The "Human Element" Impact on Data-Driven Marketing

By Media in the Age of Algorithms Archives
Cover image for  article: The "Human Element" Impact on Data-Driven Marketing

While working recently for a leading marketing analytics firm, I noticed that a big chunk of my time was spent helping marketing leaders figure out their internal RACI charts while helping them improve ROI. Since data-driven marketing is a major change initiative this was not a total surprise, but the time devoted to "human" issues vs data issues was eye opening.

(Editor's note: We welcome our new columnist Pattie Glod. This article is the first in a series titled "What Brand Marketers Need to Know.")

After starting up my consultancy, I wondered whether this was being experienced more broadly. Colleague Natasha Householder and I embarked on a series of 28 one-on-one interviews across 25 different marketing and tech companies. We chatted with brand marketers, media professionals and executives at data firms, plus industry leaders who work directly with marketers. We learned a lot. Here are some headlines and observations that can help you recognize what is happening with your humans as they work to accomplish great things for your business.

To start: Marketing, Analytics, Media and Finance need a shared definition of marketing success.

These teams generally work under the same enterprise goal of revenue/margin or profit. It is the strategy where there is a frequent disconnect. According to a leading industry analyst (and confirmed by several marketers):

  • Finance often wants to maintain results (revenue/margin/etc.) at a lower cost
  • Analytics tends to want to improve the result at a flat cost
  • Media teams want to improve results so they can justify increased budgets

Three valid approaches; differences can come from training or from how each team's individual goals (those their bonuses are based on) are structured. Finance's mantra has been "more for less" for as long as I remember, while the media business culture is still rooted in billing as an indicator of stature and job security. Unfortunately, these differences conflict when it is time to act, resulting in delays and even team gridlock. Get everyone on the same page upfront and don't rethink the strategy without a reason.

Next: Clear role sort across analytics, media and marketing is not the norm, and appears to be the biggest barrier to success.

I once worked in a place where top management deliberately set leaders in overlapping roles to motivate them through internal competition. Yes, great ideas can occur in that environment, but the stress and turnover it caused was so destructive. This type of deliberate overlap is thankfully not the norm, but it happens frequently in fast moving companies. Among brand side interviews, less than a third said decision making authority is clear when the data calls for change. Cross-functional teams brought together without a clear leader/decision maker cannot be agile or decisive. On the flip side, all brand marketers with role clarity reported that they were making agile decisions and getting traction on improving marketing results. Indeed, role clarity seems to be more aligned with "successful" use of data than any other single measure: more important than your industry, your analytic partner or agency, or how long you have been engaged in the process.

This is fantastic news: The biggest potential driver of success is in the control of the marketer.Empowering a cross-functional team leader with decision making authority is not easy. There will be individuals who will disagree with your choice and be frustrated and hurt in this process, but the upside appears significant and worth the pain. Cross-functional training is critical for this leader because a siloed specialist can't make fully informed decisions. Analysts must fundamentally understand the media ecosystem; media managers must "get the math" that data-driven marketing employs. It takes an integrated view to lead and choose wisely.

Marketing leaders can diagnose the health of their "Human Element."

Six leading indicators emerged that show if the "Human Element" in a marketing effectiveness team is healthy or not. The first is paramount, while the rest help uncover causes if No. 1 isn't being accomplished.

  1. Timely decisions are consistently being made and implemented when the data indicates change is needed.
    1. In today's environment, timely means 48 hours or less.
    2. The decision can be to accept the change, test the change, or pass on the change. The important thing is that the decision is made, and the team moves on.
  2. The team managing marketing effectiveness has a shared definition and strategy for success that matches that of the CMO.
  3. Finance has an active role and positive attitude toward the work.
  4. Analysts and Media touch base frequently and understand each other's field at a fundamental level.
  5. The decision maker is designated across multiple use cases.
  6. Deadlines are being met throughout the cyclical optimization cadence.

On the flip side, the absence of one or more indicators means unhealthy "human factors" may be lurking below the surface and inhibiting success. Marketing leaders can gauge this by conversing with team members, participating in meetings where decisions are to be made and spot-checking deadlines for a period of time. Investing some attention to this "Human Element" will pay dividends for both the business and the people driving it.

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