What is data-driven marketing, and why is it important? Depending on who you ask, data-driven marketing can be everything from a mysterious formula to success, capable of being read by only the most skilled analysts, to a bullheaded focus on numbers that stifles creativity and turns marketers into robots. Thankfully, neither of these is true.
Data and creativity are powerful partners, not forces in opposition.
Just the bare bones
At its most basic level, data-driven marketing is the opposite of guesswork: It is the art and science of applying evidence-based insight to marketing tactics, campaigns, and even entire marketing organizations to better understand what does and does not work in engaging, retaining, and converting prospects and customers.
For example, a data-driven display ad campaign might look like this:
- Joe, a digital ops director at an agency, runs three different versions of creative in one lead generation campaign to the same audience.
- After a week (or whatever predetermined time Joe decides), Joe checks out performance among the three versions: Which one has the highest clickthrough rate (CTR)? Which one has the highest impressions? And what metric is the best fit for success?
- Since this is a lead generation campaign, Joe decides that CTR is a better indicator of success than impressions.
- If this were a brand awareness campaign, Joe might instead pick the version with the highest impressions, since the purpose would be to get the word out. But since the purpose is to generate potential leads, Joe knows that clickthrough rates are the most important metric for this campaign.
- Joe checks out the three versions, and version 2 has a CTR of .67%, while versions 1 and 3 tracked at .24 and .38%, respectively.
- So, Joe pulls versions 1 and 3, then runs version 2.
Congratulations, Joe. You are now a data-driven marketer.
But couldn’t we have figured this out without data?
Maybe? But not as directly and not in any repeatable way. A broken clock is still right twice a day, but you shouldn’t depend on it to keep you on time.
Marketers get lucky, too: We are a creative, intuitive bunch of people, and we excel at developing strategies and tactics to engage audiences and move them to action. Very often, if we are good at what we do, our hunches are on the mark. What data-driven marketing does that our “instincts” cannot is identify the conditions that cause successful campaigns so that they can be repeated and refined. You cannot quantify “good content,” “engaging creative,” or “an amazing presentation of color.” You can quantify actions: how many people viewed an ad, clicked on a link, downloaded a resource, visited your site, and so on.
Simply put, marketers are not magicians. Even the best of us can’t — and really must not – depend on our own intrinsic knowledge to know what works when revenue is on the line. Our audiences are made up of living, breathing, changing human beings, and we are notoriously irrational.
What about creativity?
What about it? Data-driven doesn’t mean formulaic, and it doesn’t mean the end of creativity, passion, and even playfulness in campaigns. Evidence-based campaign management isn’t an exercise in painting by numbers. Rather, when the numbers line up, you know you’ve painted the right picture. There is a small (but loud) group of contrarians who lament that data-driven marketing is “killing creativity.” It’s an interesting observation – but it’s one that reinforces a false belief that creativity and empiricism are like oil and water. We wonder if they’ve ever seen an Apple ad. If you want proof that data and spark play well together, take a look at any of Apple’s campaigns for their market-leading products. As Social Industries notes, “innovation does not grow on creativity alone.”
If anything, having evidence helps inform the creative process to make the output even better the next time.
How do I make my marketing organization data-driven?
Data-driven marketing can seem like a daunting task, but it’s not. You need three basic ingredients:
- A plan for what to measure
- A way to measure it
- A way to improve future campaigns
The plan: For each campaign, determine what it is that you want to measure (and why you want to measure it). Going back to our fictional advertiser Joe, who was running a lead-generation campaign, he decided to measure clickthrough rate (CTR) and impressions, placing greater weight on the CTR, since he wants people to get in touch with his client and do business with them. If he had wanted to make the campaign for brand awareness, he might have picked impressions, since that is a good proxy for engagement relative to that goal.
A way to measure it: This is where you will need a good marketing analytics tool. But beware: When mixing several different tactics (e.g., display ads, email, SEO, social, and so forth), be sure that you have one analytics solution that can handle every single marketing tactic together. Multiple platforms for multiple tactics aren’t just annoying and labor-intensive from a workflow perspective; they also often measure KPIs differently, resulting in metric inconsistency that keeps you from making accurate, apples-to-apples comparisons.
A way to improve: With analytics reports in hand, you can see – in black and white – what works well and what doesn’t in terms of your creative, audience, distribution, and many other factors. This is data you can use to make each campaign better, more effective, and more profitable than the next.
The right tools for the job make it easier
Data-driven marketing should be easy, and it should be unified. However, 54% of marketers say that data completeness and quality issues prevent them from making evidence-based decisions, and 58% regularly misinterpret data: often because their systems are disintegrated, complex, or subpar.
Our Compulse 360 platform removes the most common barriers to data-driven marketing with a unified analytics dashboard that measures performance across every channel – programmatic and linear – for a powerful, intuitive solution you can count on to help you make more insightful decisions.
Get in touch today for a no-obligation demo to see how Compulse 360 can help your business. We are passionate about making data-driven marketing easy and look forward to hearing from you.