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Three Data Strategies for Predictable Performance in an Unpredictable World

Everything now is unpredictable. Pandemics. Supply chains. Markets. Consumer engagement.

Yet one thing remains predictable: management will always insist on performance.

Delivering on performance demands is harder than ever. We’re in the midst of large scale changes to consumer behavior and media consumption. Brands that were built on gigantic mass media audiences and ever-expanding mass distribution now must navigate a world of tiny audiences scattered across a sprawling digital landscape and direct-to-consumer brands. Leaning entirely on what has worked well in the past is a foolhardy and probably even dangerous strategy.

The more your brands rely on advertising and media to succeed, the better your data strategies need to be.

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In an unpredictable world, here are the three most important strategies for your performance predictability portfolio.

Leverage Your “Seed Data”

Buying off-the-shelf data to apply to off-the-shelf marketing strategies is fine  — but there’s an even better strategy. The cardinal rule of data right now is to know what you know, and build from there.

The most accurate, valuable, and under-leveraged data marketers have is the data they already own: their sales data. In my experience, most companies with more than 10% share of their markets can begin to discover far deeper insights in their own data than the broad, category-level data that’s for sale. The challenge is, they just don’t have those insights at scale.

That’s why the smartest marketers are using their sales data as “seed data” to train all the other data-driven tactics they take. They’re organizing their data to sync it into the different systems all along the marketing process. Once this is organized you can work with data companies like us, to combine it with your seed audiences — and that’s when the big insights start to pop. When the intelligence and effectiveness of all efforts starts to work at scale, you’ll get the “aha” understanding of which signals are statistically significant enough to drive results.

Your internal makes your purchased data work harder, and your purchased data brings your internal data into sharper focus. It’s a virtuous cycle.

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Take privacy seriously — and do more than the minimum

Of all the unpredictable things in the marketing environment right now, privacy is probably the biggest question mark. The combination of anti-tech populism, endless uncertainty about the future of cookies and other identifiers, and very real demands from consumers for better privacy is creating fervor in Washington DC and state capitals. Marketers may soon face a crazy quilt of patchwork regulation that will be extremely hard to navigate.

The right strategy is to recognize that customer relationships work both ways. The more that customers trust you to do right by them, the more first party data they’ll be willing to share, and the more confident you can be that you use that data to drive results.

Most marketers are tempted to do the minimum, and treat privacy as a check-box, “good enough” effort. You can, and should do better. Better privacy is a strong asset for any brand. Guard each individual bit of consumer data like it was your own. Ensure everyone you partner with in processing and enriching your data has robust privacy policies, and that the data you are collecting is locked down to protect consumers. Lead with explicit consent — make sure your customers know what data you’re collecting and how you’ll protect it.

Remember that your first party data is critical to “knowing what you know”, and is the key to making your purchased data work harder and unlocking insights. Make sure your customers know they can trust you.

Whiteboard big, and whiteboard small

You can’t navigate a chaotic environment without a map — and in marketing today you need a comprehensive map that addresses big and small efforts.

Whiteboard out your entire marketing process, from the most macro level budgeting to the most micro drip messaging efforts. Once you have a complete map, challenge your team to identify the data and analytical products that can make each step 10% more efficient and effective. That may sound ambitious, but you’re looking for meaningful leaps, not tiny steps forward. There are efficiencies to be gained everywhere, if you look hard enough.

Start with the biggest, macro level budget items — that’s where a 10% leap will deliver the biggest rewards. But don’t stop until you’ve gotten down to the most micro level targeting.

Every part of the marketing process can be enriched by using data, so challenge your data partners to take the journey with you. Ask them where they can help you make the biggest leaps and how they’ll do it. The best data partners can also help you build a consistent process for data and governance.

It pays to put the effort in. If you’re smarter about data than your competitors, you’ll outperform them every time.


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