The most significant culture shift today for marketing teams is adopting an analytical marketing approach. Change has been forced on us, due to the steady creation of new digital channels that have affected customer expectations. The problem is that while marketers are thinking differently about their data, in many cases they’re not acting differently based on what the data is telling them.
At SAS, where I work, we’ve built an analytical culture by focusing on three approaches.
Using Data to Change the Status Quo
How often are you relying on gut feelings to make decisions? We all rely on it more than we care to admit. But if the technology to help us exists and is not price prohibitive, then why are most marketing teams lagging behind other functional areas in adopting an analytical mindset?
Smart, planned change can have a huge effect on an organization and individuals. For me, adopting an analytical mindset had a big effect on my career and shifted the focus of my team. We wanted to be more effective at measuring the value of our efforts, especially in measuring our impact on the sales pipeline and revenue. We had to think differently about our marketing because we had lots of new data and metrics that would allow us to be more effective and enable us to identify new approaches.
Measuring your marketing efforts quantitatively is crucial. Using analytics for predicting what could work and using the insights to improve the customer experience were even more powerful motivators. Despite marketing for an analytics software company, we had to be pulled out of our spreadsheet-lined comfort zone.
We started by implementing our data mart, a structured data source that pulls together all the data that used to live in those spreadsheets. Once we had all of our data in one place and were updating it daily, we could begin to better engage with customers because we could now see how all of their behaviors connected.
For example, in the past, we lost track of customers we had engaged with in certain campaigns, and we had little evidence of whether they had a positive or negative response. “A lot of marketers have access to web analytics and behavioral data,” Matthew Fulk, one of my marketing directors, told me. “The differentiator is learning to ask the right questions about the data and making it a priority to do so.”
Through your data mart, you can begin to tie customer behaviors all the way back to the opportunity pipeline and use the data to tell you how many dollars of pipeline will eventually turn into revenue.
Using Stories to Convey Data Insights
The stories that you tell inform customers and employees alike about your culture. When you add analytics (and data visualization tools) to your marketing toolbox, your organization can collect stories from the data that you diligently cultivate and harvest.
For example, at each of our division meetings, we hold sessions in which marketers tell stories by highlighting how they used data and analytics to design a campaign, test channels, etc. It’s become a sought-after honor to be asked to contribute to these presentations.
You can also see how the narrative changes as you make changes. Your team can ask what-if questions to uncover other stories it can begin to tell. That’s how you can shift from being reactive to proactive, creating a culture focused on the future, rather than having one weighed down by the past. And as your organization becomes better at storytelling, you empower the team to ask more questions and explore data differently to expand on the themes you’ve uncovered.
Using Different Metrics
What kinds of efforts will support your cultural shift? Marketers rely heavily on a variety of campaign metrics. The gold standard has been the response rate to a specific campaign. In the past, this metric gave us something to react to. In the new marketing world, reacting to metrics isn’t enough. Customers now have greater expectations about what they expect us to know as marketers and how we interact with them.
For example, if a sales lead comes from a live event we hosted, we want more information on that prospect’s behavior, such as:
- After the conference, what web pages did they view?
- How long was each visit to the web site?
- What assets did they download?
- What other activities did they take part in — webcasts, other conferences, sales calls?
Here’s how we track the following data to assess our campaigns:
- Emails sent
- Open rate
- Click-through rate
- Opt-out rate
- Conversions (whole number of those who filled out registration forms to receive the promoted asset)
- Conversion rate
- Lead-generated SSOs (internal metric that measures the number of conversions we score as leads who progress to become a sales opportunity)
- Completed leads to lead-generated SSOs rate (internal metric that measures the percentage of conversions scored as leads who progress to become a sales opportunity)
When we target a market segment and fail to see the expected response, we can go to these metrics to see what the data is telling us and make quick adjustments to turn a failing campaign into a successful one.
Marketing organizations should focus on the insights that analytics uncovers and be more open to different types of campaigns they can run. An analytical approach helps a team avoid outcome blindness by being aware that gut feelings can lead you down rabbit holes. One of the cultural tenants should be to convey logical reasons why a particular decision was reached.
By establishing a common analytical culture, you will create a better ability to make adjustments on the fly. And you don’t need to wait months to see whether your campaign was effective. The data and analysis will tell you what’s happening, giving you the opportunity to make changes and tweaks in real time based on customers’ responses. That’s powerful and empowering for the entire marketing team.
A Harvard Business Review Article
by Adele K. Sweetwood