The purpose of marketing is to connect people with products and services that they want or need. Understanding your customer’s motivation and mindset—along with past patterns and behaviours—and combining these insights with the right offer, message and “hot buttons” at all points of interaction with your brand ultimately lead to success.

Does this new era of evidence-driven decision making—characterized by data and analytics increasingly being embraced in the marketplace—mean that great insight will be the foundation for great marketing programs? Are we really in the era of analytics delivering real results?

From where I sit, the answer is yes… but there remains lots of room for improvement.

Working with so many organizations in Canada and the U.S. across many industries, we at Environics Analytics have seen a tremendous step forward in the use of data to drive better decisions and better results.

For example, one of the largest owners, developers and operators of retail, office and mixed-use properties in North America invests a lot in developing insights into the consumers who live in their various mall trade areas. The challenge for the analytics team has always been about managing the volume of information—too much data turns off the end users, while too little leaves important questions unaddressed.

Recently EA conducted a segmentation project for this developer, bringing together primary research and data products from EA covering demographics, lifestyles, purchase patterns and media preferences. Analysts developed consumer segments in the trade areas around the malls to identify how consumers lived and what they bought. Then they created highly visual personification presentations that brought each segment’s consumers to life. The team turned the data into snapshots of each property and created a library that managers could refer to when making decisions about their customers and trade areas. As stakeholders used the analyses they began asking more—and better—questions.

Working with a consulting company that specializes in visualization software, the team developed a tool that combines mapping functionality with EA data in an interactive dashboard designed to meet the needs of senior executives and anyone who needs answers in a hurry. The dashboard made the insights accessible and actionable by many.

Then the team hit the road, meeting with the management teams at mall properties to find out which data variables were most important to their work. Many wanted answers to the same questions: what’s the income of my trade area, the projected population growth, the presence of visible minorities, household size, real estate values and net worth? The dashboards are now being used by 70% of the company—vice presidents and people in marketing, leasing, development and operations departments.

This is one of many exciting initiatives where business needs are identified, stakeholders are aligned and data are turned into insights and made understandable and accessible. The results speak for themselves

In many industries, analytics are routinely contributing to better business results. Where there is success, there is one key element: a culture shift. And what does that shift look like? Here are some key indicators:

  • Collaboration is taking place between data, IT and business people, with organizational silos breaking down.
  • Strategies are being developed for analysis; the number crunching is less ad hoc.
  • Data governance is a priority.
  • Suppliers are being asked to work together.
  • Outputs are shared across the enterprise, in tools and formats designed for different levels of business accountability.
  • C-suite support for data-driven decision making is emerging.

This is good news, but as in many marketing developments, it doesn’t come without a “but.” Two concerns: First, we need a lot more of these strategic analytics programs. Second, we need to ensure that the insight from analytics gets precisely implemented in the execution. In online, mobile, digital, direct, in-store and other forms of one-to-one or near one-to-one marketing, there is good opportunity to use the data in execution. But we need to go further. The silver bullet is to get to data-driven content and data-driven creative.

As long as I have been on the data side of marketing, it has puzzled me that there seems to be a tug of war between the art and science of marketing. Is creative king? Does analytics make the most difference? How do we reconcile the art versus the science of marketing?

My colleague Peter Boggs—a creative, geeky guy who’s worked both in advertising and the analytics space—recently addressed this dilemma in a thought-provoking article for Strategy magazine’s Marketing C-Suite newsletter.

“While many people are embracing the growing use of analytics,” he writes, “others view data-driven creative as an oxymoron.” He cites articles that ask, “Can big data and analytics replace intuition?” and “Is data the big bad wolf?”

For Peter, the art-versus-science argument has been simmering since at least the 1990s, and he goes on to explain why the two realms always seem to be odds. “In the agency world, art requires taking risk but science seeks to reduce risk. Art is imagination; science is optimization. Art is intuition; science is evidence based

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. Art reflects what drives people to act; science looks at what people did and predicts what they probably will do.”

The key to realizing the best of both art and science, according to Peter, can be summed up in one word: craft. Craft serves as the intermediary—or as he calls it, the interpreter—that feeds and drives both parts of the equation.

“Craft interprets the business problem that then enables data scientists to mine the right data and develop the best algorithms and models,” he asserts. “Craft interprets the models and analytics, giving them meaning for creative teams to unleash their creative magic. It is what successful marketers and strategic planners do day in and day out. They don’t compartmentalize one discipline over the other. They make the two work together.”

Peter calls this unified approach the Three “Eyes” of Marketing: Inform, interpret, inspire. In successful marketing teams, work among the various disciplines flows seamlessly as these three elements interact and are acted upon. “Data scientists interpret numbers to inform and inspire strategies. Creative teams tease out insights to inspire and inform customers. And strategic planners and clients interpret results, which then inspire data scientists to refine their work and inform the work of creative teams,” he writes. And it is through this natural collaboration, facilitated by the common language of marketing analytics that the divide between art and science disappears.

To Peter, “craft” is the lynchpin of good marketing. And because craft inherently involves collaboration, I have to agree.

We live in exciting—and rewarding—times with organizations increasingly adopting analytics to achieve success in a crowded and competitive marketplace. But challenges remain in spreading the word about the value of analytics and how to integrate it into everyday operations. The progress made in analytics achieving results can be traced to organizations where cooperation and sharing across departments have become a cultural norm. And it’s the only way we’ll continue to progress in the future.

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

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Jan Kestle

Jan Kestle is the president and founder of Environics Analytics.

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