Three recent engagements – A multi-channel retailer, a national media company, and a retail/store chain – have made it clear why so many marketing organizations are still struggling with their data. In these three engagements, reasonably good marketing programs are being questioned by senior stakeholders because the reporting is, well, let’s call it “fluid”. In all three of those organizations, the marketing team is swimming in data, but can’t generate the necessary reports to drive better decision making and any “Insights” getting shared are more about tactical efficiency vs. whether the strategies are working.
I think this misalignment is pretty common. For a number of orgs we’ve seen, there are plenty of reports and data dumps. But, the reports aren’t helping the growth and marketing teams make the right, most important decisions.
There’s an ever present chicken/egg situation: The egg is “we need confidence in the measurement before we invest more” and the chicken is “We need your team to be clear and consistent about what you’re trying to measure and why so we can get you a better measurement plan in place”.
For the typical org we’re working with, the “measurement” and data work is downstream (often way, way downstream) from the marketing and strategy planning. That is, the marketing team will develop their strategies, debate some metrics, and assume there will be a measurement plan, later, of some sort. In effect, they’re betting on the analysts to figure it out.
The better orgs will develop their data strategies hand in hand with their business strategies. They’ll develop a clear, high-confidence data and measurement plan with the acknowledgement that the strategies need to be tested; there needs to be some way to confirm whether the strategy (not just the tactics) is actually working. Then, the operational plans will include both the actual tactics but also the implementation of new measurement methods. For instance, they’ll simultaneously update their data roadmap and user instrumentation while they’re updating their customer journey (or customer experience) strategies and operating plans.
The better orgs will invest early to make sure they can acquire the data needed to measure whether their strategies, tactics and plans are working. And some orgs will deprioritize strategies and tactics that aren’t measurable. The rationale is pretty straightforward: The more we can measure, the sooner we’ll know if the strategies – the choices we’re making – are the right ones.
I wish there was a clear, easy answer about why this conundrum is still happening in 2023, more than twenty five years after the start of the digital revolution. It’s obviously complex, but here are three ideas:
- Leaders assume everything is measurable – Most marketing leaders struggle to understand that not all digital efforts are measurable. A surprisingly large swath of digital marketing efforts can’t be consistently tied to any real business impact. We might have leading indicators (e.g. “consumers reached” by your TikTok), but no real way to measure whether and which consumers did anything afterwards.
- Move Fast and Break Things – A lot of leaders are still biased towards speed and movement, at almost any cost. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but they aren’t Zuckerberg and they aren’t working in a well funded startup where topline growth matters more than anything. The “move without measure “approach is just rash in most corporate settings.
- Measurement after the fact – A lot of marketing leaders assume (still!) that you can go back and measure any digital efforts after they have concluded. They don’t know, or haven’t been told, about the work required upfront to get clean measurement
- Poor discipline on strategies and tactics – There may not be good rigor on aligning objectives, strategies, tactics/key results and business outcomes. In other words, the teams often measure the wrong things. Or, worse, don’t know what they *should* be measuring
If you are a leader of a growth/marketing team, the solution starts with you. As you’re working through your strategies and operating plans, take the time to engage your reporting/analytics/data teams early. Get them in the room with your team, as you’re developing or updating your plans. Take the time, with the team in the room, to interrogate the plans. Ask the hard questions:
- How will we know our strategies are working? – What would be the outcomes that would tell us we made the right strategic choices?
- What would need to be true to measure/validate those strategic choices? – Can we go beyond leading indicators (i.e. visits, clicks, reach, whatever) to get at the downstream outcomes (i.e. usage by segment, conversions by customers acquired by specific campaigns, gross margin, etc).
Then support the investment in operationalizing the data in parallel with the rest of the marketing work.
Leaders should acknowledge their role starts with strategy but encompasses the data, too. Great measurement is rarely easy. Discipline up front, means a better chance to get quality data. So, give your data and analytics team a chance to drive real, genuine insights, by doing the disciplined work upfront to clarify what absolutely, positively needs to be measured.