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Marketing in the Age of Big Data

August 3, 2015


“Advertising has changed from an industry governed by hunches to one of data-driven precision,” writes Sq1 CEO Ernie Capobianco (@goernie20), “and the driver is maths.”[1] Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder and CEO of WPP, adds, ““The web has changed our industry just as fundamentally as it’s changed society at large (should code be a new language skill taught at schools?). It’s true that technology increasingly sits at the heart of the creative process alongside the traditional crafts.”[2] Capobianco agrees with Sorrell that data scientists are no longer bean counters and that they are now part of the creative process. He writes:

“For many years, maths (in terms of advertising) was relegated to the bean counters of the agency. It was considered grunt work with low pay and long hours. It was anything but glamorous. But those days have changed; maths is now an essential part of the advertising environment. It touches every department: account services, media, even creative. … As advertising has become dominated by data-driven insights and elements such as 3D technology, maths is no longer the ugly stepchild of the agency; it’s now a driver.”

Capobianco’s and Sorrell’s comments can only lead to one conclusion — there is a lot going on behind the scenes in the advertising world. Marketing campaigns are the pointy end of some very long spears at the other of which are very large sets of data — commonly called Big Data. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Big Data as “extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.” Having access to large data sets, however, doesn’t mean anything if those data sets aren’t properly analyzed for actionable insights. In a number of previous articles, I’ve stressed the fact that good answers begin with good questions. Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael), head of strategy at NewsCred, agrees with that statement; especially in the area of marketing. “I think Big Data for Marketing is more about the questions than the answers,” he writes. “More about the insights than the technology.”[3] He elaborates:

“The opportunity lies in defining how Big Data can help you better reach your customers with your messages in a way that gets them to act. And this starts with simple questions like: how did your last campaign perform? Which keywords drive conversions? What websites did my prospects visit before they came to my sites? Which social conversations are spurring the actions that lead to deeper engagement with your brand? Big Data for Marketing is easy to say but hard to do.”

Joju Mangalam (@jojumangalam), Director of Marketing Performance at Act-On Software, agrees that asking the right questions is the best place to start. He suggests that one of the most important questions you can ask is: What are the key problems that your business needs to solve with big data?[4] He goes on to suggest five areas where big data can help solve challenges currently faced by marketers. The first area is connecting “the dots between marketing activities to opportunity creation.” By that, he means, assessing the contribution of various marketing activities to actual outcomes. He writes, “Such insights will help justify resource investments in campaigns and help marketers plan marketing asset creation better.” The second area identified by Mangalam is using big data analytics to help marketers “find the true ROI of marketing spend.” The third area is helping to “identify the true value of a visitor for outbound marketing.” The fourth area is identifying “the priority for following up on an inbound lead.” The fifth and final area is leveraging “customer marketing to increase product use and decrease customer support needs.” He adds, “Big data can connect the world of marketing and customer support, enabling you to install and fine-tune best practices for customer marketing.”


When it comes to connecting with customers, the most important technologies, now and in the future, are mobile devices — especially the smartphone. Robert Cookson (@robert_cookson) asserts, “Mobile advertising is about to reach a tipping point.”[5] In that area, he believes there are five trends that will have a significant impact on future marketing campaigns. The first trend is the use of programmatic advertising. He explains that programmatic advertising involves brands and media groups buying and selling advertising space using automated computer systems. As cognitive computing systems become ever more sophisticated, the ability to pinpoint the right ad for the right person at the right time will become commonplace. The second trend in mobile advertising identified by Cookson is the ability to be more creative on mobile devices. He explains, “Advertisers are increasingly able to deploy more creative and elaborate ad formats, including video, thanks to improving smartphone technology and the adoption of high-speed, 3G and 4G wireless internet connections.” The third trend involves location marketing. “Smartphones provide advertisers with more data than any other medium — including location data, accurate to just 10 metres, and the opportunities for advertisers to exploit this are becoming ever greater thanks to technology.” The fourth trend involves a growing area of mobile technology — wearables. Although wearables might not present many advertising opportunities, “the opportunity to use data collected by apps on wearable devices for better targeted ads on a wearer’s smartphone” should increase. The final trend identified by Cookson is cross-device targeting. On their digital path to purchase, consumers use numerous touchpoints. Coordinating data across these touchpoints has been difficult. Cookson observes:

“Brands have found it difficult or impossible to obtain a single view of a consumer across devices because the mobile advertising industry relies on a separate set of technology to the desktop advertising industry. Increasingly, however, the silos between desktop and mobile are being broken down. Google and Facebook are at the forefront of this trend, providing ways for brands to target consumers on mobiles using desktop data, and vice versa, whether on their own sites or those of third parties.”

Ritika Puri (@ritika_puri) agrees with Capobianco that big data analytics holds the key to the future of advertising across all channels. She notes, “Data science is one of the biggest trends in business.”[6] She adds, Data science programs can help sales leaders run their operations more efficiently, focus efforts on the ‘right’ sales prospects, and uncover missed opportunities.” She identifies “three trends that every sales leader should know.” They are: The ability to generate accurate sales forecasts, faster; the forethought to transform ‘analysis’ into ‘what-if’ optimizations; and, the opportunity to tell a stronger customer story using licensed data. Cognitive computing systems can help in each of those trending areas because they can handle many more variables than traditional computing systems. They can also perform analyses that have previously been unavailable. All of this adds up as more evidence as to why the future of marketing is going to be data driven. Capobianco concludes:

“Marketing is maths and advertising is a vital component of marketing. It’s not just about understanding your target audience and how to reach them; it’s about knowing how much money it takes to get your message out. It’s about data, formulas, statistics, analytics, correlations, patterns, predictive modelling and testing. The common denominator of all these elements is maths. From search engine optimisation to programmatic buying, numbers, figures and equations help marketers leverage information to better connect with target audiences and drive their clients’ businesses forward. Even creative departments are now driven by data: analysis determines messaging, design and user experience.”

[1] Ernie Capobianco, “Maths marketing: why modern ad agencies need mathletes,” The Guardian, 2 October2014.
[2] Martin Sorrell, “Don Draper Wouldn’t Recognise 75% of What We Do,” LinkedIn, 12 June 2015.
[3] Michael Brenner, “Big Data For Marketing? It’s All About The Questions,” B2B Marketing Insider, 14 May 2013.
[4] Joju Mangalam, “Five Areas Where B2B Marketers Can Leverage Big Data,” Business 2 Community (B2C), 18 June 2015.
[5] Robert Cookson, “Five trends that could drive future campaign strategies,” Financial Times, 28 April 2015.
[6] Ritika Puri, “3 data science trends that can supercharge your sales,” The Next Web, 7 July 2015.

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