datanalyticsI recently had the privilege of attending the first MediaBUZZ ‘8byEight’ session, a series that brings together 64 digital marketers, sitting in groups of eight, to talk about the digital world; this first event focused on “Digital Marketing”. The roundtable discussions revolved around the opportunities and challenges in digital marketing in an increasingly consumer-driven world.

‘Big data’ is a hot topic these days, with more businesses recognising the benefits of effective data analysis. A couple of recent reports show the shift: IBM says 94 per cent of CMOs intend to use advanced (predictive) analytics more extensively in the future; Bain & Company has written that analytics investment is helping companies outperform competitors.

I moderated the topic of data analytics, with a focus on how to utilise big data for optimal marketing performance to gain a competitive edge. Participants at my table highlighted three key issues: getting started; using data meaningfully; and hiring the right person.

Getting started

The complexities of big data: the amount of data (often held in silos), organisational constraints, doubts over where to start, senior management resistance etc. are major barriers to analytics within organisations. One participant, a marketing manager, noted concerns of translating data silos and overcoming organisational inertia. Another, an agency media director, discussed the best way to use data and “selling” analytics to C-level executives.

Simplifying the concept of “big data” is the first step to take in convincing C-level executives of the need for analytics. Business objectives need to be defined before deciding on what data to look at which simplifies the data set to be analysed. Next, demonstrate how big data has value in providing insights into customers’ behaviour, predicting trends, or cutting costs and inefficiencies. Finally, share the importance of the cost of inaction (COI) versus return on investment (ROI), as senior executive buy-in is critical to incorporating analytics as a key element of business strategy.

Using data meaningfully

A common question was “What do I do with the data?” Marketers frequently get caught up in vanity metrics that are irrelevant to the business, such as banner impressions, click-through-rates (CTR) and reach. It is better to focus on objectives by defining meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals before deciding what insights to draw from the data. This can include predictive analytics, such as “What will consumers buy next”, or “Where to get new customers”, as a CEO in the digital analytics, software and services business, pointed out.

A comprehensive action plan needs to be in place to translate insights drawn from the data - whether positive or negative - into useful steps towards achieving the objectives. Finally, appropriate measurement tools are required to evaluate actions and outcomes, supporting fine-tuning of processes and decision-making in a feedback loop.

Hiring the right person

Concerns about the skills gap were also raised. Analysts who know the digital space may not possess or understand ‘creativity’ and may struggle to provide a hypothesis to the solution. A software architect in a software, services and solutions firm brought up the issue of companies deploying technology, but lacking the internal expertise to derive insights.

In Singapore, some of these concerns are being addressed. The IDA (Infocomm Development Authority) has committed to training 2,500 analytics professionals by the end of 2017. The 2013 Accenture study “Analytics in Action”, found that of 400 analytics practitioners in Southeast Asia, 68 per cent said their companies were investing in managed services for analytics, while 53 per cent indicated talent acquisition as a way to expand their analytics capabilities.

Another question was whether companies should employ the “young and mouldable” or those with experience. Participants were supportive of developing young talent, since experienced professionals are thin on the ground. Companies should also consider training employees. In a 2014 report, “State of Digital Marketing Talent”, by the Online Marketing Institute, ClickZ and Kelly Services, 747 organisations were interviewed on the most valuable digital marketing skills and the skills their talents possess. The report recommended “(commitment) to ramping up the proper talent development programme, effective education, implementation of measurable standards and focused training and hiring practices” to “ultimately win market share and achieve desired business outcomes.”

Big data will continue to present new opportunities and challenges to the world of digital marketing. Enterprising companies will incorporate analytics into their culture, especially at the heart of their decision-making and strategic management. Those who do will reap the fruits of their investment, while the rest can only hope to make it as late bloomers.

By Vinoaj Vijeyakumaar, Managing Partner, Sparkline