The Inevitable Ceiling Facing Data Marketers

The Library of Congress Ceiling

Data drives almost every decision made in today’s marketing department, in large part because of improvements in yield. As every marketer adapts data-based precision marketing, you can foresee an inevitable ceiling to quantitative marketing.

According to Forbes, 66% of marketing data is used to better focus on targeting offers, messages, and content. That trend will only increase. In 2018, you cannot possibly take on any significant marketing job or project without embracing marketing data and analytics.

With data, marketers create stronger CTAs in more precise channels to deliver higher desired yield. Today, the danger for marketing is letting data-based intelligence become the only voice driving content. Qualitative data and creative are dismissed, at best relegated to a multi-variant test.

What do you get when every marketer in the world uses data to determine who, when and what they communicate? An endless stream of precise spam. That uniform spamming across channels produces a results ceiling.

“You can get the right eyeballs in the right time, the right format, and if you put something crappy there,” it’s all for naught, said Daniel Slotwiner, director of advertising research at Facebook (via Contently).

What the Ceiling Looks Like

Sooner or later, the better performing spamming organization — err marketing organization — will run into a competitive marketplace that provides growth challenges. When the only thing driving marketing and brand is data — while precise — that marketing organization will lose ground to savvier competitors. Those competitors use the same or better data to inform emotionally intelligent brand creative that inspires customers.

Spammy marketers always lose to stronger brands that invest in customer-driven product insights, creative, and content.

To see this play out in real time, look at the auto insurance market. If you think State Farm, GEICO, and Progressive aren’t operating off the same marketing data points, you are sorely mistaken. There a differences, but you can bet the differences are minute.

So why are these three the only auto insurance providers with double digit market share? Is it really because their competitors don’t have marketing automation, data centric approaches to customer marketing, etc.? For example, All State certainly has access to extensive marketing data tools.

It comes down to understanding what compels customers. And the better, more relevant the product’s value proposition, creative content and communications are, the bigger the advantage.

In spite of GEICO’s still often funny ads, the brand sits at number two these days. One can argue that State Farm’s new simplified direct buying process, recent modern creative advertising, and ongoing agent-based distribution channels have simply made it more relevant. As the ad says, you can feel the connection.

Data Issues

Data-based marketing is not a panacea, and has its issues. There is a data glut, and the ongoing uncertainty about which data sets matter most. That in turn produces missteps.

When you dive into the inevitable navel gazing amongst the data marketing influencer set, their answer for marketing data’s weaknesses remains extending networks for more data, such as social networks or CRM. Or even better, identifying the quality data that matters.

Yes. All true.

But wrong.

Data and social analytics provides the compass towards the customer’s specific needs. They can tell you what keywords may work best, when to deliver your messages, and how. Data cannot deliver intangible emotional intelligence or creative brilliance, though.

Therein lies the problem. While the very best most precise data can tell you where to go, it cannot craft the ultimate strategy and campaign content needed to succeed. Perhaps AI and automation can deliver said content, but these tools still need the logic. In essence they cannot drive.

Testing and Artificial Intelligence

The Dell Listening Center

Right about now, you will hear data marketers argue they can test creative and content messages, finding the right communication. On this we can agree.

Let’s not pretend that the data revolution provided a new revolutionary way to think about creative: Testing. Smart brands have invested in testing creative for decades. Data has simply made testing cheaper and more accessible to small brands. In the data era, surveys and focus groups are often replaced with live A/B and multi-variant tests of content across small sample sizes.

What the data marketer needs to understand is value. Until you invest in quality content and creative, you will only get stock creative value and crowdsourced level results. You get what you pay for. Since most data-centric organizations are bottom line focused, they will only invest in creative and communications when the larger market forces their hand.

A more interesting argument revolves around artificial intelligence (AI). An algorithm that learns based on performance will provide better and stronger communications to customers.

Will marketing AI replace strategy, creative communications, and content? Unlikely. Perhaps at a base level, much like how simple sports stories are written by algorithms. Instead, AI will replace much of the data analyst’s responsibilities, providing a much more precise view of which data points are compelling customers.

Whatever marketing AI’s impact will be, it’s not ready yet. Is search better because of AI? Yes. Do you still need to enter queries multiple times in different ways to find what you are looking for? Yes.

Human Insight and Spirit is Missing

Today, we value the measurable over the immeasurable. Data fixation as the primary method for determining marketing direction has dismissed the intangible emotional intelligence necessary to compel customers.

The truly successful marketing brand will use data to fuel incredible campaigns that leave its lesser sister brands in the rearview mirror. In addition to supporting the general thesis of this post, the above TEDx chat from Tricia Wang has a fantastic case study about leveraging qualitative data to dominate a market.

Netflix ignored quantitative data about its service in favor of a qualitative data set. The qualitative data showed that people enjoyed bing watching content series for hours on end. The rest, well, that’s history. Today, Netflix has more online video customers than Amazon, Hulu or any traditional Hollywood media brand.

Imagine that. A Silicon Valley data centric company using qualitative human intelligence to dominate a market.

What do you think?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.