What’s the golden rule of marketing? Know your target audience! Nowadays, we get most of our information about consumer’s behaviour and preferences from their digital footprints. But do these data-based insights provide a strong enough foundation for a successful marketing campaign?
Is data-driven marketing the new gold standard?
Big data and smart data are marketing’s new superstars. More and more, data-driven marketing is seen as the flagship discipline of online marketing. It promises to deliver a better understanding of consumers by analysing collected data points, enabling companies to react swiftly to customer behaviour. It promises them the ability to quickly identify and even anticipate new trends. And it promises the creation of fully automated campaigns that are perfectly tailored to consumers and speak to them directly. Sounds great, right?
At the very least, it sounds good enough that companies are willing to part with large sums of money in return for the collection and analysis of user data. After all, the automation of marketing processes claims to deliver increased efficacy and a better ROI. But the calculation isn’t quite that simple. As shown by (for example) the recent DATA DRIVEN COMMERCE STUDY BY THE GERMAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE DIGITAL ECONOMY (BVDW), companies struggle to derive benefits from their data.
Turning data into profit is more complicated than diligently collecting user data to feed into mysterious tools that somehow handle everything else. It requires data experts who know how to handle the data – that is, how to interpret it correctly and develop a strategy based on their findings. On top of that, using data requires creativity, knowing what types of data can be usefully combined, and understanding what the benefits of dynamic systems that adapt advertising materials to consumer are. And, last but not least, getting the most out of data requires entrepreneurial thinking. After all, better targeting reduces scattershot advertising, but the data it uses doesn’t come cheap. So perhaps we should be asking how not to do data-driven marketing? Here’s an example:
Endless, bland content that repeats the same message over and over
X wants to go on holiday and is researching accommodation on Lake Garda. He visits the websites of a number of providers, including some booking sites where he saves a few options as a logged-in user. He takes a break from looking, intending to continue later. By that time, however, X’s browser is jam-packed with banner ads for Lake Garda holidays, and his inbox has started filling up with marketing emails as well. If they feature a message, it’s always the same: “Dear X, this Lake Garda accommodation is still available for your travel dates. Book it before someone else does!” Or: “Dear X, are you still interested in staying at the So-and-so Hotel on Lake Garda? Book now for the low price of so-and-so!”
X remains unmoved by these appeals. He takes the time to compare the details of the available offers and discuss them with his family, finally using a booking site to make a reservation at a hotel where he and his family spend their holiday. Long after X returns from Italy, however, the online ads continue to pester him – and when it’s time to book next year’s holiday, he suddenly starts seeing ads for last year’s hotel. Just in case he’d forgotten where he went or what the hotel was like.
And it’s not just travel advertising that suffers from this problem: whether it’s for electronic devices, furniture, clothes or other products, automated marketing is frequently redundant and lacking in real content. Few consumers will be moved by this kind of advertising.
Creativity and data – two sides of one coin
Even the most tailored targeting with the best data is pointless if it is used to deliver endlessly repetitive content and messaging. Regardless of all the buzz around data and marketing automation, they are ultimately just tools. All they can do is help the creative product reach more people.
Similarly, the best ad in the world is no use if it doesn’t reach its target audience of people with a need for the product (microtargeting). If someone has just bought a vacuum cleaner, they’re unlikely to want another one – no matter how good the ad is.
In short: only the right combination of data wrangling and creative effort can make an advertising campaign successful. Marketers need to show empathy, enthusiasm and the courage to try new things, even if it means risking failure. At the end of the day, marketing needs more than data – it needs heart.