In today’s hyper-competitive environment, CMOs continue to be under pressure to deliver consistent and sustainable top line growth while ensuring that they’re spending less each period. So, what’s new, you might ask? Having to deliver on expectations (aggressive though they might be) is not new. They know that. They’ve had to do so their entire careers. The reason I want to discuss this issue is although the challenges haven’t changed, the tools they have available to them have. These have evolved and become more complex but the biggest change they struggle with is the amount of information.

“The amount of information? We now have so much! Isn’t that good?” That’s the reaction you would expect. Wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t like a lot of information?

Not senior marketers, that’s who!

Most of them would rather have less information that is reliable and actionable than the huge amount of data that gets thrown at them every day. They get primary and secondary research data. They get transactional and behavioral data. They get data from all the social networks. They also get operational data. And, let’s not forget that all this data is in addition to the emails, texts, tweets, posts, voicemails – you know where I’m going… most of this data comes in a number of discrete pieces and continues 24/7/365.

Why is this a problem for senior marketing leaders?

A majority of senior marketers of today, began their careers and learned their craft in the world where quality information (about consumers, competitors, environment, supply chain, etc., etc., etc.) was limited and required a lot of time to obtain. I still remember the time when clients would wait for the Nielsen share report to be issued a quarter after the launch of a new product to see how the product did in launch markets. Or, when they hired people all over the country to collect competitive information about pricing, product availability and promotions physically from local markets. These folks would then mail what they collected every week to a central location where it was collated and analyzed. The results were then presented each month to the company’s marketing leadership. It then took another few months before they responded to these learnings. My favorite… continuous tracking study results that were always at least a quarter behind real-time. I’m sorry if I’m scratching old scars for the veterans who’re reading this.

All of us learned our craft in this more sedate environment. At that time, we depended on specialists who collected, evaluated, analyzed and synthesized this information for use within the company. These folks were the research and insight gurus. They translated all the information they obtained into a few “big and strategic insights.” These insights were embraced across the entire company and over time became brand truths that drove the focus and prioritization for the entire business.

Fast forward to today. We now have too much information. Our hunger for it has grown exponentially (the more information that becomes available… the more we feel compelled to add to it). Companies are subscribing to a large number of information sources while increasing the amount of primary research and analyses. Research/analytic budgets have been growing consistently, in some cases, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of new kinds of reports. The digital domain continues to generate more and more information – from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram. Very granular transactional and operational data from across the company (customer call data, complaints, etc.) worsens the information deluge. And, all this data comes in real time forcing us to respond in real time.

The real conundrum? How can you understand the information, define the issues, create/develop a solution, and execute it… if not in real time… quickly?

The answer should always start with your core customers. Always. If you have a deep and abiding understanding of these folks, where you would be very comfortable in their shoes, you will be able to quickly and intuitively reduce the cacophony of all the noise and zero in on the most relevant problem to solve or win to celebrate. Most companies, ironically, don’t have a clue and are hard-pressed to describe their “most valuable customers” who make their business successful. In the past four months, only one marketing leader was able to describe her “best customer” in human terms, in a way that all could relate, out of seventeen episodes. And, this is my experience with large sophisticated marketers with annual marketing spend of over $250 Million on average.

Next, dig into your core customer’s beliefs. Deeply held beliefs, about the role of the category and your brand in their lives. Connect their beliefs with their behaviors (transactional, behavioral, social, and environmental) to understand the level of dissonance (in most cases) or resonance (very rarely). This approach will lead you to category-busting innovations and distinct, differentiating and profitable business-building ideas.

So, instead of drowning in the data deluge, interrogate the data and use the information that can help you make quicker, better and more actionable decisions to grow your business faster than your competitors. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It actually is.

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