Numbers are currency in marketing these days. They provide the information that guides marketing plans. They provide the impetus for where marketers put their budget dollars. And, ultimately, they guide the decisions that companies make on a daily basis for how to market their products and services.
The term “big data” has been coined not only for the wealth of information that’s available to marketers today, but also because of the major impact that the data has on every company and every organization. “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine,” says Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president, global head of research for Gartner, a high-tech research and consulting firm. “Pursuing this strategically will create an unprecedented amount of information of enormous variety and complexity. This is leading to a change in data management strategies known as big data. This creates what we call a ‘Pattern-Based Strategy’ architecture. An architecture that seeks signals, models them for their impact, and then adapts to the business process of the organization.”
In other words, companies are changing their operational strategies to meet what the data tells them, rather than the other way around. Data is ruling marketing decisions, and ad specialty companies need to speak the same language with clients. “The holy grail of marketing is to proactively pounce on every individual customer opportunity by predicting beforehand who will respond, and to preemptively intervene each customer loss by predicting who will defect,” says Eric Siegel, author of Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie or Die.
It’s something that marketers are increasingly recognizing. A recent survey of nearly 400 mid-level and senior corporate marketing executives, conducted by Infogroup Targeting Solutions (ITS), shows that 90% of respondents plan on investing in big data solutions within the next five years, and 54% have already done so. Further, of those companies that have already made an investment in big data, 85% say they’re already seeing returns on those investments. “We’re at a turning point with big data, which, until recently, served as little more than a buzzword,” says Dave McRae, president of ITS.
And, as it relates to promotional products and how they fit into the marketing campaigns of clients, it’s incumbent upon distributors to ensure they’re helping their customers to predict the success – and failures – of their efforts. “Their data should dictate their action steps, it’s that simple,” says Jim Franklyn, vice president of Inkhead Inc. (asi/231159), which, as an online distributor, bases much of its marketing and sales strategy around data collection. “Online that is how you survive. I also spent 25 years on the brick and mortar side, so I’ve seen that the data that’s stored about clients and trends should be a very important aspect of how feet on the street plan their strategies.”
Certainly, determining the absolute success of a campaign based upon which marketing tools you use can be difficult. But with the growth of predictive analytics expanding rapidly in today’s business world, distributors may be moving closer than ever to being able to predict which campaign might work best for their customers, before it even launches.
“Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.”
Where to start? “I always say begin with the end in mind,” says Tama Looney, director of consumer insights and analytics for Ovation Brands, a national restaurant company based in Greer, SC, that dedicates much of its marketing and branding efforts to predicting how customers will behave. Look at the overarching goal, Looney says. For example, if you want to drive sales, increase Web traffic or increase the number of attendees at a corporate event, ask, “What am I really trying to do?” Then source down into what you want to capture and track.
That can involve several steps, experts say, but it’s important to identify the strongest indicators of success. Often, campaigns involve a multitude of activities, promotions and moving parts. Tracking the effect of each and every one of those isn’t always necessary – in fact, it can cloud the analytics of a campaign’s success. Instead, they suggest, select three or four key indicators and gather data for those intensively. The most important performance indicator? Sales. “You should have two to three metrics, but the major metric is sales,” says Rodger Roeser, president of Cincinnati-based Eisen Management Group, an integrated marketing communications firm.
Once you’ve identified the most important metrics to your campaign, the smartest strategy for compiling data is to do so in an organized, simplistic manner. Rather than amass reams of data collectively, Looney suggests concentrating on only one indicator at a time. That way, distributors can create clarity about which campaign elements are working most effectively. “You can’t look at every piece of information for everything you did,” Looney says. Otherwise companies tend to get overwhelmed with data, failing to interpret it correctly. “We get into this analysis paralysis with too much data,” she says.
To avoid the paralysis of a big data dump and gain clarity on a campaign’s effectiveness so that marketers can make more informed decisions in the future, Looney suggests they see one concept at a time.
By that she means focus on one campaign idea and then gather responses or actions associated with that one concept. That way marketers can track actions that can be related to only one element of a campaign. For example, if you want to know if a product promotion, financial giveaway or celebrity meet-and-greet is driving more traffic to your client’s charity golf event, instead of tracking traffic for the event overall, ask attendees which of those three most spurred them to attend. Then drill down with additional questions: Why did that aspect of the event inspire them to take action? What effect did it have on them? Figuring out how and why one element of a campaign caused attendees to act can help predict future behavior and marketing success.
Jason Robbins, CEO of ePromos Promotional Products (asi/188515), believes distributors should be collecting data that gives them an idea of the recent transactions, frequency of purchasing, and monetary value of customers. “Knowing the customers that bought the most recently, the ones that buy the most frequently, and the ones that buy the most can help businesses target certain clients and certain sectors,” he says. “That kind of data can really drive your marketing and promotional testing, so you know exactly the type of messaging and offers that work with specific audiences.”
Tools to Use
Experts caution that companies need to be careful with the methods they use to collect data. If it’s not a true reflection of their intended actions, then the data could be misleading. Focus groups, Twitter, Facebook and other survey means are ideal tools for collecting customer behavior and opinions for future reference. But old-school psychology still applies. Anonymous people are more likely to be truthful. That’s important, particularly when marketers are trying to decipher between end-users’ words versus their actions. Survey respondents are not immune from telling data collectors what they think marketers want to hear.
“It takes years to get a good understanding of what a number means,” says Looney. “It’s like peeling an onion.” Sometimes pulling back the layers helps marketers get to the heart of data for better predictions moving forward, she says. Other times, “you peel, peel, peel and there’s nothing left. It may be a lot of data that says nothing.”
For distributors who find that their best data analysis is producing faulty or impossible predictions for future campaigns, it might be time to hire an expert, since even the best data can be hard to leverage for future marketing efforts.
And that can make a difference. IBM’s SPSS Statistics, for example, can predict the success of a campaign with an accuracy upwards of 95%, depending on the analytics a company provides the system, says Marcus Hearne, a Chicago-based business unit marketing executive for IBM’s predictive and business intelligence solutions. That can include simple data such as collecting information about the number of leads generated by giving out T-shirts at a trade show. Or it can include more intricate details, such as data about a client’s past event.
But even the simplest bits of information can provide a window into client behavior prior to a campaign launch. For example, analytics as basic as which state or industries were targeted can be solid predictors for future campaigns. Tracking basic outcomes can help a distributor better control buying decisions and campaign spend, Hearne says, so that “maybe instead of buying 100,000 pens, they know to buy 50,000” for their next marketing pitch.
In fact, depending upon the number of historical data pieces a distributorship has, managers can predict fairly accurately the outcome of a marketing campaign or event, Hearne says, even if it’s a new type of event a company is launching. More to the point, today’s analytics are so finely tuned that they can assign varying predictability outcomes to individuals, not just the campaigns themselves. So, for example, if a distributor wants to know how likely an individual who visited a trade show booth is to buy a product after the show, it’s possible, based upon even basic information collected – gender, title, industry, geographic location, notes from the show floor – to assign a conversion percentage to each booth visitor, based upon past behavior of similar individuals, even if those people are from a different industry or marketplace.
That can help a company better target their marketing efforts to individuals and firms so that the campaign is more likely to result in sales. Moreover, all data counts, Hearne says. That doesn’t mean, to Looney’s point, that a distributor has to collect and input every single bit of information (although additional details can often make an analytics system more accurate over time). But, “something as simple as gender could change a predictive outcome,” Hearne says.
Implementing Big Data
Of course, sophisticated analytics don’t come cheap. IBM’s SPSS top predictive abilities can run a company upwards of $20,000, Hearne says, although a sale for $100,000 as a result might be worth the investment. Still, for distributors without the budget for that kind of analytical firepower, it might be enough for, say, online campaigns, to use a service like Google Analytics, which offers website performance analysis including sales and conversion data. The service is free for sites with 10 million hits or less a month, with a premium service fee for sites with more than 10 million hits a month.
“Google Analytics gives you data on which marketing campaigns are resulting in traffic, and how that traffic is converting,” says Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Audience Bloom, a content marketing and social media marketing firm. “The referring page and destination URL custom report is perfect for analyzing which specific URLs resulted in traffic to your website, and on which page of your website the user first landed.”
Figuring out those details can be vital in forming future campaigns because they provide insight companies may not otherwise have, DeMers says. “This information can tell you which individual pieces of content are resulting in the most traffic, and, in turn, the most conversions.” Key indicators to look for in Google Analytics, DeMers says, are referrals and all traffic, organic search and “a referring page and destination URL custom report.”
In addition to following key indicators it’s also important to track certain online touchpoints as well, DeMers says. In today’s world, marketing strategies cover multiple platforms at once, and their integration and monitoring of that connection is important in gauging current and future campaign success, experts say. “Simply put, every marketing campaign should be integrated online these days,” DeMers says. “Whether it’s via social media or another channel, online marketing has overtaken traditional offline methods in terms of ROI, efficiency and effectiveness in most cases.”
There’s no one formula for which social media delivers the best results; however, DeMers says business-to-consumer promotions often see more success via Twitter and Facebook promotions, while business-to-business promotions often find more success combining marketing campaigns with more profession-related sites like LinkedIn.
But making sense of the influence of social media hits and interactivity can be tricky. A burgeoning slew of predictive analytics firms are offering increasing ways to decipher online activity. For example, AudienceBloom offers a service called social mention monitoring, which does everything from monitoring “buzz” about your company and competitors to identifying industry sentiments and trends. Doing so allows companies “to assess competitor activity, campaigns and trends, and allows you to jump on industry trends and opportunities with timely content,” DeMers says.
And that’s essential, he adds. “If you can assess market and industry conditions using social monitoring, you can predict what sorts of content will resonate with your target audience. Similarly, if you can assess what content is resonating with your competitors, you can follow suit in that same vein.”
Similarly, competitors’ campaigns can offer insights into future campaign performance, for both industries and product lines. Distributors shouldn’t be shy about replicating – at least in part – campaigns that worked well for competitors. “If a particular theme or topic performed well with your competitors’ audience, or you client’s competitor’s audience, see if you can produce something that resonates with your audience along the same lines,” DeMers suggests.
And be open to marketing messages that might work for your company even if they weren’t entirely successful in a competitor’s hands. After all, it’s not entirely unwarranted to make marketing predictions from the gut on occasion, despite today’s sophisticated predictive tools. “I also recommend not shying away from a certain topic simply because it didn’t perform well with a competitor,” DeMers adds. “If a niche within your client’s industry hasn’t been filled in such a way that their customers’ needs have been met, go ahead and do a better version of that campaign. Whatever’s currently out there can almost certainly be improved upon or updated.”
Regardless of strategy, the key is to always collect data and leverage past information for upcoming campaigns, experts insist. “The only thing you can look at is the past,” says Looney, “and history is always indicative of the future.”