It’s Time to Take Advantage of the Full Potential of Data in Marketing

We’re on a precipice of bringing relevance and precision to strategies

Marketing systems need an upgrade or risk falling behind as data innovation advances. Getty Images
Headshot of Michael Dill

In today’s marketing and advertising industry, data is part of every conversation, every pitch and every plan. Now that we all agree that the inclusion of data is table stakes, the conversation must go beyond simply acknowledging the need for it or claiming the possession of it. The right conversation is about where it comes from (proprietary first party or commodity third party), what the intent to use it is and how it can more effectively connect people to brands through better, more granular intelligence.

One of the areas where data has been most applied and is often the beginning and end of its application is in the targeting of consumers through paid media. Using data for this reason alone is like only using the toothpick on a Swiss Army knife and ignoring all the other tools. The application of data is limited only by a lack of organizational practice in envisioning how to deepen the brand’s relationship with consumers beyond the legacy approaches of the prior decade.

Since applying data to consumer connections is still at a nascent stage for many organizations, targeting remains one of the most pervasive uses and is an obvious place to start down the data brick road. Data can be utilized to find heavy users, light users, loyals, rejecters, etc. The problem with this application is that regardless of how granular the data may be or how rich the findings, it often remains constrained to traditional best customer segmentation. Data’s potential is equally confined by the traditional annually-planned executions and the CPM construct that focuses on efficiencies of delivery versus effectiveness of deeper, more personalized, relevant and newsworthy connections. These differences are not subtle; they are miles apart.

Legacy marketing systems, with their foundation in media and reach efficiencies, aren’t built to capitalize on the potential of agile, data-informed marketing.

The application of data is ready to move beyond determining segments of consumer demographics, psychographics or geography. Instead, using data to understand and identify people by motivation is a far more powerful proposition. It’s more personal, more human, more contextual and reflective of the wants and needs that products can solve for people.

Legacy marketing systems, with their foundation in media and reach efficiencies, aren’t built to capitalize on the potential of agile, data-informed marketing. The next generation needs to be. Data-driven marketing needs to see the humanity in the numbers, the emotion and the context because reach and frequency are just means to an end while harnessing and directing consumer motivation is everything.

If we agree that a brand is a heuristic for the solution a consumer needs or wants from a product, then deeply understanding the common needs and the desires are far more important than the demographics. We are more united by shared needs and wants than we are by age, gender or ethnicity, and through this lens, we can begin to provide marketing that feels personal to the recipient yet is delivered in scale from the marketer. Assuming that all millennials, boomers or moms will act in a similar fashion is like assuming that all people with red hair would act alike as well. Motivations, not demographics, are where we connect with products and services and where we find connection and community with one another.

Every day through digital and social media, through posts, likes, reviews and comments, through networks and sensors, we leave breadcrumbs of digital activity that imply actual sentiment. These sites of engagement are where the most useful and telling data is made, and as the world’s best-funded creative discipline, marketing can create content on these sites that is designed not just to engage, but also to inform us of motivations implied by that engagement. These bits and bites enable us to deliver communications with a motivational context or a circumstance of need or want.

This more valuable data enables us to then connect with people around shared motivations, delivering quickly digestible content designed to engage with something that feels personal and poignant. Any given individual may have very different motivations for behavior based on the various circumstances they face at any given time.

The choreography of data driven by human signals at-scale can embed brands into life’s circumstances and allow for near-immediate measurement of receptivity. For example, if we find a signal about a person’s interest in joint pain, we can deliver content about relief, but when we go deeper, the signals may tell us that one person’s joint pain is from playing tennis well into their 70s where another’s joint pain is from lifting a newborn as a young mother. And for many companies, especially large consumer goods manufacturers, they likely make many products that can each deliver on the same specific need or want, providing a very effective ability to retarget based on the consumer motivations.

I don’t believe this approach will replace the efficient delivery of mass media. Television has had well more than nine lives. What I do believe is that a motivation-based approach delivered through digital, social and experiential channels begins to utilize data in a far more human manner, allowing brands to solve someone’s needs and wants.

In an age where personalization at-scale is a highly sought-after approach, there is an opportunity for personalization that comes from activating on these common motivations: what I want, how I feel, what I need and ultimately what converts me to engage and buy. Identifying and delivering content based on motivation beats traditional demographics hands-down because motivations better tap into emotional, basic processes. They rekindle existing memory structures and use the least amount of mental work.

Data that helps marketers move past the who has bought stage and gets further into understanding the motivations of why people buy (and importantly, don’t buy) and where those triggers occur results in communications that are truly consumer-centric.

Let’s light this candle. We have the tools, and it’s time to connect the pipes. The future of progressive marketing is now, and it’s about separating signals from noise to bring much-needed humanity, precision and relevance to marketing. Frankly, we don’t have a choice.


Michael Dill is president and CEO of Match Marketing Group, and a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.