Marketing is one of the fields where the influence of big data has been felt the most. Undoubtedly. In the era of data-driven marketing, marketers have access to tons of customer information which they can use to identify customer needs and business opportunities. They can maximize corporate revenues by creating personalized, engaging experiences at any stage of the customer journey.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean marketing has become easy. Crafting a good marketing planning process is still a critical challenge for many marketing professionals. Indeed, most marketing strategies haven’t really evolved to adapt to this new era. However, you don’t need to be part of a global, gigantic corporation to embrace analytics in your marketing efforts. There are options for businesses of any size and industry.
In this article, we look at three ways in which data can boost your marketing plan to stress how critical it has become for marketers to embrace data-driven decision-making. Indeed, whether you are trying to solve a basic issue, or taking strategic choices such as budget allocation, data can have a huge impact on your decisions.
Should I let data guide my marketing planning process?
Absolutely yes! Why? It’s simple: data drives result. A study by McKinsey & Company reports data-driven marketing is helping companies grow their revenue by 30% more than the average firm within their sector. It enables marketers to identify key customer segments, understand their needs, and tailor their offers accordingly. Most importantly, it lets them test everything: how can you know if the new design of your homepage is bringing the results you wanted without having some meaningful numbers to look at?
Indeed, any good marketing planning process critically depends on accurate measurement. And what you are measuring matters as well! Marketers who only track clicks and leads or haven’t embraced predictive/prescriptive analytics usually have a hard time convincing their boss that their strategy is worth the investment.
Being able to link metrics and revenues is therefore essential, but requires quantifiable, revenue based metrics that help logically connect your actions to their ROI. Marketers who refuse to embrace data analytics risk being excluded from planning processes and tactical decisions in the next few years. Actually, this is true in any department: data analysts are the business strategists of the future.
Anyway, if you or your company haven’t taken on big data yet, don’t despair! You still have time to make marketing management analytics your most trusted ally, but make sure you start working on this as soon as possible.
How data contributes to your marketing planning process
Data plays a critical role during all phases of your marketing planning process, from the creation of your marketing plan to the steps following its implementation.
1) Knowing your target audience: build accurate segments and buyer-personas
Before setting up any marketing campaign, marketers need to identify their target audience and extensively investigate it. This step is the real foundation for the success of your marketing efforts, as everything that will follow will be based on the output of this phase.
As you can imagine, data plays a critical role in this initial stage. It tells marketers which customers bring the most value to the business (depending on your goals, value can be expressed as revenue, life-time value, social shares…) and what channels do they use to get in touch with the company. Once marketers have identified the preferred pattern of their most valuable customers, they can reverse engineer the marketing funnel to build accurate segments and buyer personas. This analysis will then serve both as a base for your general marketing strategy and as a compass to customize your content strategy.
2) Understanding industry trends: choose the right channels
Being able to anticipate industry trends and act accordingly has always been one of the keys to effective marketing campaigns. When investigating industry trends, you should consider lots of different data sources, including data from your competitors. Indeed, there are lots of tools that you can use to check what your competitors are doing and you probably already know several, like SemRush or SimilarWeb.
Figuring out what your competitors are doing and whether it is working or not can be a great source of inspiration for your own strategy. Just make sure you use data to understand why certain strategies are working and whether they are a good fit for your company as well. Steal like an artist, not like a burglar.
Let’s make an example. You may have noticed that lately search engines and social medias started prioritizing paid ads more and more. If that’s the case, you might have been wondering whether to invest in Google or Facebook ads or keep going with your organic-centered strategy. The truth is that the best choice for you depends on a number of factors and only data can tell you what is the best thing to do. Once you become skilled at interpreting data, you will be able to identify the most effective channels to communicate with your audience and anticipate your competitors.
3) Constantly improving and optimizing: test, analyze, fix, repeat
A marketing plan is rarely perfect: you can always improve something in your marketing mix, flowchart or strategy. That’s because marketing planning is not a static assignment, but a continuous effort. Defining your strategy is the first step. You then have to constantly A/B test what you are doing and figure out whether you are using the best channels, making the right assumptions and presenting the right content in the right form to the right target at the right time.
Without accurate data, you will not be able to achieve this. My advice is to make as few assumptions as you can, and focus on interpreting your data and questioning your conclusions. Indeed, once you start leveraging data, you soon realize there is just too much information and you’ll never stop gathering or analyzing it. This continuous analytical effort has become essential to long-term success and must be reflected in the constant optimization of your marketing approach.
Conclusion: data is key, so prepare to face challenges
Big data already is the key to successful marketing campaigns as data-driven decision-making leads to much sounder strategies. However, embracing data analytics definitely remains a challenge. You’ll need to develop a data-driven corporate culture in order to foster continuous improvement, change the mindset of your team and align your marketing and IT departments. You will have to figure out which data is meaningful to you , how to collect it, store it and integrate it so that it produces actionable insights.
Further, you’ll have to identify a data management tool that fits your needs, which can be tricky as there are lots of. Some tools are free, while others can cost up to $300 per user per month, as what they offer differs a lot.
Having some clearly defined, SMART goals will help you in this choice. Whether you want to launch a new brand or increase subscriptions, your end goal defines your strategy, KPIs and tools to reach it. The same data can tell a different story depending on who looks at it and what they want to achieve. So make sure you understand (based on the data you can access) what is your baseline, what you want your campaign to do and what kind of data you should keep collecting and analyzing.
In conclusion, my advice is to avoid “going with your gut” as you run the risk of realizing too late that your intuition was not as accurate as you thought. Sometimes you’ll still have to follow your instinct, for instance when an unforecasted event requires immediate action. Nonetheless, ironically, data clearly highlights that trusting your gut is not a solid foundation for your marketing plan.