Why Your Marketing Department Is Likely Behind The Curve

If your marketing department is still using guesswork instead of real consumer data, it's time to shake things up--a lot.

Here’s a paradox for you: As businesses continue to expand further and further into the realm of digital marketing, CMOs are the only C-suite executives who are just beginning to use hard data to prove results.

CEOs, on the other hand, are consistently tasked with providing reports to validate their contribution to the bottom line. So are CIOs and CTOs. Yet with a surplus of consumer data now publicly available and easily collected, most marketing chiefs still get by on their perceived benefit to the company without having to accurately demonstrate their monetary value add.

And yet CMO budgets are growing by leaps and bounds, year-over-year. Marketing budgets were projected to grow 6% last year. By the year 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than their counterpart CIOs.

It’s time to stop guessing where this money is showing return and start spending effectively in line with data-driven results. Here's how:

Invest intelligently in digital marketing

Digital marketing spending now represents more than 2% of company revenues. That number is expected to swell to 9% this year, according to Deloitte, while IT spending remains flat at 3% of revenues. Eventually, nearly all companies will invest substantial revenue in digital marketing. And they can all do it, too: there will never be a shortage of online billboards to paste a logo onto, or vacant ad space before the next YouTube video to buy up.

But when every company out there speaks up at the same time about their message and their story, the result might sound a lot like a shouting match. How, then, will you get your voice in the customer’s ear?

Start by hiring a data scientist to review the customer data you've already got. It's a huge asset that is likely untapped (or poorly tapped at best)--use it to make the ad space you're purchasing worthwhile. Take the time to research where your audience is and test different messages on different outlets to make sure you get the most bang for your ad buck.

The same goes for any customer-facing marketing spend--don't dive in blind.

Seek out data-driven solutions

Make use of the deluge of data that’s available to decipher exactly what each individual customer wants to see and hear. Partnering with a third-party resource might be your best bet at making sense of the data.

Looking outside of your own business may be more common than you think: these days, up to 50% of all digital marketing resources are outsourced, while major players are scooping up digital marketing technology companies for enormous sums. Oracle acquired Eloqua for more than $800 million, while Salesforce purchased ExactTarget for $2.5 billion.

Regardless of where you turn to make sense of the data, there’s only one surefire way to stick out amidst the growing din of the digital marketplace, which brings us to the last point.

Personalization is the key

Personalization means knowing precisely what to say and when, based on predictive analytics and proprietary algorithms. Task your CMOs with using concrete data points to define your company’s marketing successes and failures and arm them with the resources to measure them. Then, let the numbers justify the newly increased budgets and prove results.

Some ideas to get started:

Monitor your traffic. If your goal is traffic, ask whether your CMO is successfully obtaining links back to it. Check Google Analytics regularly to see which keywords are driving people to your site. Use them to drive content marketing campaigns and blog posts to ensure even more traffic to your site.

Watch where and when you advertise. Purchase media ads at the end of the month or quarter. You'll get better pricing. Also, make sure you or your CMO asks what their readership is for the site, and more importantly, their newsletter. People who subscribe to newsletters have actively opted-in and are a better representation of the true audience.

Use data to deeply segment your email marketing. Don't only segment into one or two buckets. Every variable (single/married, kids/no kids, income, location, etc.) is an opportunity for you to offer truly targeted messaging. If your database isn't robust, there are data companies that can append further information on each of your customers. Once this is accomplished, don't only monitor opens (a recent study showed people open email up to 23 hours a day, but only act during one "magic hour"), but clicks and ultimately purchases/conversions.

Use overall metrics to monitor progress. There are a plethora of companies that provide reporting, dashboards, and insights connecting each marketing tactic to help your company collect, visualize, and act on results. As the adage goes, you don't know where you're going, unless you know where you've been.

For those of you with marketing departments ahead of the curve, what else would you suggest? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

--Erik Severinghaus is the founder & CEO of SimpleRelevance, a Chicago-based company focused on digital marketing personalization. Prior to that he received a patent while in IBM‘s IT Optimization organization, and helped co-found iContact, a leading Email Service Provider.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

[Image: Flickr user Bruce Guenter]

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