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Culture trumps data

Marketing has undergone a tremendous shift over the last decade. The customer journey has morphed from reliable funnels to unpredictable nonlinear paths, driven by digital marketing and the near-ubiquity of mobile devices. All of this technology has given marketers new ways to communicate with customers and join them on their journey in authentic and valuable ways. And because these capabilities are underpinned with data, marketers have a depth and breadth of knowledge of their customers that was unfathomable 10 years ago.

It's only natural in this data-rich environment that marketers are striving to be more data-driven in their decisions. Their aspirations are high and growing. According to Gartner, 69 percent of marketers from companies of all sizes say their decisions will be quantitatively driven in 2017.

But the reality on the ground often doesn't match these aspirations. A recent Forrester survey shows that 74 percent of firms aspire to be data-driven, yet only 29 percent say they're good at translating the analytics into measureable results. Such a large gap is mind-boggling. After all, in this age of big data and wave after wave of analytic tools that bring more powerful processing at unbelievable economics, why are so few companies using analytics to leverage this data and drive results?

The issue is that most companies focus solely on data and tools. While it's essential to have great data and world-class technology, becoming successfully data-driven hinges on the organization's ability to adapt and change. And this is where most companies struggle.

The volume and magnitude of change in marketing has helped engender a recognition that the old ways of doing business are no longer good enough (or no longer enough.). Yet at the same time, making this change can create severe friction and resistance from established interests. Thus, the journey to being more data-driven is often derailed by entrenched ideas and old ways of thinking. Facts that everyone knows must be true turn out to be false. Decision-makers feel threatened when inconvenient truths expose flawed decisions. All of these create resistance in the organization, despite a general agreement that being more data-driven is essential to the brand's long-term survival.

To put it another way: culture trumps data.

Therefore, marketers seeking to build up the data-driven capabilities of their organization need to ensure their plans begin with understanding and engaging the culture of their team.

Accept the past to embrace the future
On the surface, making the case for becoming data-driven seems easy. But implicit in the argument is a criticism that the current state is insufficient. Presented the wrong way, the case for change can appear to be an indictment of the present way of doing things, a critique that will put your stakeholders on the defensive and set you up for failure from the outset.

Moreover, as you bring your data together in new and different ways, and use new tools to analyze the data, you are likely to "shine light into dark corners," exposing data quality issues or outright incorrect decisions. This too can create resistance from stakeholders who worry about being exposed.

Thus it's important from the outset to recognize this -- acknowledging that the current state has left the team hamstrung, requiring them at times to take shortcuts -- but make clear that the focus is on moving to the new data-driven state.

Gut-based versus data-driven is a false choice
There is a common fallacy that one must be either data-driven or gut-based. But this a false choice. The best gut-based decision makers hunger for data to help test and direct their gut. And their gut helps them synthesize the data with their intuition and experience to come up with new insights and hypotheses that stimulate even better data-driven decisions. Seek out your best gut-based decision-makers and eliminate this potential source of conflict by listening to their concerns and ensuring they understand this is a win-win scenario.

Give yourself a snowball's chance
Changing an organization takes time and patience. You won't succeed with a broad-based overnight changeover. Instead, take a snowball approach. Start with one small project where you can have a measurable impact. You're trying to be more data-driven, so make sure you can measure your results. Collaborate with the team to analyze the data and make a change. Measure the results and see if things improved, and then do it again. By starting small, you can learn and build capability faster. And these quick wins give you credibility so you can start to tackle the larger and more difficult decisions.

Try to over-communicate (hint: you can't)
If you're not telling your story, someone else is telling it. In the midst of change, culture can be considerably more susceptible to rumors and half-truths. Your best defense is frequent and transparent communication. All of your stakeholders need to hear from you regularly. Formal in-person meetings build community. Weekly email updates build transparency. And informal one-on-one or small group discussions build trust.

By addressing the cultural barriers to change, marketing leaders can ensure that the powerful data and analysis tools they're deploying will actually improve their team's data-driven decision capabilities.

As Vice President, Marketing Analytics Strategy, David Schmitt leverages over 20 years of experience in marketing and analytics to help Beckon’s customers ensure they have the right measurement strategy in place, and an adoption plan...

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