Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

Marketing has never been as precise or rewarding. Brands can place campaigns in front of people who want their products and services on the specific platform they’re using at the exact time they are using it. No media wastage, just an increase in sales and the true effects of a good return on investment.

Which raises the question: why are SA marketers so hesitant to jump onto the lucrative data-driven band wagon for their marketing campaigns?

The first media-rich banner ads appeared online in 1996, and mobile marketing reared its head in the early 2000s. Over 20 years later, most marketing efforts are still featuring general advertising campaigns, casting a wide net and hauling in equal numbers of buyers and waste. Barring a few exceptions, very few have dared to place data at the heart of what they do. 

What’s putting them off?

SA marketers have in the past shown caution when it comes to taking the digital leap. This was evident 10 years ago, when companies strongly resisted taking out a banner ad on a website. It took a herculean effort for marketers to achieve this feat.

Now, brands can serve online adverts directly to only those people who want to see their messages, with zero waste. But doing this isn’t without its challenges, and this has prevented many from using data to market more effectively.

The most common challenge is corporate culture. If a company’s culture prevents it from committing to data-driven marketing practices, it’s highly unlikely there will ever be a return on investment on any attempts to use big data in marketing. Generally, these companies are satisfied with the results of the “spray and pray” approach and don’t fully realise the true value data-driven marketing offers. Until there is a level of awareness of the potential returns, the status quo will remain unchanged.

The big take-out:

SA marketers need to take the plunge and use data-driven campaigns, with the understanding that it’s not a short-term investment and that results take time.

Technology gaps lead to an inability to collect, analyse and capitalise on the insights available. 

Changing the marketing function from an expense into an investment requires a high level of commitment. But the only way to win tomorrow is to invest today, so it is vital to make an investment in technology to collect data and teams.

Another significant barrier is a deficit of internal skills for using data and analytics. Unfortunately, in some cases the focus rests more on the deployment of tools and software and less on the adoption required to see success. That’s if you’re fortunate enough to have the right staff complement. For other companies, there is a lack of employees who are either skilled in this area or willing to be upskilled.

Generally, the results aren’t immediate, and consequently marketers are reluctant to take the plunge. To put it bluntly, it will be 12 months before you’ll see tangible bottom-line results, and up to 24 months before you can realise the full returns. So it’s crucial that you kick-start your data-driven marketing initiatives sooner rather than later by reaching out to those who can show you the way.

No business can take on board technology and people in rapid succession. The solution isn’t to do everything immediately, but to make a full commitment to investing, pushing forward in the face of obstacles, and continuing to aim beyond where you are at present.

The alternative is to risk seeing your competitors surpass you, because those who take full advantage of innovative and intelligent technologies now will have the biggest competitive advantage in the future. And it will take that much longer for you to regain your position in the market.

To achieve the benefits of data-driven marketing initiatives, companies must reach a level of maturity where their underlying infrastructure and teams can expertly handle data gathering and cleansing, statistics, analytics and model building.

A few forward-thinking SA data agencies have understood that 2018 is the year of analytical and not statistical marketing campaigns. Consequently, they have invested in technology innovation, analytics experts and third-party data programmes to help their clients reach the right customers.

• Stephanie Walters is a digital media specialist at Dot Network (Amorphous New Media).

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