Data is fundamentally changing how advertisers approach the art of marketing. Now, we can track pretty much anything online — our campaign decisions are influenced by factors that extend far beyond the impression and conversion metrics that permeated the ad industry just five years ago. Big data and the rise of new marketing analytics technologies can now give us insight into virtually every aspect of campaign performance, allowing brands to assign a value to the amount of time that a consumer spends with an ad creative, calculating online stickiness and engagement, measuring the viral sharing of content across the web, and even evaluating social influence and sentiment surrounding interactive content.
This metric-centric shift in advertising has enabled marketers to hone campaign approaches towards what they believe they can achieve – but this is not without some drawbacks.
“The biggest drawback of data is that it’s often misinterpreted and misused,” said iStockphoto’s Director of Marketing Sona Khosla. “Data itself doesn’t really tell you anything; it’s all in the interpretation and answering the question of why. So data can also lead you down the wrong path and give you false confidence in your assumptions. Data is a lot like a sharp knife. When used skillfully, you can cut through and get some phenomenal results fast. If it’s mishandled, it can hurt your marketing efforts so much that your brand bleeds.”
Okay, so if science is stifling the creativity of marketers, why are so many relying on this data in the first place? Today it is just expected that advertisers use the data they have at their fingertips to attempt to calculate campaign success, even if the metrics don’t directly support the business decisions. Who really cares how many shares a particular ad had over another, or how much time people spent commenting on the ad? Will past performance really help predict the success of future campaigns? A CMO may demand access to key performance data, but this is also a way to cover his own ass. If the campaign fails, he can always point to the mound of data on his desk and say that the data steered them in the wrong direction.
Khosla also discusses the intrinsic value of science for advertisers: “Data is also changing our take-to-market strategies. We are no longer seeing the kinds of big bang launches where you’d send one big brand message, then have to hold your breath and wonder how it would be received. Instead we are seeing a lot of pre-market testing to find out what’s going to work best within select segments. Then big companies are rolling out the winning strategies to specific markets and audiences. It’s definitely creating a lot more work for new marketing organizations as we learn which segments respond to which messages, creative and channels.”
Gone are the days of relying solely on an advertiser’s creativity, passion and zeal when pitching ideas for a new ad campaign. Since everything today can be measured, there is no longer a guessing-game aspect to marketing, and this both a boon and a limitation. Embracing the unknown gives a creative marketer carte blanche to invent something truly unique and groundbreaking. Not being able to always predict the outcome of a campaign provides an inherent sense of freedom, that one is not limited by historical metrics or stodgy, legacy approaches that may have worked so many times before, but lack true originality. In the past, one’s creativity alone drove campaign success.