Is Everyone Doing Data Without Me?

Confession: I’m a big Mindy Kaling fangirl.

No, not because she’s pushing racial boundaries in Hollywood. No, not because she’s boldly speaking out for women’s rights. And no, not because she has wicked timing and delivery. I mean, yes, of course those are reasons, too. However, the reason I love her most is that she has the courage to say the needy, pitiful nonsense that goes through my head OUT LOUD.  

One of her books is titled, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and I think that title is genius. The emotionally charged word EVERYONE strikes such a nerve — that looming, archetypal concept encompassing everyone BUT YOU.

If we’re honest, don’t we all have weak moments of thinking we might be missing out on some big secret to success, fun and happiness that EVERYONE has already figured out? And by Mindy Kaling actually saying it, doesn’t that insidious voice in our head get normalized and put in its place and quieted down so we can overcome it with logic?

It does. Go, Mindy. You go, girl.

This voice isn’t just reserved for our illustrious personal lives. It’s part of our professional lives, too. Like you, I’ve sat at conferences and flipped through thought leadership pieces and case studies on Big Data, omni-channel marketing, the new consumer decision journey, the advantage of first party data and every other marketing buzzword.  

Let me summarize the findings — basically marketing is about to sit on its head and everything about this profession is getting ready to change.  

I’m a career marketer, and I’ve been reading this stuff for years. The Mindy Kaling thought that always enters my head is, “has everyone figured out how to do this but me?” The marketing revolution is upon us, but my job is looking only slightly different. Am I going to get left behind?

Now I’m in a unique position. I’m a marketer who works for a data company so that gave me a pretty great reason to actually call “everybody” up (or at least a subset of everybody) and ask them where they were on this omni-channel, data-driven marketing revolution. I wanted to answer the question for us all, “Is everyone doing data without me?”

Here’s what I found after talking to 20 marketing leaders at both big and small B2B and B2C companies, analysts and thought leaders. I hope by sharing these findings it helps normalize your data journey, too.

Data is frusssssssstrating.

All 20 marketers said they find data challenging because it exists in silos across the company. Many firms had made the effort to start joining data from different systems, but it was never clean. Data was almost always partial or fields had unusual, unintuitive meanings that only the data-initiated in the company knew. Ultimately, when a marketer asks a very fundamental question across multiple data systems, he or she gets complicated, unclear and partial answers that he or she can only partially trust. A data-driven answer these days is more directional than exact. Getting the answers is onerous and resource-intensive and often requires a maddening fluency in firm-specific data dictionaries that will make you go cross-eyed. No one I spoke with reported a clean and easy experience with data.   

Data isn’t the answer. The answers are the right questions.

I spoke to a couple lifelong marketing practitioners who coach Fortune 500s on how to get their data in order. They told me the same thing. Companies who jump on the jolly data train without a clear destination often wind up very far off course. The hardest part of a data strategy is figuring out what questions you need to answer and what you should ignore. What are the top-level, secondary and tertiary measures of success? How do you get those measures to be valid and reliable? Until you’ve answered that, you risk overwhelming your employees with reams of spreadsheets that don’t help them make decisions.

Marketing is taking IT matters into its own hands.

I’ve read tons of articles about the emerging corporate dynamic duo — the partnership of the CMO and CIO. In reality, no marketers echoed that sentiment in my discussions. One brand marketer in the CPG space told me flat out, “IT is not our strategic partner in the business.” Several marketers explained the complicated ways they were working around their IT organization and shuffling budget to fund technology projects because IT simply wasn’t responsive enough. With long planning cycles and more internal, cost-focused goals, the IT team is perceived as rigid and unresponsive. If marketers want a project done, they’re finding a way to execute it inside their organizations.

CRM, DMP, CDP….What the what?

These are technology terms thrown around regularly in the ongoing discussion around a data-driven marketing organization. I asked each marketer to explain to me their understanding of what each system did. Unless someone’s day-to-day responsibilities had her overseeing one of these systems, she only had a superficial understanding of its capabilities. It takes a lot of research to understand these systems and marketers are frustrated by it. One marketer got really upset about the confusion in the space. “Every vendor sounds like they do the same thing. I feel like they’re all inflating their capabilities just to confuse me and get an anxiety driven sale.” In response, marketers are disinterested in academic classifications of marketing technology and just want to know exactly what metrics a piece of technology will move in their business. Pragmatism, not abstract idealism, is the goal here.

First party data is interesting to marketers.

Taking control of your own data, especially data around consumers’ responses to your marketing, is really attractive to marketers. In the past, agencies and vendors have owned vast stores of this information. Marketers are starting to view that data as an important asset to bring in-house and guard it as a competitive advantage. I spoke with a Forrester analyst about this subject and she said she received 30 inquiries from B2C marketers related to this topic in the month of September alone. The issue is heating up.

Marketers are exhausted and the data discussion today isn’t energizing.

This was one of my favorite insights because it was so relatable. One marketer told me that everyday, five days a week she has “10 hours of back to back, double booked meetings” and that “she’s lucky if she finds time for a bathroom break.” Another marketer told me the last thing he wants to do on his way home from a grueling day at the office is listen to a data podcast. He’s listening to sports. Marketers generally aren’t energized by the data discussion. It takes a lot of effort to get well-versed on the marketing technology space and most marketers just don’t have the bandwidth. They’re hoarding their little amounts of free time to pursue subjects that are very rarely related to marketing.

What does all this mean? Marketers are in varying phases of the data-driven marketing journey. The topic is gaining momentum, but it’s hard and slow and marketers need really pragmatic approaches to it.  

A note about my methodology: these 20 interviews with marketers are obviously a very small subset of the marketing universe and have sampling bias. Think of it as a series of anecdotal pulse points. Look for a blog post from me next week that aggregates some 3rd party data to describe where the market is in a more holistic way.

But rest easy, marketer. Bottom line — everyone is not doing data without you.