Every time you or I buy so much as a hamburger we probably create data in a computer somewhere that reveals what kind of burger we prefer, if we add pickles and onions, and whether we purchase fries with it.
And, from a marketing standpoint, that’s extraordinarily advantageous.
After all, marketers have always relied on data to help make decisions. But never in history have they had the kind of data they do today, providing enormous amounts of information about both existing customers and potential ones.
But a big question many marketers must ask these days is this: Who really controls that data and, in effect, influences any decisions that are made as a result of what the data is – or isn’t – telling you.
Too often, the answer isn’t the marketing director, the marketing department or anyone else inside the business. Many companies instead rely on an outside agency – sometimes multiple agencies – to gather data, compile it and report on it. And while that’s not bad in and of itself, there are reasons to be careful when you’re in such a relationship. Numbers can be massaged to reflect a particular bias, whether on purpose or by accident. That third-party agency, for example, could provide you your data in a narrative form that leads you in a particular direction – a direction that’s opposite of where you need to go.
Even a slight bias could color what the net takeaway is for you. You would have all this extraordinary data, yet you could end up interpreting it in absolutely the wrong way, which could be worse than not having it at all.
So, while some of these outside agencies can be useful to you, ultimately you want to be the one who directs the big-picture perspective, and you want to decide what the takeaway from the data is when all is said and done.
That’s why the best solution is usually to take your data in-house. That way it’s your company’s data, gathered by your company and put to use by your company in the way you see fit. Certainly, when using data you want to be able to define specifically what your goal is.
If, for some reason, you can’t or don’t want to do that, you should at least reshape your relationship with whatever agency is handling that service for you so that you have more direct control over the data.
In today’s world, relying on data can’t be regarded as an add-on to the marketing process any more than technology can be. Data is what empowers you and your department, giving you the information you should have to be flexible and fast.
Of course, not all data is created equal – or is equally effective, which is another reason that the more control you have, the better the results will be. Yes, we have more data at our disposal than ever before, but that can confuse as much as it illuminates. Actually deriving meaningful insights from data and then converting that into action is easier said than done.
But when you define specifically what your goal is and what type of data you will need to help you accomplish that goal, then it becomes a whole lot easier for you – or your IT teammates – to zero in on the data you need in that humongous haystack of data.
It’s also important to remember that data should never be an afterthought in whatever it is your working on. People often think of data as the end part, but data covers the beginning, middle and end. It’s not just what’s in a spreadsheet. It affects core aspects of your business, impacting how you organize and how you lead.
If you’re a marketing director, to steer your department through today’s heady opportunities and daunting challenges, you must own your data so you can lead and direct everything that the data influences.