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Without insight, data is worthless

Mike Maynard, MD, Napier Partnership, explains why insight is essential if data is to deliver the increase in marketing performance we all expect

Data-driven marketing is clearly no fad: it represents the future for marketers. Simply collecting and processing data, however, is not going to solve the challenges we face today. Insight is essential if data is to deliver the increase in marketing performance we all expect.

Now, information is readily available to marketers, particularly due to the growing sophistication of digital tools and platforms. Previously, actually collecting relevant data was a major challenge. Today, building large data sets that profile our customers and prospects is almost a side effect of the use of tools and techniques that are in widespread use.

To be successful, however, marketers must adopt a three-step approach to the use of data: collect, analyse and develop insight. Without this approach, it’s too easy to gravitate to the trivial numbers (how many clicks did we generate this month?) or to rely on results from statistical tools that have no knowledge of context.

The first approach can drive marketers to chase vanity metrics: numbers that make you feel good when they grow, but may not be contributing to the achievement of the company’s business goals. Although the second will usually improve campaigns, a lack of insight makes progress slow. Running A/B testing on tactic after tactic will usually drive a steady improvement in the effectiveness of a marketing operation, but understanding the why behind the results means marketers can drive large increases in the performance in far less time.

What should marketers do to address this situation? They should certainly continue to collect as much data as possible. B2B clients need to take advantage of the many new sources, from enhanced reporting from social media and advertising platforms to marketing automation tools such as HubSpot analysing activity on their own website, to gather as much information as possible.

The next stage is analysis. Large tables of data are not much help to anyone. Data scientists are able to take disparate numbers and present them in a way that allows marketing professionals to visualise the information. This requires a dramatic shift in the skills that are valued by our industry. The ability to understand data and statistics is an essential skill for every marketing professional, and all departments and agencies need specialists who can use complex tools to uncover what these huge databases are trying to tell us.

The most important step is to take the results of this analysis and understand the ‘why’ behind the charts and tables that have been produced. This is particularly important for B2B companies, who typically have a much smaller number of major customers than those selling to consumers. Continually iterating and A/B testing creative, for example, can be frustratingly slow when you don’t have an unlimited volume of activities. If you can build insight that explains the reasons behind the results, it’s often possible to skip several rounds of testing and to navigate towards a more optimal approach in less time (and with less budget).

Building insight is a creative process. It requires a demanding mix of skills from both marketing and data disciplines. Data is a vital part of our marketing future, and is available to almost everyone. But it’s not a level playing field. The brands who are able to use this data to build insight, rather than simply ‘crunching the numbers’, will have a tangible competitive advantage.

B2B Marketing's Data Skills Benchmarking Report

This blog is part of B2B Marketing's Data Skills Benchmarking Report. Data now dominates the agenda of many B2B marketers. But do marketers really have the right skills to use data to its full potential? In this brand new research project we surveyed over 200 B2B marketers to find out.