Data, Storytelling And The Zen Of Marketing Management

The last few years, marketers were told they had to become adept at managing data.  Now it feels as though the pendulum is shifting back toward storytelling — marketers are being told they have to be able to tell a narrative that resonates with their target audience.  

Data is still core to being a successful marketer, but there’s a more tangible consumer resistance rooted in privacy as a result of the recent Facebook issues. So where does that net out for marketers?

I’ve always believed marketers should be storytellers first, but they need to manage data to make sure their stories are being told to the people who care the most.   A solid marketer should put together a strategy based on four steps, and these steps have to be pursued in order.

1. Identify and understand your audience. Some marketers use personas; others don’t. However you choose to approach this stage, it’s about coming to a hypothesis on who the low-hanging fruit will be.  Who are going to be the early adopters of your product? These are the people who will try your product and hopefully, if the experience is a good one, will share the word about it.



2. Develop a short story that centers on conveying benefits. Getting the audience to understand your product means you have to tell them a story.  That story needs to be succinct and focused on benefits, with possibly a dash of how-to use the product if you’re bringing a brand-new one to market. Getting them to try it — that’s the art. This is my favorite part about being a marketer: developing the narrative.  This is psychology.  This is a craft. This is where you really get to have fun.

3. Use data to deliver the message AND measure its effectiveness. Once your ideas are developed, you get to go to market. Doing so is where data first comes into play.  My philosophy here is simple: data in and data out.  Data in refers to your ability to use data to refine a target and deliver it to the right people.  Data out refers to the measurement of information. Was that the right audience?  Was that the right data to target?  Did you generate interest at the top of the funnel, but very little toward the bottom?  This is the science, where you begin to understand more about your audience and what makes them engage.  That brings you to the final stage.

4. Refine your story as you continue to learn more. This gets overlooked or lumped together in “optimization,” but I consider this to be a storytelling exercise as well.  Speak to any author or songwriter and ask them how many times they run through a project before it’s done.  How many edits does a manuscript take before it gets published?  The narrative to your target audience has to be refined just as many times, but you have more clear information from which to work.  Songwriters can’t bring a song to the radio and rework it later.  Authors can’t refine their book after it’s already in stores.  Marketers are able to do this, which makes what we do different, but still a branch of storytelling.

I guess in my point of view, it’s a balance.  The pendulum metaphor doesn’t really work for me anymore.  It’s about balance.  It’s the zen of marketing. Maybe that balance will create success.

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