Effective marketing requires trust and smart data, but that’s not the end of it

Angela Smith

Angela is chief strategy officer of award winning data-driven media, CX and advertising agency, Affinity. The Sydney headquartered agency she co-founded in 2003 along with CEO, Luke Brown, was created to provide a real alternative to traditional agency thinking. Angela has played a vital strategic role in building brands including Commonwealth Bank, Bayer, NT Tourist Commission, Lend Lease, Pilot, Panasonic and Johnson & Johnson. Affinity's use of data to drive creative solutions has seen it deliver significant return on investment for clients.

For marketers, seeking the holy grail of effectiveness will often keep them, their leaders and company boards up at night. While data is undoubtedly a shiny new and powerful weapon to help achieve this goal, it’s also clear it’s not the only answer and we have a long way to go.

At the inaugural IPA Effectiveness Week Conference in the UK recently, key themes included trust, short termism, culture and the role of data in generating effectiveness for marketers.

Experts from around the world debated the hows and whys of what effectiveness is and how to achieve it. But the consensus is, there is no consensus and we have much still to do.

A lot was made around a trend in short-term measurement, or short termism, as led by the inveterate Peter Field and Les Binet. They presented an introduction to their forthcoming report, Media in the Digital Age. Post the GFC, there’s arguably been a much higher focus on marketing accountability, enabled by increasing access to data and metrics. They argued that this focus is ironically leading to a decrease in overall effectiveness. The panacea according to Field and Binet is to increase our investment in mass media and brand work.

Real time is ‘deal time’ according to Field, and fuels a dangerous cycle of short termism which will erode the value of the brand over time. However, this narrow definition relies on ‘short-term’ initiatives such as discounts or promotions, which are incompatible with brand building. I beg to differ on this point; in my experience, brand building and real time are not mutually exclusive outcomes.

As their full work has yet to be released, it’s not yet possible to drill down into core definitions and methodology, such as their measure of ‘Increase of Very Large Business Effects’ – six key outcomes by which effectiveness is defined. It will be very interesting to see the complete report in the new year to properly understand the implications for marketers.
Other speakers encouraged balance in the discussion of short-term and long-term approaches, acknowledging a brand could include both in their strategic mix to meet their business needs.

Notwithstanding, their warnings of marketers basing activities on increasingly shorter sales cycles driven by the need to feed their boards’ appetite to see immediate results, it’s important to hear and was well received.

This point underscored perhaps a much bigger and darker issue in the world of marketing, that of trust. Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management & Marketing, London Business School, talked about the broader struggle for marketers to establish a place at the Boardroom table or at least one of true influence within the business and rise above merely being ad makers and social channel managers.

Barwise stated there were three things critical to addressing this. Firstly, marketers need to close the trust gap by meeting both business needs and client needs to create the “value creation zone”. Second, marketers need to take their colleagues on a journey through storytelling to overcome a power gap. And finally, ‘Marketers used to be the expert, but today it’s impossible to know it all anymore’, said Barwise.

Accordingly, marketing leaders need to lead leaders with distinctive skills to collaboratively realise the value creation zone, with specific technical, creative and leadership skills.

Essential to success is building a culture of trust based on “forgiveness, not permission”. Teams need to be allowed to make their own decisions, and sometimes fail, and review results not executions, in order to learn and improve.

Just as there are issues between marketers and their own business, the problem seems to pervade relationships between marketers and their agencies.

Dominic Grounsell, global marketing director at Travelex, indicated an unwillingness to share first-party data with his agency partners. He said his goals were not his agency’s and therefore there was little value to providing such transparency.

Grounsell’s perspective isn’t unique, and hardly surprising to hear in the context of recent global media scandals. But it’s clear this lack of trust and shared confidence is counter to the possibilities data and technology offer to those able to work together toward common outcomes.

And speaking of data, clearly this means so many different things to the marketing world. Whilst some spoke of likes and shares, a few mentioned first party insight and others of sales data. The common thread was of drowning in data, and a lack of knowing what to do with it all despite their increasing investment in tools and platforms.

Remembering that data is simply information, it’s puzzling that it continues to vex marketers. Like so many advances in our field, say the advent of social not so long ago, it seems to be a case of the tail wagging the dog, and that needs to change.

Jan Gooding, group brand director at Aviva, rightly argued that marketing needed to get back to problem solving and properly define what success looks like. By having a clear business and brand strategy, data becomes a powerful tool to inform and validate and is only useful when it can be applied. Easy to say perhaps, but undoubtedly the topic of big data will be front and centre in two years’ time at the next Genesis conference.

Tomorrow’s successful marketers need to amp up the fight to be a driving force and lead an effectiveness culture throughout the entire organisation. They’ll achieve this by building trust within and outside the business to fight the short-term cycle, and learning to tame data in collaboration with specialists in data-driven marketing to show results for brands today and tomorrow.

But given the mood in London, there are many honest and courageous conversations to be had and much of our past thinking needs to be re-evaluated if we’re to get anywhere near that holy grail.

Tags: data analytics, data-driven marketing, data strategy

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