Marketing’s 52:48 divide: the performance gap between the profession’s data-haves and have-nots

There's a divide in marketing when it comes to tech. Jada Balster discusses why.

There’s a 52:48 divide in how marketers make decisions: a split down the middle between those who use data to improve performance and those who prefer to rely on their instinct and experience.

Research by Forrester has tried to identify the causes and consequences of this stark gap between the data-haves and data have-nots. The researchers concluded the 52% of marketers who are successfully managing data are:

“more likely to report increases across key marketing, sales, and customer metrics like sales cycle speed, return on marketing spend, and customer loyalty.”

They’re more likely to be efficient in how their team performs and effective in generating commercial results. 

So, what’s preventing the 48% from working with numbers?

Soul not statistics?

There’s a school of thought among creatives that using data insight is just painting by numbers and the human imagination is an exercise of the soul not statistics. 

It’s an appealing idea that we can all be free-thinking poets even when selling unglamorous products.

It’s a line of thought that was captured by Sir John Hegarty, one of the founders of the agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who once wrote

“There are those that believe rich data, or big data as some call it, will be the answer to all their problems. The idea that reducing us all to a set of algorithms will provide the answers commerce needs, is of course laughable.” 

There’s an echo of the seductive half of David Ogilvy’s argument that the best route to a big idea is to “unhooking your rational thought process” and let your unconscious mind wander.

Ogilvy, the prototype Sixties Mad Man, advised “going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret” to kick-start the creative process in his manifesto, Ogilvy on Advertising, written more than 30 years ago.

But look closer and you’ll see the other half of Ogilvy’s argument and his insistence on research: “Your unconscious has to be well-informed ... Stuff you conscious mind with information.” 

The danger, he warned, of not drawing on the best available information was irrelevant ideas remote from the audience they were meant to engage or problem they were meant to solve.

To look at numbers isn’t to close your mind to creativity; quite the contrary. Today, a well-informed creative unconscious means drawing on data insight to root ideas in relevance. 

And what’s true of creative campaigns for clients is equally true of innovation and improving performance inside your organisation and team. 

By all means, dare to dream about doing things bigger and better in future, but anchor your ingenuity in the insight that data provides.

Volume, variety, velocity

What’s really eluding the 48% is a single version of truth in the torrent of data they see whizzing across their desks. 

According to Forrester, the biggest barriers to marketers using data are the “volume, variety, and velocity” of digital information flowing through their organisations across different platforms. 

Marketers are finding it hard to spot what numbers matter, and what data sources are the most reliable. 

And that uncertainty pushes them back to instinctive judgments rather than evidence-based decisions.

The first step to solving the volume, variety and velocity problem is using digital tools that are geared to delivering a single version of truth. 

Smart businesses are switching to operational systems of record: the use of single rather than multiple systems to track what work is being done against deadlines, budgets and resource availability - and which integrate with the most commonly-used business apps to work seamlessly with CRM or financial systems. 

Maybe it’s little surprise that marketers who are still labouring with data split across spreadsheets, and multiple apps that don’t speak to each other, might find it easier to back their intuition than statistics that seem lost in the fog of different formats and platforms.

Ironically, the marketers who are winning with data are doing far less; their first and best decision is to automate the process of mining for insight.

Case study: Cisco

Let’s take an example of the difference a single version of truth approach to data can make to in-house operations.

Back in 2012, the global technology firm Cisco decided to combine the talents in several teams across the business into a single Communications Resource Center (CRC) with the aim of broadening in-house access to creative marketing expertise. 

Think of it like an in-house agency … but with a potential client base of 74,000 employees across 165 countries.

At the outset, one tool was deployed in the new CRC to track projects. Another was deployed to track the time team-members were spending delivering the work. 

When senior managers requested regular reports on progress, there was a monthly scramble to combine - and reconcile - data from the two systems. 

Inevitably, that scramble to create a report diverted precious time and attention from the jobs at hand. Sounds familiar?

Today, Cisco uses a single system to give the CRC team instant visibility into project activity, status, schedules, assigned resources and next steps through dashboards and reports.

This automated data insight has practical value; it helped to push the CRC’s on-time delivery rate for marketing and communication projects to 99%.

5 work performance indicators for marketing teams

The success of Cisco’s CRC team wasn’t just down to choosing a system that could deliver a single version of truth, it was knowing what they wanted to measure and what data was would help improve their performance. One way to do this is to focus on five 21st century Work Performance Indicators (WPIs) that focus on the key drivers of future success: mix, capacity, velocity, quality and engagement.

  1. Mix: to help gauge what kind of work is being done across the business, whether the time is spent running the organisation, or changing the organisation and creating something new.
  2. Capacity:  to measure of the total capacity available, and the capacity utilisation of the business. This helps to identify how much more work teams can handle. 
  3. Velocity:  to measure the total work cycle time - how long it takes to complete a piece of work - and how frequently work is done in the time originally committed (work-to-commit ratio). 
  4. Quality:  the perception of work quality within the organisation. Is the person who commissioned a piece of work from a co-worker, team or department happy with the quality of work they’ve done? 
  5. Engagement: Is there pride in the quality of work?  This is about tracking trended ratings about people’s clarity and criticality of role, and their sense of pride in the work accomplished. 

The widening gap

The first decade of the digital marketing era gave the profession a glut of new data and tools to use. 

What’s clear from the persistence of the 52:48 divide is that confusion over that proliferation of data and tools allowed analogue thinking about team performance and creativity to endure. 

But as we approach the third decade - the 2020s - the marketers who are most likely win are those who rise to Ogilvy’s analogue era challenge and align automated data insight with human creativity. 

Smart choices about tools and considered decisions about the most important datasets are already being made.

And the gap between data-driven creative marketers and those relying on instinct alone is only going to widen.

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