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Mike Tyson – actor, convicted felon, former Heavyweight Champion of the World – had this to say about preparing for a bout: “Everyone has a plan, ‘till they get punched in the face.” Indeed, nothing upends good preparation like a straight right to the bridge of the nose. But there is more to Tyson’s comment than mere fear-mongering, and it echoes the views of many strategic planners across the centuries – that no matter how good the planning, unforeseen actions can leave them stranded.
What is true in the boxing ring is true for brands trying to navigate the hooks and uppercuts of the consumer market. Understanding the behaviours which drive shoppers into market are complex and changeable. We plan as best we can, relying on experience, market segmentation and media strategies. And that’s fine; for decades it’s offered a system that works. Until it doesn’t.
Our best laid plans can come unstuck because the market itself is not static. It moves and shifts in ways we cannot always see and can rarely predict, often led by forces we cannot understand. The problem, mostly, is people. We don’t always act the way we’re supposed to.
Leverage data to hook the market
Digital has changed this because it has given us the greatest gift marketers and planners can use: data. The power of data is that it offers ways to better understand, in ever finer detail, what makes the world tick. This means that where we once relied on surveys, focus groups and good old-fashioned intuition to tell us what compels people towards certain actions, we can now observe in real time the influences that drive behaviour. And that can help brands better operate in market.
For advertisers, there are two ways this works – in optimising performance campaigns towards behaviours displayed by converters; and through insight. If the data is sound, these two streams should match up, meaning the behavioural markers helping us understand the market trends are also those leading to conversions.
In this way, data is inseparable from the technology which underpins it. This is especially true for digital performance campaigns, which must rely not just on detailed audience information, but must be married to technology that can make it actionable, optimising towards behaviours that best serve campaign outcomes.
Perfecting your data strategy planning
Data, collected and understood in real time, doesn’t need targeting parameters. In fact, its success is hinged on an absence of parameters. Coupled with the right technology, good data should allow the market itself to tell us who is interested. Audience planning, traditionally understood, describes an audience and apportions equal value to all members within it. It simultaneously attributes zero value to those outside the audience bubble. In reality, neither of these things are true.
Regardless of our approach to planning, data verification is of essential importance. Without it, the data we bring to our planning may not only be weak, but may lead us to make wrong decisions. Where it comes from, how old it is, whether it is passively observed or taken from surveys, how large the collection pool is – these things matter.
The other benefit of good data is the potential for insight. For marketers, data-driven insights are of premium value because they can impact all areas of their business.
Kantar Vermeer’s Insights 2020 study draws some notable conclusions on this topic. Particularly, that companies should re-engineer themselves into Insights Engines, entities designed with the ability to draw insights from every part of the organisations, no matter how disparate. They suggest this because the benefits are clear. According to the study, 67% of execs at over-performing firms were skilled at linking disparate data sources; 61% of over-performers have Insights involved in all key areas of planning; and 71% of over-performing firms combined analytical and creative thinking.
Deep diving into data: case study
Exponential recently ran a Deep Dive study for a national weight loss brand. That brand’s conceit was that ‘all women want to lose weight all the time’, and structured their media buy and comms strategy accordingly. The study, conducted by placing a pixel on the conversion page of the brand site and observing what content those customers had been consuming in the months before signing up to a program, unearthed something a little more interesting. Two things shone out brightly – planning for a wedding and planning for a beach holiday.
So, whether all women do indeed want to lose weight all the time or not, the step to signing up to a weight loss program seems to require some impetus or motivation. In this case, wearing a wedding dress or a bikini. Armed with this, the brand could pursue a marketing agenda that spoke to these likely converters in the right time and in the right ways.
The science behind the strategy
Brands are investing hard in data, creating fantastical titles for their newest team members. Chief Data Officer, Chief Technologist – these guys are not only stocking the ranks of many of the country’s top marketing teams, but are wielding enormous influence in how marketing strategies are shaped and executed. So they should. Understanding data matters because it can help us understand people, and the role brands can play in their lives. It can inform the creative messaging and the channels through which these messages are distributed. It can set expectations of success and failure, and ultimately act to make marketing plans more successful and efficient.
Well, that’s the promise. Huge gaps still exist in the team charged with making the deluge of data available to use.
What motivates people changes. Trends change, seasons change, influences change. What compels us to purchase today may not do so tomorrow. We can enter the ring with a plan, only to get punched in the face when the strategy we invested in did not account for the behaviour of our opponent. Operating with good, verifiable data can help us overcome this and adapt to changes, no matter how fast they occur, and no matter who is throwing the punches.
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