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James Parnum 

Let's get real about data to avoid the past mistakes of digital

Let's get real about data to avoid the past mistakes of digital

James Parnum, partner at MediaCom UK, sets out the three rules of data for successful growth strategies

“Data is like teenage sex. Nobody’s doing it right, and too many guys are bragging about how good they are*”

*Stolen proudly from Twitter, thank-you @Thomas_Firenze

Will this be the decade of data? The new wave of data evangelists would seemingly say so and are hellbent on whipping up data-driven hysteria, and consequently, a new fanatical movement. 

However, in the pursuit of the data-driven age can we all just pause for one minute please. 

This might sound a little trite, but data is just information to make better decisions. Indeed, we have always had data in our lives, but may have merely called it facts, figures, or research. We just have more of it these days, but that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it right.

This warning is not intended to diminish the data opportunity that lies before brands (far from it), but to encourage us all not to make the same mistake as we did with digital and put it on a pedestal to be revered, fetishised and handled by an elite cult of specialists.

Unfortunately, history has a habit of repeating itself and I am hellbent on not making the same mistake twice.

Now with that settled we can now focus on three simple rules that can help any advertiser use data to make the difference for their growth strategies:

Rule #1: You don’t need more data

 

The amount of data available today is mind-boggling. Every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data on the internet, there are 3.5 billion Google searches, 500 million tweets, 19 billion text messages are sent, four petabytes generated by Facebook … and so on to the power of infinity.

The list is endless and far from exhaustive. Therefore, arguably before you go to ask for more data simply start by asking what do we have, and more importantly, who is analysing it for you?

At MediaCom, we firmly believe that unlocking the potential of data comes from applying the whole brain, both the creative and analytical sides, and thus reviewing data through both perspectives will open up a wealth of opportunities.

Indeed, having creative-minded people dig into data and data-natives in return apply their imagination allows for new insight to be discovered.

This whole-brained approach is consistently applied to Tesco one of the most data mature brands in the industry, thanks to the success of Tesco Clubcard.

For example, for its 2019 Centenary campaign, social listening data unearthed a unique conversation around Freddo chocolate bars, which had become a symbol of inflation facing shoppers today. 

Historically, a Freddo bar would only have cost you 10 pence, but over the years had jumped up closer to 30 pence. A figure of fun, the Freddo Inflation index was even created.

Tesco seized this opportunity to roll back the price of these little chocolate bars, whilst also aligning with the campaign objective of showing the nation that they had always stood for great value through the ages.

A social and PR masterstroke with over half a million Freddos sold in only seven days – that’s 20 weeks’ worth of sales, with 683m OTS of PR coverage and a social ROAS of over five to one.

Rule #2: Prioritise long, over short-term data

 

The second rule is to not let short-term data drive the long-term vision.

The explosion of data points has come largely from our increasingly grubby digital fingerprints that leave a smudge across the web, apps, and browsers.

The lure of acting on this real-time data should always be balanced with the overall strategic vision. Simplistic as it sounds but advertising is designed in two ways to either evoke an immediate or long-term response. Both are valid and proven routes, and most advertising does both to some degree.

However, if a brand wants long-term growth (frankly which brand doesn’t?) then making decisions based on short-term data signals is a sure-fire way to “optimise yourself into a sub-optimal position” (thank you Chris Binns).

The u-turns from Proctor & Gamble, and most recently, Airbnb from this year were all public confessions that they had put an over-reliance on data to improve short-term performance and efficiency at the expense of long-term brand growth.

This does not mean that data was at fault, but merely that the choice of data used to make decisions was not evenly balanced between the immediate and long-term strategies of these brands.

Data is rarely whole, complete and true, yet regularly collected, analysed and presented with in-built biases, especially in the short term.

Rule #3: Data is no substitute for insight

 

The third and probably the most important rule is that data and insight are not interchangeable.

A lot of pressure is put on data to be the solution for all manner of marketing dilemmas.  However, data means nothing unless it helps form a genuine and credible insight about your brand, category, execution, campaign, or audience. 

Insight is what gives brands a competitive advantage. Thankfully this is where us humans can still add value.

Across the pandemic there was a wave of data to compute and the Wrigley’s Extra team was able to make sense of it for their younger 16–24-year-old target audience. 

At the start of lockdown in March 2020, online dating saw searches increase by 400% in one week alone, dating apps saw over a quarter increase in new users, and all dating apps saw week-on-week increases in traffic.

However, social listening data told a deeper story. The majority of social interactions might have been moving online, but this younger audience also needed confidence for virtual dates, as much as they would for real world meet-ups.

This insight led to the idea of ‘Love in lockdown’, positioning Extra chewing gum as a brand that could help the younger generation feel good and navigate this unchartered world of virtual dating with confidence.

A co-funded-programme was born bringing E4’s Celebs Go Dating into the virtual world and the creative idea amplified through an end-to-end connected system including PR, SEO, social, influencers, on pack and in-store.

Now that is teenage data worth bragging about.

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