness)

As I look at the marketing ecosystem and the role of data, I am reminded of Charles Dickens's famous opening sentence from “A Tale of Two Cities”:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity….”

Arguably, there has never been a more challenging time to be in the B2B marketing field, vying for the attention of busy, hard-to-reach and highly desirable C-level executives who are bombarded with more information than ever.

Additionally, the decision-making committee has continued to both broaden and deepen. Influencers across multiple departments, disciplines and levels foster the vetting, recommendation and final decision.

Todays’ B2B purchase decision process has become much more fluid, complex, iterative and dynamic. Key decision-makers and influencers (both internal and external) traverse multiple touch points and no longer move along a straight and simple continuum. This is making it more difficult to reach them at the precise point in their journey, when they are open to influence, with timely and relevant messaging (or content).

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Although the purchase journey and marketing ecosystem have changed dramatically, the fundamental marketing objectives have not. B2B marketer’s fundamental job is still to:

  • Reach the right audience at moments that most influence their decisions and try to persuade them to take the desired action
  • Drive stronger and more meaningful connections between the C-level suite and brands
  • Win the hearts and minds of C-level executives in key moments that matter across their decision journey

To market effectively to the C-suite (and get the message through the clutter and into the minds of this elusive audience) you need good intelligence — and good intelligence requires data.

Key decision-makers in organizations leave behind robust data signals as they move across an array of platforms, channels, and devices. The amount of data we can collect continues to grow, it has become multidimensional, and, increasingly, real-time in nature. 

Data has become a strategic asset for B2B marketers. However, when presented to executives, many face a data dilemma. Either they:

  1. Lack the data they need to influence effective decision making
  2. Lack confidence in the data they do have
  3. Are plagued with data silos and incomplete information
  4. Get lost in the “data jungle”
  5. Feel overwhelmed or overpowered (even paralyzed at times), rather than empowered, by the amount of data available

The infinite expanse of data can offer B2B marketers a breadth, depth and wealth of knowledge. However, data is like crude oil. It’s valuable but needs to be refined, enriched and analyzed to extract the most value from it.

Data alone is not an insight. There is an increasing lack of insight with B2B marketers and even CMOs living in an ‘illusion of knowledge’ drowning in data, insight poor, and failing to turn information into intelligence and action. Therefore, we need to have an effective process to turn data into information, information into insight, and insight into action. A key thing to understand is that data is gathered, but intelligent data is made.

Unlocking insights from the data generated through interactions, transactions and touchpoints (as key decision-makers navigate each stage of their journey) is critical to enabling timelier, smarter decisions across the campaign lifecycle and purchase decision journey to drive relevance, scale and performance.

To lead successful data-driven initiatives that can drive marketing strategy, improve marketing performance and ROI and influence business growth, B2B markets need to:

  • Not only understand a single buyer, but also a group of buyers who influence a typical enterprise buying decision
  • Connect disparate data sources – 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-party data, private, public, and contextual data, B2B and B2C audience (CRM, contact databases, firmographics, demographics, behavioral, psychographics, social profiles, intent, open web, etc.) – to recognize decision-makers in their entirety – their business / professional profile in conjunction with their consumer profile
    • C-level executives – who are making the decisions – are still people that have families, hobbies, passions, etc…their decision-making process is still human and often emotional
    • Leverage analytic techniques and machine learning (like AI, cognitive/deep learning models and algorithms) to analyze complex and dynamic data sets to sift through the mass of information and extract meaningful insights
    • Create effective integrated marketing and ad campaigns (messaging) that are timely, relevant, personalized (speak to each decision-maker’s specific situation), engaging, compelling and impactful with audiences
    • Deliver the right combinations of channels, content and frequency of communications

We must remember that adopting a data-driven marketing approach is not so much a destination as it is a transformational journey.  It’s an ongoing process, and the foundation for continuous improvement. Thus it should not be thought of as being a one-off thing.

While it’s important to believe in the ‘science’ of marketing data and analytics, ‘art’ retains an important role.  Marketing’s true art lies in managing the science – by combining data-driven consumer understanding with unbounded creativity and a smart distribution strategy.

A B2B marketer should aim for an effective mix of “right-brain/left-brain” and operate at the intersection of data and ideas.

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