Marketers are some of the most data-savvy employees within any given organisation. Aside from the IT department, few people are as familiar with so many varieties of technology, both hardware and software. Reflecting this fact, Gartner predicted in its 2012 CMO Spend Report that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs. Looking at the modern business landscape, it’s clear that a large portion of this spend will undoubtedly be dedicated to supporting the gathering, storing and analysing of data. But are marketers being adequately equipped to manage and take advantage of the surge of information available to them?

Market insight is the bedrock of effective marketing campaigns, and a data-driven team can be the difference between competitive advantage and fading into the background. Investing in new tools is the first step, but fully embracing data takes much more. Whether it’s measuring campaign impact, assessing demographic models, or scrolling through social media activity reports, data drives everything. Marketing departments need to become fluent in it, ensuring it informs every single decision made. This may mean completely overhauling the way the department works, removing any reliance on instinct, intuition or guesswork.

But how can this be successfully achieved, and what are the main considerations when building a marketing team with data woven into its fabric?

Develop the habit

For CMOs and marketing directors, the first question when considering any decision should always be “do we have data to support this?” Some large organisations may make decisions based on the instincts or experience of senior team members, but that’s no way to plan or deliver campaigns that translate into actual impact. Always look for the data and use it to inform the decision-making process. The sooner this habit is formed, the better.

Grant access

The traditional approach of businesses has often been to hide data away and grant access on a case-by-case basis. This is no longer tenable. Gathering and storing vast quantities of data is absolutely vital, but its value increases dramatically the more it’s used. Liberating data and encouraging marketers at every level to explore it only leads to greater value and further insights being unlocked.

This applies to more than just the usual, straightforward ‘marketing data’ too. CMOs wanting to empower data-driven decision making need to grant access to as much company and marketplace data as possible. More data means clearer context, more accurate conclusions, and more effective planning.

This approach shouldn’t be adopted hastily, without considering security measures and controls. However, those organisations that embrace this idea from the beginning will be able to reliably unlock value from their data on a regular basis.

Provide tools and training

Data was once the exclusive domain of the IT department. Even now it often falls squarely within the remit of technical experts who can write code fluently and are trained in statistical analysis. The problem with leaving data in the hands of these specialists is that those who know the organisation’s marketing questions best then aren’t able to interrogate data directly themselves – they have to go through a technical intermediary.

Opportunities arise and disappear at a startling speed, especially within the sphere of social media. Marketers need to be able to react to these opportunities almost immediately, examining relevant data themselves to judge what should be done. In fact, they should be using data to predict what’s coming next – discovering trends, anticipating future behaviour and preparing for it. Proactivity is just as important as reactivity, and it enables marketers to stay one step ahead.

They know the organisation’s marketing priorities better than anyone else, and that means they should be equipped with the tools to ask questions of the data, and trained in how to use them properly. Answers can be discovered in minutes rather than days, supporting the agility and efficiency that any successful business depends on.

Encourage the cultural shift

The data may now be accessible, the right tools are there, and all critical decisions are based on data. In order to make this shift permanent, you need to cultivate and encourage a ‘data culture’. Data-driven decision making needs to spread through every level of the marketing department.

Findings, processes, and examples of best practice need to be shared with everyone, and new joiners should be shown the data analysis tools as soon as possible. This atmosphere of collaborative working allows marketers to learn from one another, drawing on each other’s creativity, ingenuity and problem-solving skills.

If you already have data-driven individuals within the team then make sure you’re supporting their development. They in turn will be motivated to develop their analytical capabilities and embrace the use of data on a day-to-day basis, encouraging others to follow suit while being happier and more fulfilled themselves.

Fostering the right culture is the key to the ongoing success of a data-driven team. Encourage data familiarity, fluency, and comfort as soon as possible, and keep on encouraging it. Growth in a data culture can undoubtedly lead to more insightful and effective marketing campaigns, ultimately delivering bottom line impact.

Stuart Wilson

Stuart Wilson


Stuart Wilson is VP, EMEA, Alteryx, Inc.