Mark Inskip, Global CEO, Kantar Futures looks at the changing role of marketers and the growing influence of technology on skillsets within marketing departments.
Big data is becoming increasingly important for today’s marketing departments. Not only is it a critical enabler, it’s also potentially a crippling barrier. From an opportunity perspective, big data enables us to much more clearly understand and anticipate what consumers are thinking and how they are going to behave or act, and this enables marketers to be much more effective.
As marketers, our job is to figure out how we shift consumer attitude and/or behaviour in the direction of our product or service. In the old days, you just had to send a load of stuff out and hope for the best. Any activities and messaging would be based on broad interpretations based off the back of a bit of market research.
While that research is still a valuable contributing factor to modern marketing strategies, we now have so many other data sources through which to build a complete and rounded picture of what’s going on in a consumer’s life – almost in some cases, minute-by-minute, day-by-day. By being able to see every part of their behaviour and bring that together with existing techniques around their attitudes and their value sets, we can, in theory, create perfectly targeted marketing.
However, the fact that there is so much data available and so few people that actually really know how to interpret it, makes things very difficult.
There are quite a few data scientists out there that can analyse data, but there’s a difference between analysis and interpretation. In my experience, it’s very rare to find somebody who can look at all that data and find the nuggets that matter. The real skill is actually much more about figuring out what to ignore than what to take notice of.
So how do CMOs ensure their teams avoid the information overload that can be the flipside of big data?
This breaks down to two keys areas: technology and talent. It feels that in the modern marketing world you need to be as much a technologist as you do a brand and creative person. That’s not typically what a lot of people of our generation (the senior marketers of today) signed up for. Therefore finding a way to help marketing teams understand how best to utilise technology and make the right decisions around which technology to buy is really important.
The other thing I’d say is that the promise that technology will deliver the next generation of marketing excellence has been around for probably about 20 years, and until recently it’s been a bit of a false promise. Only in the past few years has technology reached a point of sophistication where it’s able to actually deliver on that promise. Historically, it was too slow, too thick or too complicated so the vast majority of marketing people were switched off from it instantly because it fundamentally didn’t make any difference.
The talent piece is closely related to this. Obviously the old skills of marketing are still valuable, relevant and credible, but they need to be augmented by a new set of skills. A set of skills that is not only about understanding and using technology, but also about understanding the shifting consumer mindset and the very different expectations that are changing the world. For example, the next generation of consumers don’t want Facebook because their parents and grandparents are all over it. The fundamentals of the digital marketplace are in the process of yet another evolution.
Over the coming months and years, big data will become the norm for marketers. Therefore being data-savvy/data smart – both on an organisational and individual level – will just be the way things have to be for marketers. We’ll see everything change, technology will become just a regular part of the everyday conversation within the whole of the marketing community, not just a subset of it as it is today. And big data will be at the centre of this.