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PHOTO: gustavo centurion

Marketing leaders have no shortages of applications to support their marketing initiatives today. Scott Brinker, VP platform ecosystem at HubSpot and the editor of, estimates the marketing technology (martech) ecosystem has swollen to more than 7,000 solutions. These include everything from CRM and automation platforms, analytical and reporting attribution tools, natural language processing interfaces to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For most marketers, the push to become more data-driven isn't a hard sell. While there is significantly more marketing data available today than ever before, 61% of CMOs report difficulties extracting insights from their data.

Most marketing organizations are drowning in data while starving for usable information — information that can be used as intelligence to support creative decision-making, business strategy and marketing success. Ultimately, for data-driven success, marketers need more than just data — they need a way to create insights that provide a real cognitive boost. Organizations that achieve measurable success embrace data as a cultural keystone of their business, cultivating analytics skills within its workforce and actively using data in the creative process.

Related Article: You're Drowning in Data – Now What?

Data-Driven vs. Creativity: Crossroad or Conflict?

According to the Global Marketing Alliance, 72% of in-house marketers view the “culture of measurement” as stifling to creativity, forcing an emphasis on data rather than creative methods of campaign planning and performance impact. On the other side, a recent McKinsey study indicated that 80% of marketers believe data and analytics have had at least a moderate impact on the changing nature of competition in the industry. Despite the natural tensions between quantitative analysts (quants) and creatives, marketers share a fundamental recognition that data has inherent value to the industry.

Balancing the creative impulse with data-driven intelligence will enable marketers to establish a valuable skillset that they can use to become true hybrids adapted to thrive in data complexity. But to do this, data from omnichannel sources must become far easier to manage and integrate. True omnichannel integration means capturing data from across an entire organization, especially finance and sales with a focus on CRM data for accurate cross-channel performance analysis.

Marketers and agencies need to be able to connect, blend and analyze data from multiple sources. Plus, they need to have the skills to transform that data into visually impactful intelligence to enable actionable insights before, during and after marketing campaigns. This is not just about centralizing data, which is often a complex and unnecessary task. Rather, it’s about being able to pool and access multiple sources to create a singular view.

Easy right? It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, though. Regulatory changes and consumer privacy concerns are reshaping how organizations can capture, manage and use data for marketing. Data compliance is now both a global and local challenge with the EU’s GDPR, Brazil’s LGPD and California’s CCPA all requiring various levels of data transparency and mechanisms to make personal information editable by consumers. Marketers who violate these regulations risk exposing customer data, decreasing engagement and loyalty, and facing steep fines.

Some organizations have been tempted to build integration capabilities into all of their marketing data sources. But the total cost of ownership of managing and maintaining integrations far outweighs any short-term cost savings. If you build it, you own it, whether it works or not. Uniting data from multiple sources and ensuring common naming conventions for a "single version of the truth" requires complexity. Aggregating marketing data across even just a few channels can be complex, expensive and difficult to maintain. Plus, adding and maintaining connectors to match the pace of innovation in the wider industry can cost thousands of dollars and take months.

Done right, marketing data and analytics can have a powerful impact on client trust as well as budget and sales increases. That said, doing it right means that marketing and IT need to have a close relationship. The stunning reality of that relationship is that 38% of marketing departments in under-performing companies "rarely" work closely with IT on data strategies, according to the Association of National Advertisers’ Marketing 2020 Big Data and Analytics Survey Report. Where they do have close working relationships, the benefits are profound. The same report said marketers that can blend being data-driven with creativity can improve performance by 15% to 30%.

Related Article: Accepting Privacy as a Customer Experience Issue

Be the Change You Want

So how can marketing organizations become more data-driven? Here are some excellent places to start:

  • Make Data Crucial: Data should be an indispensable part of daily marketing activities. Compel your organization to provide data-based explanations of recommendations and decisions. A data-driven culture ensures marketing data is used at the beginning, middle and end of all campaigns and projects to make marketing more effective and responsive in real-time.
  • Democratize Access: Make data accessible across the organization and empower everyone in marketing with analytical tools. Train your team to ask what happened, why and what to do as a result. This leads to cognitive uplift and contextual analysis that leads to actionable insights.
  • Visualize it: Marketers don't lack data, they lack insights. Technology can help solve some of that, but it also requires skill and technique. Enable marketing teams to share and illustrate information through visualizations and tell a story based on data. Incentivize team members to compete to create the best visual displays of data and then celebrate them. Telling a data story means making data easily consumable, visually impactful and personally meaningful.

Make it marketing’s mission to ensure their teams are using data-driven, creative storytelling to keep an audience engaged, whether that is an internal audience like executives or a board, or an external one, like clients or prospects. While data analysis might not be a technical competency of most marketing teams, it’s a skill that can be built with exposure and a little thoughtfulness. Tactics like hosting datathons will help foster creative and curious mindsets and this will inspire a more engaged, productive and transformational team.