Big data is starting to change the world of marketing and communications, no question. Its implications are intriguing, and it is absolutely something executives need to keep up with. But just because we haven’t mastered this broader and more complex use of facts and statistics doesn’t mean we should neglect the more immediate and achievable mission of doing the basics to integrate data and technology into everyday operations.
Doing the basics means making optimal use of the platforms, people and processes to which we already have access, and using them at all stages of a campaign to pursue an evidence-based communications approach. Driving data to the center—using it to shape campaigns—doesn’t need to be related to big data, it can simply involve a new imperative to use data to shape and validate our work.
In many cases, driving data to the core of communications signals a shift in how we work. It means equally left- and right-brained research specialists attached at the hip to account planners and strategists from the outset to ensure that data is baked in from Day One not bolted on at the end to measure the results of a project. Let’s depend on strategic forethought, not tactical afterthought.
Doing these basics brilliantly in the short term means using data—several sources and only the right, actionable metrics—to help surface insights at three key stages:
- Pre-campaign formative
- Mid-campaign telemetry and optimization
- Post-campaign evaluative
Data is instrumental in the planning process to help a team achieve its critical first step of understanding, profiling and personifying an audience. Coupling its social media usage, preferences, behaviors, interests and passion points with an almost anthropological understanding of emerging macro-cultural trends helps strategists place what might otherwise be too-direct, product-centric content in a context that’s relevant and engaging.
Social media is the biggest, real-time focus group in the world. Every day, unsolicited, millions of people are sharing thoughts, opinions, dislikes, wants, and needs. If we’re pushing the basic use of data to its logical conclusions, then ideally the information should play a role in helping to set measurable objectives for the various stages of any campaign—from exposure to engagement to influence to action, or if you prefer, from reach to reaction to hearts and minds to conversion—as well as in profiling the audience.
Increasingly, brands are culling out the noise to surface problems they should be addressing or unmet needs and opportunities they can be exploiting. For example, auto manufacturers are working with Facebook and survey data to target people whose behavior and conversation indicate that they will soon be in the market to buy a car. The automakers then track the success of Facebook engagement tactics intended to help that prospective customer move from the high end of the funnel to the low end of the funnel and ultimately to a purchase.
Research shows that this kind of conversion—or the act of moving a consumer from one state to another, such as from a prospective buyer to a new owner—is a marketing metric increasingly on the minds of CMOs as they embark on campaigns. According to an annual study, the percentage of CMOs who considered the conversion metric important literally more than doubled between 2010 and 2012 to 73 percent—a recognition that no matter how many fans, page views and mentions you have the thing that really counts is translating those into transactional behavior.
Besides conversion, monitoring social signals also points to conversational whitespace—areas that are relevant to a topic, but haven’t yet been explored in the context of a particular brand. Once areas are identified, a brand trying to enter a space can roll out a new topic that is both fresh and relevant to the product space, brand and its audience or it could choose to reshape current topics in ways that introduce new ideas and perspectives to ongoing conversations. Doing this allows the brand to be identified with innovative new areas and to stand out from others in the same space.
Mid-Campaign Telemetry and Optimization
While marketing and communications executives sometimes recognize the need before a campaign kicks off, and always know they will need to prove efficacy at the end, they far too frequently don’t bother to assess how campaigns are functioning midstream when a few tweaks might mean the difference between a multi-million-dollar failure or success. That’s increasingly changing as gathering data is becoming easier. When analyzed properly, Facebook data, for example, can provide an immediately actionable roadmap that tells users when to post, what to post, how often to post and how much to post over time to maximize fan growth and engagement.
Being able to establish the ROI of a program has always made post-campaign the one basic use of data almost never neglected. Yet, failing to recognize the role of research throughout a campaign may become the single biggest impediment to a thorough evaluation. For instance, not having done the pre-campaign research to understand an audience, shape strategy and set measurable objectives severely limits what can be measured and how at the end.
Down the road big data will only help to drive even more science into the art of communications. In the meantime, we’ve still got plenty of analytical chops to use data before, during, and after a campaign to improve not only our success rate but expand the objectives we set out to accomplish.