Using Big Data Better: 3 Tips for Marketers

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Big data is reaping big benefits for all kinds of businesses these days.
And yet in many companies, big data is creating some big headaches. This seems particularly true for Chief Marketing Officers and their teams who are often perceived—and perhaps rightfully so—as being at the wrong end of the big data learning curve.

What is the solution to this big data dilemma for marketers?

According to a recent article on adage.com by Jennifer Zeszut, the CEO of Beckon—a SaaS software company created by marketers for marketers—the answer lies in using big data more efficiently, which means thinking more like a CFO.

For marketers faced with big data challenges, the following insights and takeaways from the article should prove helpful in using big data better.

The need to bring order to chaos

“Imagine a corporate finance department operating as follows,” Zeszut begins. She then proceeds to paint a picture of a cavernous and chaotic warehouse, where paper receipts, purchase orders and checks pile up and teams of financial analysts scramble to sort out the mess in an effort to compile a coherent quarterly earnings report. It’s a ridiculous scenario. And yet Zesznut says that, “…this is essentially how many marketing departments manage spend and performance data right now. Marketers let their data remain in a state of utter chaos until they need it, then they start digging.”

Complexity creates challenges

As the author points out, marketing in a world of big data is highly complex, calling for large numbers of “specialized tools and teams to execute.” Compounding the problem is the fact that spend and performance data needed by marketers is scattered all over the place, particularly among departments that operate autonomously, each generating its own uniquely formatted report that often sits ignored on desks and in email boxes. Then, when the CEO wants to know if all of the money being spent on marketing is paying off, there’s a mad scramble as marketers and data scientists search, “through haystacks of piecemeal data looking for needles of insight.”

Of course finance doesn’t manage its data this way, explains the author, who then offers the following finance big data tips that marketers would do well to adopt.

1. Be intentional and consistent – “The moment a company is created,” explains Zeszut, “the finance team ‘sets up the books,’ establishing a general ledger or chart of accounts that lays out how finance will categorize spending and report on performance to plan.” In like manner marketers should also “begin at the end” by setting up a “chart of accounts” that encompasses all of the reporting categories for all the data that flows into marketing. Topping the list will be the reports that should be kept at the marketer’s fingertips as well as those reports most frequently asked for by the CFO and the CEO.

2. Structure data on the way in – Zeszut cautions marketers to structure all marketing data as it flows in, shunning the more common practice of leaving data coming in from different sources in a tangled mess and assuming that it can all be normalized and made sense of later. “As reports come in,” she explains, “pull out the metrics that matter and ensure they’re tagged according to marketing’s chart of accounts.” She warns marketers that any untagged data should not be brought in until it is made right. “Finance doesn’t reimburse employees,” she points out, “unless each expense is properly tagged.”

3. Prioritize speed and consistency over perfection – According to Zeszut, the key to big data success for financial analysts lies in having standard reports at the ready so they can see how things stand at any given time. And she advises marketers challenged by big data adoption to first focus on the timely and reliable delivery of basic reports, and then strive to advance over time. When more specific reports are called for then analysts can be required to dive deeper into the data. Zeszut cautions marketers, “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” In other words, a good report delivered quickly will have more benefit than a “perfect” report delivered too late.

In closing, Zeszut cautions marketers that among the ranks of corporate bosses nearly 50 percent view the marketing department as “…bungling its data and tripping over its own feet….” As more and more companies adopt big data analytics as a driver of greater profitability and competitive advantage, CMO’s will be expected to incorporate big data analytics more effectively and efficiently into winning marketing strategies. Hopefully the above tips, taken from the CFO’s playbook, will help marketers to better meet loftier expectations.

Rick Delgado
Freelance Writer
I've been blessed to have a successful career and have recently taken a step back to pursue my passion of writing. I've started doing freelance writing and I love to write about new technologies and how it can help us and our planet. I also occasionally write for tech companies like Dell.

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