Not Just a Number: 3 Ways CMOs Can Keep Touch with the Human Element of Their Data

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Senior marketers should should be wary not to get so blinded by numbers and charts and dollar signs they they forget that, beneath it all, we’re still communicating with human beings.

The life and work of the marketing executive have never been more complex. In a recent survey by Adobe, 76% of marketers agreed that “marketing has changed more in the last two years than in the last 50.”

Deloitte reports that 58% of senior marketers feel increased pressure from the C-suite to prove the value of marketing. In the same survey, 80% of CMOs said that expectations of the marketing function have increased dramatically.

So it’s no wonder that marketers are recruiting data scientists, developing analytics departments through direct hires and marketing analytics staffing, and spending boatloads of money on all kinds of tools, from media-mix modeling to social-listening.

For the modern marketing executive team, it’s a matter of self-preservation. Conservative estimates put the total spend on marketing technology at more than $3.3 billion in 2014 alone.

We are saturated with data, and many revere it as a savior-like entity. Gary Marcus, writer and research psychologist at NYU,  wrote for the New Yorker;

“Big Data is now de rigueur– to the point, almost, of being a kind of new religion. It’s even parodied, he points out, in Dilbert: ‘In the past, our company did many evil things,’ Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss says, ‘but if we store Big Data in our servers, we will be saved.'”

Marketing leaders are rightfully excited about the potential of Big Data. We are a discipline of professionals who like to be in control and affect the bottom line, after all.

So it’s easy to forget that marketing, at its heart, is about understanding people. About eliciting a human response. If we become infatuated with all our new toys and tools and apps but forget to ask, “What is the story they are telling us?” we can miss the emotions and motivations that define our audience, often at the cost of long-term business success.

As Big Data and analytics become more and more entrenched in marketing departments and agencies around the world, it’s wise to start establishing a human perspective on your graphs and figures now. Here’s three ways top marketers can get started–even while using data itself.

1. Enforce Gathering and Reporting on Emotional Data from Your Team

Our discipline attempts to create neutral, unbiased research methodologies that emulate the fields of science and statistics, believing that the avoidance of emotion produces more accurate information about consumer intent. But in many cases, marketing leaders go too far, literally removing the language of emotion from our tools and reports.

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You’re missing something critical if your questions don’t include words like joy, love, hate, jealousy, fear, disgust and desire. These are sensations that convert and sell, that create memories and build habits. Neutral terms like “appeal” and “interest” are weak and strip away powerful insights.

You need data that has a pulse. Data that tells us about how people are feeling. How people act like people.

Take a look at your own brand tracker, if you have one (and you probably should). Odds are that of all the metrics followed, a lonely few are truly evaluating emotion. The rest are tracking “rational” consideration.

In fact, many of today’s newer, more “advanced” data-analytics tools avoid the active measurement of emotion. Take social monitoring and sentiment analysis, for instance. It boils everything down to a simple “positive vs. negative” analysis, which can be incredibly useful in some applications. But it also sterilizes the meaning and the emotion driving consumer sentiment.

Too much of our marketing data endeavors to study what people are doing, but it doesn’t tell us why they are doing it. It’s the humanity in the data that leads to the interesting stuff–that reveals the stories, the tensions and the truths that provide the foundation for breakthroughs for your enterprise. This kind of data was the starting point of the marketing campaigns you are jealous of.

Finally, do not underestimate the power of emotional data to rally your organization internally and rally your team. Your employees, just like your customers, are people–and people relate to emotion. It creates resonance and empathy. This is no small thing when you are trying to bring the organization together behind a common insight. Emotional data unifies and gives your organization direction; rational data rarely ever does this.

2. Interact with Humans

ogilvy quote marketing analytics recruiters

In many cases, the people handling macro-data most frequently–those making high-level decisions or presenting to clients with loads of interesting data and clever visualizations– are often those furthest removed from the customer. Executives and other senior management are often so busy with internal functions, they lose sight of their customers’ day-to-day worlds.

In our rush to find a competitive advantage, new avenues to deliver messages and new ways to digitally define the marketplace at arm’s length or through impressive quantitative work, are we talking to people as much as we used to?

Increased analytics capabilities grant the authority of the number. But we still need the authority of the audience.

Breakthrough insights come not only from how people answer questions but also from how they respond. There’s a difference.

The truly invaluable data sometimes isn’t in hard numbers and charts; it’s the stories our audiences tell. It comes from observing how they live, how they use your products and how they really feel about your brand–if they have an opinion at all. If something interesting appears in the data, companies should talk to people about it and uncover the nuance.

As a young copywriter, Jeff Goodby was once asked by David Ogilvy how many hours a day he wrote. Compelled to give a proper answer, Jeff said that he wrote eight hours a day. Ogilvy immediately scoffed at this, rebuking Jeff and saying,

“No, no, no, my dear boy. You should not write eight hours a day. You should write two hours a day. And the rest of the time, you should be out in the world finding stuff to write about.”

The lesson for us? What’s true for creatives and copywriters is just true for researchers and strategists and analysts and executives: they need to be released out into the world every now and then. To learn from the audiences we are trying to reach and prompt new questions. To combine this with powerful data and analytics.

Marketing leaders need to foster a culture of curiosity and empathy that inspires them to avoid the dark–and perhaps lazy–side of data, where there are only computer screens and no real people.

3. Push Your Team to Innovation

Great research should be its own creative accomplishment. That requires different thinking and different questions.

As Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight says, “The problem is not the failure to cite quantitative evidence. It’s… failing to ask the right questions of the data.”

How would this mindset change what you ask of your own marketing analytics department? How will it change what you expect from your agency?

Exceptional data and insights do not merely prove; they illuminate. They reveal surprising truths. And we don’t get to those truths unless we ask interesting questions.

marketing analytics recruiters silver quote

And your team won’t get to those interesting questions if they’re operating in traditional, expected, by-the-book ways. Marketers need to arrive at data in highly nontraditional ways. Experiment more. Explore locally at a smaller, more intimate level, and then scale up. Listen to your gut, have hunches, and then design quantitative studies.

Strategists and researchers are creative people too; at least, you should only be hiring the ones that are creative. Unleash them. Empower them to craft research that is unexpected and maybe even a little crazy.

As marketing analytics recruiters, we find that the results will be better, more interesting and more emotionally illuminating and will lead to more effective marketing ideas.

So let’s remember what really matters: marketing is about people and the ability to elicit a human response.

Article Source: Andy Grayson of Goodby Silverstein & Partners via Forbes

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