When I started as a brand manager at Kraft Foods, our focus was on driving consumption and shipments to retailers. We did this through increased advertising and effective in-store promotions.

We used data to drive decisions. We were focused.

Our scorecard was (and maybe still is) the weekly retail scanner data that informed us of how successful our programs were in the market. Religiously, every week, we looked at the consumption and shipment metrics. We monitored our advertising campaigns with the same rigor. How was TV performing compared to print or in-store? Was the mom-centric campaign outperforming the kid-centric campaign?

This was over a decade ago. Using data in marketing is not a new way of operating.

What has changed is the size of the data landscape and the sheer number of metrics. We’re not dealing with 30 basic cable channels and newspapers. Digital has exploded, and, with it, the job of the marketer has become increasingly complicated (and fun).

There’s now a plethora of potential advertising mediums, and new ones are popping up literally every day. Big data analytics provide us a greater opportunity to uncover trends. Predictive analytics can give us a glimpse at likely futures so that we can proactively respond to market changes.

It’s more complicated, but it’s also ripe with opportunity. Those that can navigate the new landscape and adapt quickly can outperform their competition.
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It’s not just the role of data that has expanded in the past decade. Marketers today also spend more time focusing on the wider business strategy than they do on advertising, according to a survey conducted by Marketing Week. The role of marketing leadership has shifted towards more holistically representing the customers’ needs in the business and identifying opportunities for growth.

The vast majority (83%) of senior marketing respondents believe customer experience is now more central to their role than it was five years ago. Additionally, 79% of marketers report that data analysis has become more important, and 74% believe brand strategy plays a bigger role, too.

With the expanded strategic nature of the marketing role, marketers have to know what consumers want, be willing and able to challenge the business to deliver on it, and have data to back up their recommendations.

In fact, in another survey of marketers at 436 companies in the US and Canada, Bain & Company compared the companies that were increasing sales and market share to their laggard counterparts.
Market leaders were three times more likely to use data to make decisions, and they made those decisions 2.5 times faster. For example, they are three times more likely to use data to change campaign spending. It’s so important to their internal processes, that they are 50% more likely to hold this data expertise in-house vs. externally.

Data is helpful for decision making, but every data point represents an actual human being. A customer who is making a choice to engage with the brand in some way (or not). Great marketers have always known this and have strived to create an emotional bond with their target customer, regardless of methodology.

If you’d have told me 10 years ago the breadth of data and analytical tools that would be available to marketers today, I wouldn’t have believed you. The future will hold new opportunities to better understand our customers and drive better decisions based on that understanding.

Here’s what I hope the future will bring:

1. Data visualization across the ENTIRE customer journey, not just the point of purchase.

One of the recommendations based on the study above was to “paint a holistic picture of the customer” using data analytics and insights. We have traditionally been focused on the most easily measured point of the process: the purchase decision. However, we need to somehow make it easier and more likely for customers to arrive at that point. This takes more types of data, and, even more importantly, new analytical tools so that we can visualize the customer journey. Data visualization will make these analytics more intuitive to interpret and easier to act on.

2. Use of customer choice insights to understand the “why” behind consumption and other data.

If you’re a Vennli client, you know that this future is NOW, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to using customer choice data across the entire organization to improve decision-making. While there may be bright spots of market leaders who are differentiating themselves by gathering this type of intelligence, it’s not yet the status quo. We are just at the very beginning of this movement.

3. Transparency of customer data across the entire organization to enable customer-centric company cultures.

A lot has been discussed about customer-centricity and customer-focused company cultures, but this isn’t possible without transparency of customer feedback and data. This can pose some very real challenges for organizations because customer data is often located in different places and not easily accessible. It also needs to be presented in a way that is meaningful and actionable for employees across a wide range of roles. New systems, processes, and tools will need to be developed to make this easier for organizations.

What would you add to this list?

The job of a marketer is remarkable because the field changes rapidly and you’re never done learning. I’ll put those in my time capsule and bury it for the next 10 years. Hopefully the future will amaze me with new innovation that I can’t yet even conceive.