The role of data in marketing

I’ve heard and read quite a bit lately about how data can fix everything in the enterprise. Big Data, small data, data lakes… data will make everything better. I read very recently how data replaces the “shoddiness of intuition”, how data can help to redefine your marketing to be science, rather than art.

Except that none of that is true. Data can make things better to a degree, but data cannot completely replace intuition, nor can it transform anything that relates to human beings to pure science. There are two core reasons why.


First, your data – especially around marketing – must be clean and correct in order for it to be usable. Bad data is actually worse than no data, because no data means you know you’re guessing. Bad data creates a false sense of confidence. Imagine basing digital strategy around your web analytics, only to find that the tracking code is missing from half the pages on your site.

Second, data is largely backwards looking. This is simple fact; I cannot get a copy of tomorrow’s data. I can at best get machines to uses sophisticated algorithms to forecast and guess at data, but that’s still guesswork and not objective fact. A machine would not have correctly forecasted, for example, the stock market crash of October 24, 1929.

Third, data is meaningless by itself. Your ability to interpret it, to analyze it, is what makes it valuable. Having data is like owning cookbooks. If you’re hungry, it can help, but only if you know what to do with it.

So what can data do for you? More than anything else, data can help provide guard rails. It can help to confirm or deny your intuition, give you a sense of where the correct answer might live. If you’re faced with a strategic choice in your marketing, data can suggest which choice might be the better choice based on past performance or other people’s experiences. Data can tell you when you’ve reached certain milestones (or are about to) or alert you that a course correction is needed.

Above all else, recognize that data is only one tool in your toolkit. It’s only as good as your capabilities, so if your intuition or experience is the best tool for a given situation, use the best tool for the job.

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What Apple Watch and Apple Pay mean for marketers

As many others did, I observed with great interest the Apple keynote special event on 9/9 in which the new Apple Watch and Apple Pay were revealed. Both are nice consumer technologies; both will have plentiful opportunities for B2B and B2C marketers, but the underlying technology of both will have a more profound effect.


Let’s talk about Apple Watch first. Based on how it was demo’ed and what things it should theoretically be able to do, Apple Watch’s NFC and Bluetooth LE capabilities will mean Tap to X functionality across a wide variety of media. If you’ve ever used a Disney Magic Band while at Disney World, Apple brings that capability to the rest of the world. Expect companies like LinkedIn to take advantage of it for sharing contact information at a conference. In fact, woe to the conference or event planner that doesn’t offer that capability in its conference app.

Speaking of which, the Tap to X capability should certainly make conferences and events more interesting. Frankly, I’d love to see conference apps with session management that send the notifications to the watch.

The second thing is Apple Pay. NFC readers are nothing new; in fact, you probably see them every day and gloss over them because you don’t have the dedicated hardware necessary to use them. Gas stations have loyalty programs like Mobil Speedpay, which has an additional key fob. Disney World has them with Magic Bands, but again, those require separate hardware. By putting Apple Pay front and center and getting merchants and banks on board, NFC payments might become much more mainstream. Since it’s already a standard, this means that Android users will benefit as well.

Touch to pay via Apple Pay will change the SMB landscape, probably more than the general retail space, if consumers adopt it. The use of Secure ID with the fingerprint scanner may help provide some additional reassurance, but Apple will have to battle security perceptions (celebrity photo crime as the most recent example) to reassure customers that it’s actually secure, even if the two systems – iCloud and Secure ID – are not technologically related to each other.

Touch to pay systems could have one profound improvement for marketers. Depending on what is supported in transaction systems on the back end, it could mean much better real-world conversion tracking for digital campaigns. Merchants will receive the same data they do today, but because the device being used to make a payment is digital, there will be more opportunities to track a real-world clickstream from digital promotion to brick and mortar store to digital purchase.

What should you be doing about these things? As with any new technology, particularly ones that will be adopted by Apple customers (who are a fairly large herd), there will be lots of opportunities for “firsts” that can generate attention. Be on board with those, obviously – first X to deploy Apple Pay in an app, first X to have an Apple Watch app in your vertical. In the bigger picture, be looking at the many different ways you can incorporate NFC and Bluetooth LE technologies into your marketing and business processes. There’s a horde of new users headed into that space, and any invention you can come up with will be to your benefit.

Finally, get seriously good at understanding mobile app analytics and mobile web analytics. Apple Pay might open up a new frontier in our ability to understand purchase behavior and conversion tracking from online to offline. This is going to be a huge opportunity for the smart marketing technologists to provide immediate value to their companies. If you haven’t already started skilling up on mobile analytics, bump it up on your priority list of things to do ASAP.

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Validating your marketing audience

One of our toughest challenges in marketing is new people – specifically, how to find the right new people to keep our businesses growing. Without new audiences, without new growth at the top of the funnel, our businesses will tread water at best, if not decline. In the bad old days of marketing, we had to take out massive numbers of advertisements to very broad audiences in the hopes of catching the attention of a tiny piece of a part of the audience that we actually wanted to do business with. We had no idea who our audiences were, and certainly no way to tell who they should be.

Today, things are a little better. Thanks to the abundance of data from social media and digital marketing analytics tools, we can gain an understanding of who our audience is, and who it should be. Let’s look now at how to determine whether our company’s audience is aligned with the broader audience we could have.

We’ll start with the characteristics of your existing audience. For this, we’ll use Google Analytics. If you don’t have demographics turned on, now would be the time to do that. (if you don’t know how, I’m available for hire through my employer ;) )

We’ll use my website data as the example. Here’s the broad demographics of my audience.


What we see here is a sweet spot of sorts, ages 25-54 where the bulk of my visitors are coming from. That’s one thing to note. There’s a gender imbalance, about 3:2 in favor of males. Is this good? Is this bad? I don’t know yet. Let’s keep digging.

I can also look at their interests:


Finally, I can go search – assuming my Google Analytics is tied to my Webmaster Tools account – to see how people are finding my website.


So now I’ve got a reasonably good starting place to understand my audience. From here we’ll flip over to Facebook Audience Insights, part of the Facebook advertising suite. If I plug in some of the basic characteristics of my audience, like age and topic (marketing), I can see what that audience looks like.


There’s an immediate and painful disparity: Facebook shows me that the gender balance for marketing folks is 2:1 female. My audience is a mismatch to the broad population. Now suppose I want to reach executives in digital marketing. I’d restrict the annual income to over $100K household income:


Now I’ve got a sense of what my audience should look like versus the reality of what it is today.

At this point it’s safe to draw a conclusion: my audience could and should look a little different than it currently does. Since I just built this exact audience on Facebook using their Audience Insights tool, I could simply hit the advertising button and start showing ads to them immediately. I could also do some research to find out where else this audience spends time online and look at those outlets for either advertising or contributed content opportunities.

So to paraphrase the popular credit card slogan: what’s in your audience? Go find out and then see if it’s in alignment with reality.

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