Marketers aim at drafting idiot’s guide to usable data
F/NE CEO Mandi Fine turns raw data into a goldmine of personalised, relevant, engaging communication to reach consumers, writes David Furlonger
Science is transforming marketing and communications, says Mandi Fine. What a pity then that the most basic communications skill of all — language — is so neglected.
Fine is CEO of F/NE Group Global, an agency that made its name in healthcare communications, but has now also found a niche translating gibberish into English. Fine’s team "liberates" corporate and scientific jargon so it can be understood by ordinary people.
As healthcare scientists are hired for their research and medical know-how, not language skills, there has always been a need for specialists to turn technical information into something intelligible for advertising campaigns. This means not only helping consumers understand products’ properties, but in-house staff too.
"How many times have you met people who can recite official jargon about their companies’ products but can’t explain it in plain English?" Fine says: "If they are stumped, what hope does the customer have of understanding it?"
It’s a problem not unique to healthcare, which is why F/NE is moving into other industries that need their messages simplified. Clients such as Bayer, Discovery Health, Life Health Group and Ascendis attest to the agency’s healthcare past, but others such as Investec and Liberty show a shift. About half of F/NE’s business is from offshore.
"Financial services is an obvious place to go, particularly insurance, which is linked very closely to healthcare," says Fine.
"Law is also an area that needs simplifying. I’ve never known how people can benefit from contracts and small print they don’t understand."
Now the gibberish risks becoming even more complicated. The arrival, in recent years, of digital technology has transformed advertising and brand communications. Some traditional marketers admit they don’t fully understand some digital campaign tricks undertaken in their name.
Now it’s the turn of more new sciences to make heads spin even further. The capacity of data analytics to provide detailed information on the personal and group habits of consumers is all-encompassing — some would say frightening.
Cellphone signals and vehicle-tracking devices allow your daily movements to be recorded to the nth degree.
"We know who customers are, where they live and work, what they spend their money on, what they read and how they relax," says Fine. "By distilling what’s important, we need to leverage the sophistication of data to create personalised, relevant, engaging communication and, in turn, effect change in customer, staff and stakeholder behaviours."
The trouble is, many companies don’t know how to use this information.
Fine says: "It’s not in most marketers’ DNA. They don’t know how to unlock the value, to simplify this mountain of data into meaningful marketing communications."
Hence the need for specialists who can create an idiot’s guide to usable data.
Creativity and storytelling still play their part but so do science, academic research, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and analytics
"We are almost dragging clients, forcing them to embrace analytics," says Fine. "Knowing what to do with the information, and how to get consumers on board as well, is pure gold."
The days are long gone when advertising and brand communications were the sole preserve of creative types able to build on a single smart idea. Creativity and storytelling still play their part but so do science, academic research, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and analytics.
Fine says she saw some of the challenges at first-hand when she judged the pharmaceutical category at the Cannes international advertising festival in France. Among campaigns considered was one for spectacles with facial-and voice-recognition technologies that help Alzheimer’s sufferers recognise loved ones; and another for an amphibious prosthetic leg.
"The insights that go into realising the need for products like these, creating them and then marketing them, are totally different to what were required in the past," she says.
Rather than assumptions, brands and their communicators now have the tools available to test marketing. "If we apply these niche skills to marketing and communication, we are able to derive more robust, accurate answers to brand questions."
Despite this, "traditional marketing and communications agencies tend not to hire individuals with data analytics and academic research skills, which can make it difficult for those agencies to draw meaningful insights from data", she says.
Traditional business and data consultancies do hire such people but lack the ability to turn the information into "simple, engaging messages".
"The winning combination is an equal focus on understanding and solving problems and on communication that will drive change and create buy-in," says Fine. "Too rarely do the two sides meet."