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Opinion: It’s Time for Marketers to Wholeheartedly Embrace Data

The marketing landscape is looking very different in 2019 and many organizations might have to wipe their metaphorical whiteboard clean and start fresh with their strategy for the year ahead. It’s even gone as far as dictating the kind of mindset successful marketers need to adopt. It’s no longer a question of the creative, right-brained people up against the more data-driven left-brained folks. Those two strengths need to run parallel within each individual, or at the very least within a collective marketing team. Both strengths will be required of those tackling the demands of marketing for 2019. 

Largely, the importance of data will become a mainstay more than it ever has before. It will infiltrate nearly every marketing practice and run the gamut from measurement to influence. Data will also change the way marketing teams leverage social media. Thanks in large part to Unilever, many brands of all sizes are looking at influencer marketing with a more discerning eye and before long, those who choose a career as an influencer are going to have to get even more comfortable with representing their value through analytics and tangible ROI if they want to land even mid-size contracts, not to mention agreements with large, incumbent brands. 

Let’s First Be Friends with Data Regulation

2018 might go down in history as the year awareness of personal data went mainstream. Thanks to the enforcement of the GDPR and the announcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act, the thought process of how personal data can and should be used changed entirely. Its use and management has become a widely embraced topic of conversation for maybe the first time in the history of the digital world. 

As everyone geared up to understand the GDPR and its implications, I sat down for an interview with Tim Walters, Principal Analyst and Privacy Lead at The Content Marketing Institute and in it he explained quite simply that “’People should have control over their own data.’ [These eight words (paraphrased from Recital 7), neatly summarize the goal of the GDPR. And] the rest of the text, the remaining 250 odd pages are basically laying out what has to happen in order to turn that ‘should’ into a ‘will’. People will have, you will behave in such a way that people do have control over their own personal data.”

In 2019, marketers are faced with the decision of whether they want to see this type of regulation as a friend or a foe. In our interview, Tim highlighted maybe the best reason for marketers to embrace these and future regulations as a friend: "People should be in control of their own personal data and, imagine what happens, how marketing is transformed if marketers take that proposition really seriously and really embrace it and really ensure their marketing practices reflect the respect for people's personal data and the fact that they ought to remain in control of their personal data. Yes, that's going to disrupt a lot of our current marketing practices that treat personal data, with, to put it mildly, a cavalier attitude. But, once you do figure out how to institute those processes and begin by data protection by design and other strategies then you're in the position to create genuinely trust-based relationships with customers and prospects."

Now Let’s Put Data to Work

Once organizations accept the terms and conditions so to speak on the collection and use of personal data, they can start to strategize how they’re going to leverage it to achieve their growth and revenue goals. I'll be the first to say I love data, but I think as a marketer you have to at least have some appreciation for it. As I’ve often said, if asked to identify my choice metaphorical space to think, it is the space between analytics and theoretical consumer behavior, between the abstract and concrete, where I can get creative in using one to understand, manipulate and predict the other. 

To understand, one must measure. You wouldn’t think by now that using data to better measure the effectiveness of campaigns would be a watershed moment for marketing teams in 2019, but as Allison Abraham Simpkins, SVP of North America at Valtech explained in our recent interview, measurement still tops the list for the most important tool for digital marketers in 2019: “It really comes back to measurement. The pressure is on brands right now to meet their customers’ needs and engagement across all the different touch points and I think people want superior engagement now, wherever they are globally. The brands that are going to be able to test and react the most with their different campaigns they put out there, start small, test it, look at the ROI, look at the measurement you’re getting and then take the bigger initiative because really, if you can show your ROI in a small win, that’s going to be able to pivot the digital campaigns that you’re going to be doing. So, brands that we work with, if they’re doing that well, they’re doing it on a small scale, testing it out across the omnichannel and then rolling out into larger initiatives. And, that’s all about adapting and reacting to your customers and building an economy of experience.”

The use of data for influence in terms of crafting marketing and engagement campaigns are almost two lanes of the same road. In one lane, thanks to the improvements in marketing technology, you can collect and analyze data on how your audience is interacting with a campaign like never before. You can take that insight and turn into action that will result in a deeper engagement and action by the consumer.

This is explained here by Jon Voigt, CEO of Agility in reference to the content journey: “If you think about the journey historically and even now, content and value that you’re bringing to that journey is key. If your content is not great, people aren’t going to continue to take the journey, they’re not gonna go from step to step or take different steps throughout that journey. But, at the same time, technology is starting to affect how we deliver it and its starting to affect how we analyze it. So first off, our ability to track the status of the results of how people are going through our journey is tenfold what it used to be. We have these marketing automation platforms and even just the email platforms we’re using can tell you, this person took this step and then they stopped here and then they went here, and they did this, where did they come from originally? One journey works for a certain type of person and another journey works for a different type of person so technology has given us the ability on the alignment between our content and our journey and the consumer of that journey.”

The second lane is knowing what data can tell you about your customer before they get to your digital doorstep and the insight that can offer in personalizing the experience just for them. When I recently interviewed Eric Black, SVP & CTO at NBC Sports Group and Playmaker Media I asked him which technology trend he felt would be the most ubiquitous and impactful in the sports media market and you can probably already guess what he said: “I really do think it’s around data. How do we apply machine learning and AI against data models so I can have a more cohesive one-to-one relationship with my consumer? When I look at someone who’s potentially coming for the Tokyo Olympics, are you an equestrian fan and how do I figure that out before you get there and once I do figure that out, how do I hyper serve you data and video around the events that you’re interested in as opposed to something maybe you’re not interested in so learning more about you as a consumer so that you’re getting to that content that you want faster.”

Let Data Rain on Some Parades

As I mentioned above, in early June 2018, Unilever took the stage at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to put pressure on the influencer marketing industry to provide more transparency and stated as a result of their unfortunate experience with inflated reach and wasted ad dollars, they would no longer work with influencers who purchased followers. While some may say this challenge might not phase the global influencer marketing industry set to be worth an estimated $10 billion by 2020, it has ignited a conversation amongst many established brands, creatives and general marketing thought-leaders in standing behind Unilever to say they too have been feeling the rapid ascent of influencer marketing and enticing projected revenues sounded a little too good to be true.

Since then, if you look around, the raised eyebrows directed at influencer marketing practices are growing in number. What used to be the little darling of B2C social media marketing has come under fire as it becomes clear there has been a massive obfuscation of worth put forth by influencers. Like Unilever, many are laying blame on both the influencers themselves and the social media platforms that allow for fake/purchased followers, comments and bot accounts to give the false perception of a high likelihood for engagement from a campaign.

It’s estimated that most mid-level influencers with an audience of between 50k to 100k have about 20% fake followers. Another strike against them is the recent investigation by the New York Times into companies like Devumi, who has sold nearly 200 million automated accounts that represent fake followers on Twitter to a number of users. Information like this in the hands of some of the world's largest advertisers casts a large shadow over an industry that stands to shake up the traditional marketing model and offer a type of consumer engagement previously unseen. 

In response, Twitter removed tens of millions of these suspicious accounts which will mean many of the influencers who have taken advantage of the revenue fake followers has allowed them may see a steep decline of their audience number. This comes nearly a year after Instagram made a move much the same.

The fact of the matter is that data has become the bright light making the shadowy issues with influencer marketing all the more conspicuous but, it might also be what saves it. There is value in this marketing model for B2C brands and arguably B2B if the right influencers are selected. But, the onus is on influencers to take on more of a highly creative, data-driven marketer mindset and offer up tangible statistics on their value and an estimated ROI for brands while executing creativity in their content creation. 

I think overall, brands should be more discerning and develop a process for how and why they work with certain influencers. Similar to how any advertising campaign would work, data should be provided to organizations so they know there is value in their investment. Finally, using a streamlined little math equation to determine value couldn’t hurt.  

Ending Notes

All in all, I definitely think we should let data rain on the influencer marketing parade because, to get super deep into the analogies, I think it will wash away those in the space who devalue the ones who take it seriously, and the talented content creators within the space will grow to become more and more apparent.

As far as the data regulations go, in my opinion, we should all get used to them. Personal data hitting the media is a good thing because consumers are now becoming more and more aware of what it means to consciously engage with a brand and choose who has access to their information. Trust has now become currency and knowing how much brands rely on personal data to craft experiences that currency is going to rapidly become invaluable.

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

A digital business, marketing and social media enthusiast, Laura thrives on asking unique, insightful questions to ignite conversation. At an event or remotely, she enjoys any opportunity to connect with like-minded people in the industry.