A marketer at a member company recently summed up his current situation as follows: “We’re awash in data, but short on information.” A difficult challenge to be sure, but not a unique one. A recent Unica survey found “measurement, analysis, and learning” was marketers’ top bottleneck and “turning data into action” as their top organizational issue. And according to a February 2010 Economist article, the amount of digital information increases tenfold every five years. This data supernova presents obvious issues for CIOs and CTOs dealing with server capacity and security protocols, but it also clearly impacts marketers struggling to plug into and make sense of the right data streams in order to infuse decision-making with fact-based evidence.
Loyal readers of Wide Angle may have noticed that I am not the first MLCer to wax poetic about the power of data recently. Not surprisingly, this is not a coincidence. We are starting to map out our 2012 research agenda and data – more specifically, how to collect it, how to analyze it, and how to make it a bigger part of decisions – is at the top of many members’ lists. In the B2B space, that question of how to best use data is frequently presented in the context of working towards becoming a more customer-centric organization through better understanding of who customers are and what they need. The increasingly digitized (and therefore, trackable) nature of marketing and Sales activities through tools like website tracking, CRM, marketing automation means there is a huge amount of data to be potentially collected and analyzed.
But, as the marketer I referenced at the top of this post realized, raw data and actual actionable information are not one and the same. Statistics are one thing, insight is another. People who blindly attach accuracy and importance to claims simply because they have numbers attached to them are in danger of following those numbers right off a cliff (this idea is not lost on my comic hero, Dilbert). At the same time, those who eschew all data and rely solely on their instinct aren’t likely to fare much better. When making an important decision, there must be a balance between hard data and gut instinct (honed through years of marketing experience). Just what they balance is and how marketers can work to achieve it will be the subject of a lot of MLC study over the next few months.
Stay tuned as we explore this topic in greater depth. In the meantime, I’ll offer my early reading list:
- Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results by Thomas Davenport, Jeanne Harris, and Robert Morrison (if 240 pages is too much of a commitment for you right now, check out these two summary articles by Accenture and HBR)
- Friends With (Digital) Benefits: CMOs Link With CIOs by Natalie Zmuda
- How We See It: Three Senior Executives on the Future of Marketing in McKinsey Quarterly (pay special attention to the thoughts of Yahoo! Research’s Duncan Watts)