Here’s my prediction for 2020: This is the year that marketers finally lose their patience with marketing analytics software.
For the last few years, agencies and enterprises have dutifully invested in analytics software because they thought it would turn them into the marketing equivalent of Professor X, all-seeing and all-knowing, only with better hair.
It hasn’t. And people might start wondering why they’re spending all that money if they’re not getting what they expected.
That’s not to say that marketing analytics software doesn’t do anything. In most cases, it has sped up the process of creating performance reports. And those reports look better and are easier to read, too, as organizations replace PowerPoint and Excel with data-rich, eye-catching marketing dashboards.
For many marketing teams, though, analytics hasn’t produced the earth-shaking insights they were hoping for. It hasn’t helped them to improve sales, revenue or any other bottom-line metrics. As a result, they’re going to face increased pressure to justify their organization’s investment in analytics software.
The problem isn’t that marketing analytics doesn’t work — it clearly does. Alight has seen it happen again and again with clients who’ve used analytics to develop new products, boost revenue and turn data into a profit center.
Those teams have succeeded with analytics software because they’ve realized there are limits to how much you can do with software alone.
Marketers Need More Than Analytics Software
The single biggest mindset that most of us need to rethink?
“I just need to find the right software. Once I get the right platform, that’ll solve all my problems.”
Usually, we’re looking for a single platform that can handle every single step of the reporting and insight process, something that’s able to aggregate, clean, unify, store and visualize data through one interface. And we want this software to be “self-service,” or simple enough that basically anyone on our team can learn to use it.
But that platform doesn’t exist yet. Honestly, it probably never will. Marketing’s data ecosystem — the mix of platforms, ad networks and media channels available for executing campaigns — is just too complicated and diverse. There are thousands of options out there, and they all have their own unique way of generating performance data.
It’s extremely difficult for any one piece of software to automatically connect to all those data sources and make data from each source play nicely together. Human intervention is almost always required.
Even if a platform gives users a way to connect to any data source, it’s rarely “self-service.” The user has to know SQL, understand how to harmonize datasets or possess some other technical skill that isn’t in most marketers’ wheelhouse.
If you can’t get data from all your sources and harmonize it in unified datasets, then you can’t produce more advanced cross-channel or campaign-level reporting. You won’t be able to develop attribution models that show you what tactics and channels are generating ROI. And you won’t have the ability to build predictive models that show you where, when and how much to spend on media buys.
Simply put, there’s a ceiling to how much you can accomplish with self-service software. And I think most marketers are waking up to this. We regularly encounter marketers who’ve tried self-service platform after self-service platform, and who’ve become increasingly disillusioned in the process.
The Solution: Software, Strategy, People
So if analytics software alone isn’t the answer, what is? I’d argue the solution is a holistic approach to marketing analytics: software plus people plus strategy. Instead of tying all your hopes (and budget) to software, you invest in all the resources needed to produce actionable insights.
I’m not the only person who thinks this way. Earlier this year, Scott Brinker of ChiefMartec.com predicted something similar as part of his “Second Golden Age of Martech” post. Instead of relying solely on a single platform, he said, more marketers would choose to invest in a blend of software and services.
It’s why Alight Analytics is introducing a suite of marketing analytics solutions powered by ChannelMix, our marketing intelligence platform. Each solution includes dashboards, strategy, support and other resources to help marketers answer their most important questions about marketing performance.
When you have each of the essential elements in place — software, strategy and people — it becomes much easier to reach your goals for marketing analytics.
Having a strategy means that you’re intentional about the questions you’re trying to answer with your marketing data, so that you focus on metrics that relate directly to your organization’s most important goals. Once you’re clear on these points, it’s easier to collect and organize the data necessary to answer those questions.
And your strategy shouldn’t focus only on today’s needs. You should be looking ahead to the questions you’d like to answer in a few years’ time. Maybe you want to build a predictive model that helps you forecast buying trends and slowdowns. In order to reach that more advanced level of insight, you have to create a framework now for gathering and organizing the data necessary for more sophisticated analysis.
Yep, you still need software. But instead of a single platform, you’ll access more robust capabilities with a stack of software: a data aggregation platform, a dedicated data warehouse, a BI or visualization tool, maybe a modeling environment for more advanced projects.
A full-stack approach gives you the power to use best-in-breed platforms that excel at the specific job they were designed to do. If you find a different piece of software later that better meets your needs, you can more easily switch out that single piece of your tech stack.
(You can learn more about the different approaches to marketing analytics platforms, including full-stack, in Alight’s 2020 Buyers Guide for Marketing Analytics.)
Finally, you’ll need a team of people who can (a) use your software to the fullest extent and (b) do everything that software simply can’t, i.e. answering complex questions about marketing performance.
For many companies, the analytics “team” begins and ends with a single person, an analyst who builds reports and only builds reports because that’s all they have time for. You can do more when you have a complete team that’s filling six specific roles. In addition to an analyst, that includes:
- A strategist who can use data to make actionable business recommendations
- A solution designer to set up a framework for your data so that it’s scalable and efficient
- A data engineer who connects to data sources and builds views
- A data scientist to build predictive and attribution models
- An influencer to build support for data access and analytics resources
You don’t need six separate people to do all this. At a small agency, for example, the strategist and the analyst might be the same person. But if you can free your team members to focus on a specific role, they’ll have more time to develop work of higher quality and value.
Here’s to a Brighter 2020
I’ve been in the marketing analytics business for more than 13 years. And I’m still as excited about the potential of analytics as I was when Alight first opened its doors for business.
If you build the right framework and invest the time and effort necessary, it really is possible for marketers to achieve the kind of insight that allows them to prove marketing’s value and grow their business.
If you’ve got a question about building a marketing analytics practice (or getting one back on track) let’s talk — I always enjoy discussing data with fellow marketers!