Marketers don’t need to become data scientists, they just need better tools

Data is the fuel powering the direct marketing industry, helping to make campaigns more targeted, personalized and efficient than ever before. As a result, marketers must now get their heads around a baffling array of new tools and approaches to information management and direct marketing. For many, this change represents a significant challenge, with marketers forced to prioritize data analysis over more creative (and admittedly more fun) aspects of their roles. Direct marketers are increasingly transforming into data scientists; analyzing reports, sifting through data sets and attempting to build complex, holistic profiles for each of their customers.

In an attempt to keep on top of their new analytic duties, BlueVenn’s research suggests that many marketers now spend as much as 80% of their time purely working with data, leaving little time for the more creative aspects of their roles. It raises the question: is analyzing endless reams of data really what marketers signed up for? Or should they instead be focusing on crafting genuinely interesting content and campaigns?

What’s holding marketers back?

Given the vast amounts of data currently facing marketers, it’s no surprise that they are struggling to identify which sets are most valuable to their organization. Currently, over half (54%) of marketers claim that poor quality data has damaged their campaigns, making them untargeted and ultimately unsuccessful. This issue is only going to get more complex, as legislation such as the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018 sets new standards for compliance and consent, making data collection even more complicated for everyday marketers who are already struggling to sort, clean and maintain their ever-growing customer data sets.

In addition to the quality of data, many marketers are also struggling to create a “single customer view” (SCV)—an accurate profile of customers that unifies multiple channels, platforms and data sets. The ability to collate these data sets together to form an SCV will not only deliver an impressive ROI but can also provide the basis for a highly effective direct marketing campaign. Despite this, BlueVenn’s research suggests that attaining a SCV is generally considered one of the most difficult objectives for direct marketers to achieve, with 82% claiming that they are unable to develop a single view of their customers. Instead, many marketers are still forced to deal with customer data trapped within individual organizational silos, analyzing their various data sources (email, social, POS) in isolation. This is something that 62% of marketers claim that they are worried about, making it a significant barrier to successful data-driven marketing.

New tools versus new skills

In 2017, direct marketers need to drastically rethink their approach to customer data, both in terms of the skills they develop and the tools they adopt. Given that 72% of marketers think that data analysis will be the most important skillset over the next two years, (more than social media, web development, graphic design or SEO), many marketers feel under pressure to re-skill in order to remain competitive.

Rather than attempting to transform into data scientists, my view is that marketers should instead look to adopt new tools and technologies to support them in their evolving roles. As it stands, too many marketing departments are simply outsourcing their data analysis to IT departments or expensive external agencies—both of which lack the depth of customer knowledge needed to build an effective direct marketing database. By investing in better tools internally and automating much of the process of data management, marketers can do the work of a data scientist without the need to drastically update their skillset, leaving them time to focus on creating effective marketing campaigns.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Direct Marketing. 


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