Bringing data into the light: The challenge of dark data for marketers

The start of a new decade presents a fresh incentive for CMOs to reform and innovate their marketing processes. Why? As General Electric’s Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) Sue Siegel said in a keynote address in 2018: “the pace of change will never be as slow as it is today,” and in marketing especially, it has become unrelenting.

Today’s marketing leaders have a never-ending stream of decisions to make, along with short to long term initiatives that they must continuously optimise and change. The volume of data required to make these decisions adds increasing levels of complexity. In 2020, it won’t be the case of looking through simple linear reports, instead CMOs must balance competing and ever-changing values to build high-quality personalised customer experiences that deliver real business value. In fact, Domo’s latest IDC research shows nearly 70 percent of marketing leaders say that improved customer targeting outcomes is extremely important and 58 percent see improving performance tracking outcomes as critical.

Marketing teams are being pushed for immediate and measurable results, and successful CMOs are expected to deliver tangible business benefits and focus on ways to leverage data to drive the business forward. So, what’s holding CMOs back? There are three core challenges that impair marketing departments from successfully becoming a digital function that support business models of the future:

1. Dark data

The boundaries of marketing are no longer encompassed by ad-tech/mar-tech/CRM, but instead comprise of all sources of information. This includes everything from IoT sensors inconsumer devices, to the financial and operational data needed to make profitable decisions. When silos are in place which prevent data from being leveraged by the modern marketer, the organisation becomes more at risk by limiting the potential of data-led decisions and preventing a culture of curiosity.

Data fragmentation also prevents marketers from identifying and targeting the most profitable and strategically important customer segments, as there is no complete view of the customer journey. Digital customer engagement models are essential in providing an integrated view of an audience, and vital for both profiling and targeting. Marketing functions must push beyond traditional methods and look to also include information about current and future customer value, customer life-cycle progression and observed customer behaviours across interaction channels and venues

2. Lack of pace required to execute decisions

The modern customer journey spans multiple channels, including new and emerging social media platforms. The result is an overwhelming amount of data from which to harness insight. Because of the volumes and complexity of data that needs to be managed, marketers are still making short-term decisions too slowly, without prioritising long-term decisions.

CMOs need confidence on the impact of their decisions across the entire business and be able to execute those decisions in record time.

3. Organisational complexity

The role of a CMO is evolving - it’s no longer left solely to those in the IT department to understand data. Issues arise when there are blurred lines surrounding who is responsible for the data and who takes on the task of harnessing value from that data. When marketers are encouraged to harness insight from all sources of information, rather than marketing data alone, they must feel able to work with IT at a leadership level to go about the process in a governed, secure, yet empowered way. Too many silos and strict governance will damage a CMOs opportunity to grow the business, especially if they feel as though they are having to force their way in to access data.

Furthermore, marketing leaders must have an overarching view of the whole business to ensure all outward-facing marketing efforts are in conjunction. If your sales team is trying to sell your new widget to an international transport company, your marketing strategy needs to be aligned with the industry too - ensuring all outward-facing outcomes are aligned.

Within your own organisation, you must ask yourself three questions if these goals are not being achieved:

1. What is preventing full transparency in my marketing pipeline?

Transparency is vital for integrated department reporting and forecasting, and to ensure power meaningful, scenario-specific action plans can be formed. If information is held in siloes and unattainable, CMOs are unable to make holistic, fact-based decisions. In addition, end-to-end visibility is a crucial enabler of customer loyalty and truly sustainable ROI from marketing investments.

2. Is your organisation properly set up to optimise the data, once you get access?

Providing a single view of the business and marketing helps unify teams and develop a marketing culture underpinned by data. This means marketing departments will be able to collaborate better with wider teams, and gather data from any digital or traditional channels that customers might be exposed to throughout their journeys. 

3. What can you do to accelerate growth once a system is in place?

Take advantage of AI to create richer views of the customer, and partner with IT to deliver this vision. Using an AI-enabled system will also reduce time to market by accelerating the creative process, allowing characterisation, tagging, and the selection of textual and visual digital assets to be powered by machine learning.

In order to reap the benefits of the digital future that the new decade presents, marketers must have a seamless system in place that collates and interprets high-value data in record time from an increasing number of sources, allowing them to make more confident decisions and understand their impact to the entire organisation. Effective marketing in 2020 will be based on bringing dark data into the light and creating tangible business benefits that will drive the business forward.

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