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Digital marketers are still struggling to make effective use of big data — and need to sharpen their technical skills or hire more people who can help them to maximize the use of data and analytics.

That's the picture painted by multiple recent studies, which seem to suggest few marketers have the requisite skills in math, statistics and big data platforms to make the best use of big data.

Marketers can theoretically develop highly targeted digital campaigns and promotions from massive amounts of data generated by websites, apps and the Internet of Things.

But only about one in four digital marketers are aggressively using such big data insights, according to a study released today by Seattle-based 2nd Watch.

Based on interviews with 500 IT and marketing professionals, the cloud IT operations company concluded most marketers have yet to scratch the surface of the full potential of data-driven insight.

Most respondents (38 percent and 40 percent, respectively) are only in the very early stages of using such big data and machine data from the Internet of Things to support digital marketing initiatives.

Making Sense of Data

The findings dovetail with other recent reports that paint a picture of digital marketers as data rich and insight poor.

Only 14 percent of marketers feel their team effectively uses the consumer, media and transaction data available to them — down from 39 percent in 2014, according to Getting Digital Right 2015. The report is Millward Brown Digital's second annual look at the state of digital marketing. Released last month, it reflects input from more than 400 marketers spanning brands, media companies and agencies.

"Until now, Big Data efforts have centered on knowledge gathering and exploration, but all this is meaningless without the right context and application. Cutting through the noise of Big Data to the measures that matter is what will make a difference and a meaningful business impact," Millward Brown researchers concluded.

Millward Brown Digital study

No one seems to doubt the potential of big data and analytics. But how can marketers tap the possibilities of that data?

Early this year, in its 2015 State of Marketing Report (free, opt-in), Salesforce rated marketing analytics as one of the three most important technologies in creating a cohesive customer journey. The others are mobile applications and customer relationship management tools.

"From analytics that help marketers create personalized interactions, to mobile applications that create personal brand experiences for every interaction, to CRM tools that let marketers track the span of a customer relationship, the customer journey relies completely on its technological elements," according to the Salesforce study. Salesforce surveyed more than 5,000 full-time marketers in Salesforce Marketing Cloud locations around the world last October and November.

Salesforce state of digital study

Get It Together

The most effective digital marketers will learn to leverage the internal and third party data available to them. Moreover, they need to overcome obstacles like cost, unsupportive executive teams and a lack of technical skills.

“Marketers need to go beyond their traditional agencies and broaden their portfolio of partners,” Jeff Aden, co-founder and executive vice president at 2nd Watch, told CMSWire in an interview.

Arden noted that 50 percent of the marketers 2nd Watch surveyed "are likely" to expand use of big data to support digital marketing. Another third report that their initial data-based programs have been so successful that they plan to divert resources intended for other projects to support big data-based digital marketing programs.

About 47 percent said big data-based digital marketing campaigns have been effective for meeting customer engagement and demand generation goals and 25 percent said big data helps them eclipse marketing campaign goals and realize return-on-investment.

Sell the Project

Arden said digital marketers have to work harder to sell the C-Suite on potential programs. Be clear on business objectives, he added.

“An example would be identifying a business problem that if solved would have a material impact on the business,” he said. “Are sales declining for a particular product? If so, focus the conversation on finding out why so you can make an informed decision as to how to deal with the issue.”

But it takes more than talk to succeed. Brad Hopper, an analytics evangelist and problem solver who works in the office of the CTO at Tibco Spotfire, thinks people are the missing element from many big data initiatives.

To make sense of the volumes, variety and velocity of data, a person needs three essential forms of knowledge:

  • Business skills to know what questions to ask and to recognize useful answers
  • Analytics skills to find trends, patterns, and outliers in complex data
  • Technical skills to organize, manage and provision data, and to facilitate action, automated and otherwise

That's not easy to find, he conceded. More often, marketers struggle with various groups and silos within their organizations, including engineers want to "get the work done our way," statisticians who want to "build the right models" and IT teams and developers who want to "manage the infrastructure"

To succeed, Hopper explained, you need to bridge the skill gaps across those three roles -- and get people to work collaboratively and share information. A team approach can make digital marketers more effective and help them squeeze the most actionable insights from their data.

“The costs increase even more,” he added, “when you consider the amount of staff that is required to support the old technology, including hardware and software."

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by tiarescott.