Data Driven: The Battle of Prepositions
As I began writing this column, I was immediately struck by one of the words in the deck. Using "from" suggests fitting new marketing data into an existing process integration after new initiatives are introduced, while the word "with" requires a different approach altogether, indicating a process that considers the data before the initiative is launched. These are very different approaches.
Most existing IT data processes are cyclical, meaning there is a start and an end to each process. Response data is collected, normalized and massaged, put into a reporting framework and then delivered to management where discussion happens, eventually leading to questions. Then the entire process is repeated with each new cycle of a season, year or individual event.
In the case of integrating data "from" new marketing initiatives, the best practices are fairly straightforward.
1. Learn From Others: Start by tuning into trade journals, industry conferences and speaking with peers around the business, learning how others are thinking about the challenges presented by new marketing initiatives. Look for ways to determine what the key performance indicators (KPIs) will be that make up a scorecard for measuring success for the new initiative.
2. Trial and Error Period: Next, begin a trial and error period. By definition, a new marketing initiative means we simply do not know yet where things will end up. Just jump in and trust your instincts that are already well informed by tuning in to peer opportunities. Initial KPIs are established and off we go improving our work with each new response analysis cycle and the resulting business intelligence we gain.
3. Strategic Target: Make sure when working in this environment that the KPIs you end with are relevant to your brand and business objectives. Each new marketing initiative can mean very different things to different businesses. It may be about expanding brand recognition, acquiring new customers, building an email list or any number of other targeted objectives. The key is to have a single strategic target rather than a broad direction for the process.
4. Fit Into Existing Data Reporting Cycle: After the initial sales cycle for the new marketing initiative is complete and the KPIs are in place, the new metrics are added to the existing analysis and reporting processes to show up on the next reporting dashboard that is presented to management for discussion and next-step actions. The results now look different with the new marketing initiative added into the mix.
In some cases, management teams may choose to blaze a new trail with the newest marketing initiatives and start with No. 2, above. After all, someone has to go first!
Now, if we choose to take the second approach where we are integrating data "with" new marketing initiatives, a completely different conversation happens. In this context, a cyclical process does not make sense. Rather, we need more of an ongoing data process where response data, in general, is collected, normalized and massaged, put into a reporting framework either weekly, monthly or in real-time. This data is now always current and available on demand for a query on the IT side.
The second part of the cycling process, where analysis is delivered to management and discussion happens leading to questions, is now on a demand basis. In this scenario, management meets with the IT, merchandise, marketing and sales teams when necessary to fish out answers to important questions with its key strategists. This may be a regular reporting time or for an ad hoc question that arises. In our discussion today, the new marketing initiative is the ad hoc question.
In this approach, the four best practices mentioned above happen in a different order, with No. 3 taking place first. The initial meeting is scheduled to introduce the new marketing initiative with a strategic team where objectives are determined and KPIs are created that will drive a scorecard to measure the outcome. Once this is all established, the marketing team gets out into the trade arena to learn what others are doing and proceeds to the trial and error part of the initiative.
The stage of integrating the data into the reporting process now happens within the weekly, monthly or real-time framework that is already in place as soon as enough data is realized. The new data elements have already been added to the database and are available to query. When the time comes to report on the new initiative, the KPIs are queried, organized and added to the ongoing dashboards and success in reaching the strategic objectives considered.
There are two types of data environments: 1) by period or 2) real-time. The choice depends on the investment into IT resources. In the first case, questions are asked after IT reports to management and IT gets back with answers later on. In a second case, queries happen in real-time with the strategic team and many questions can be answered immediately. Those that are most complex wait for IT to complete more work.
The cyclical process is most common and has evolved over the decades as direct marketing data practices have matured and spreadsheet tools become more powerful. The real-time solution requires an upfront investment in time and database resources, but pays big dividends in the long run.
Regardless of the tools, you must still make a choice between integrating data from or with new marketing initiatives. Most importantly, you need to decide if the objectives and KPIs should be considered up front or after the investment is made into the initiative.
Geoff Wolf is executive vice president of client strategy at the Mission, Kan. direct marketing agency J. Schmid & Associates. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.