by Sarah K. White

Are your marketing pros ready to handle big data?

Oct 24, 2016
Big DataCareersIT Skills

Big data has brought a lot to the table for modern businesses, but data isn't just a focus for IT anymore. Marketers are now at the front of data analytics, requiring these pros to develop new skill sets.rn

The role of a marketer is to help leverage brands, products and overall awareness of a business’ core mission. That means analyzing data has become increasingly valuable to marketers, giving them real-time insights into trends, current campaigns and failed initiatives.

“Marketers today are more in tune to numbers, figures and metrics than ever before — they understand that the success of their marketing campaigns rely on the ability to analyze data and turn behaviors and actions of buyers and customers into actionable insight that can be used to optimize ongoing marketing efforts,” says Michelle Huff, CMO at Act-On Software.

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Greater insights

A marketer with strong data skills can offer deeper insights into how marketing campaigns pan out. According to Huff, modern marketers know how to interpret data and — most importantly — analyze it to find meaning that will shape and drive future programs, leading to greater overall success.

“As a marketer, we must learn how to tell a story or build a profile with the data we collect from our campaigns. It is our job to convert data into intelligence that drives the customer experience forward,” she says.

Josh Aberant, CMO of SparkPost, says that data has enabled marketers to measure performance in real-time, which means “the pace of decision making has become much more rapid.” It helps inform almost instant optimizations, and marketers no longer have to wait long periods of time to make important judgement calls. And if marketers aren’t leveraging analytics tools, or are simply taking data at face value, it’s a waste of resources.

“AdWords is a great example here. You can spend money on auto-pilot, but without connecting the dots to how that traffic plays out in subsequent activities to advance your goals, you might as well be throwing away your money,” he says.

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Multiple channels

In addition to the benefits it’s brought, the internet has also made some aspects of marketing more challenging. One example is how difficult it’s become to figure out where your audience is coming from, since most customers have multiple devices — sometimes equipped with ad blockers.

“As a marketer, it’s harder than ever to get a complete picture of your audience. Their interactions are siloed by walled gardens, multiple devices per person or platforms strategically locking users in. Each one of those channels requires a customized strategy,” says Rob Platzer, CTO of Bitly. 

The best thing a marketer can do to get around such challenges is to keep up on the latest trends, according to Platzer. He recommends that all marketers educate themselves on the most popular channels people are using on a daily basis to access content from. It’s also vital to have a finger on the pulse of what the next best app will be — like when Twitter came on the scene and completely changed the way people share and interact. And with that insight that comes an even greater need to understand analytic platforms — to take a spreadsheet or chart of information and find consistencies, inconsistencies and outliers that will inform future marketing campaigns.

Determining successful interactions

The role of a marketer is evolving to include “using data to understand customers’ actual needs and experiences,” says Aberant. He admits that this has been a significant adjustment for marketing departments as the role pivots to include more strategic thinking around analytics.

Just because a marketing campaign gets a big response, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily positive. Maybe your latest Tweet went viral for negative reasons, which resulted in an increase of traffic to your site or more chatter about your product on the internet, but not in a positive light. A marketer needs to be able to weed through these types of interactions to figure out what type of engagement the brand is receiving.

“The real insights can come from asking the questions of the data that are not obvious. When we apply data science to a large data set, the goal is to look for the trends you wouldn’t expect,” says Rob Platzer, CTO of Bitly.

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You don’t need an extra degree

Just because there is a growing need for marketers to develop a better understanding of technology doesn’t mean you have to rush out and get a minor in computer science. Instead, one small step you can take is to start developing relationships with IT professionals and engineers within your company. That way, you know who to go to when you have questions and need further information on anything data related, says Platzer.

Developing strong relationships between IT and marketing might be a new frontier for some executives, but it’s an increasingly important shift that is happening in the business world. “The CMO needs data and the CTO has the systems generating the data. But it’s more than that — it also means figuring out how to collaborate and do this together,” says Aberant.

And CMO’s should set the precedent for this, he says, by building rapport with the CTO of the company and fostering communication between the two departments. Eventually, Platzer says most businesses will find a natural progression where marketers become a part of the data life cycle.

“Eventually the teamwork becomes cyclical. The engineering team aggregates the data, the data scientist converts the marketer’s current data questions into algorithms, and the marketer takes those insights and turns them into a new or improved strategy,” he says.

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