Marketers are Still Operating in the Dark – A Q&A with Harriet Durnford-Smith, CMO, Adverity

Harriet Durnford-Smith, CMO, Adverity

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

Despite all efforts to become a truly data-driven industry, research shows 34% of CMOs don’t trust the data they are given to inform campaigns. This figure rises to a shocking 51% of C-suite analysts. When marketers can’t rely on their own data, they resort to gut instinct (like we saw with Cadbury’s gorilla ad!), with the hope their short term survival strategy plays out — sometimes it does. But — the potential repercussions are becoming clear — data phobic CMOs are afraid to test new creatives and unable to prove the value of campaigns to their board.

Harriet Durnford-Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Adverity explains.

Q: What is the biggest barrier to marketers being able to make insight-driven, real-time decisions?

CMOs don’t trust their own data. That was among the most staggering findings from our Marketing Analytics State of Play report. The fact that over a third (34%) of CMOs do not trust the data they are given to inform campaigns creates obvious issues for an industry that aims to be ‘data-driven’. It’s also clearly linked to the number one challenge cited by 42% of marketing departments: manual data wrangling. Not only are manual processes inefficient and time-intensive but there is also a high chance of human error; meaning output is often unreliable and comes too late to drive fast, meaningful and effective insight-based actions.

The result? Marketers continue to rely on gut instinct when it comes to making decisions around spending, budget allocation and campaign optimisation. This raises the risk of marketing budgets being misused or wasted, as well as playing it safe with new creative and missing opportunities. Sticking with the same old ads won’t help companies get noticed, either by the awarding powers at Cannes Lions, or more importantly, the audiences they’re trying to engage.

Q: Are marketers burying their heads in the sand when it comes to data?

Yes and no. Let me explain. In the scramble to master data, marketers are missing big pieces of the puzzle, especially the fundamentals of technology, people and culture. Our global survey of nearly 1,000 respondents showed 77% of those who claim to be analytically mature are yet to achieve a single, unified view of their marketing data. Moreover, it revealed 58% of marketing teams still spend hours every week cobbling their marketing reports together using Excel spreadsheets. But what does this mean?

Although marketers appreciate using data well is crucial to ongoing success, many are sticking with cumbersome legacy processes that prevent them from doing so – even if they think they have already hit the bar of optimal maturity.

There are plenty of probable reasons for this disconnect. It could simply be down to previous bad experiences – how many of us can relate to the shiny new marketing dashboard that promised so much but sat on the shelf gathering dust because nobody knew how to use it? While training is a key factor, more likely is a wider issue around culture and a fear of failure.

The trouble with data is there’s nowhere to hide when things don’t work. People naturally avoid conflict and quite simply, do not want to fail. Marketers want data to back up their decisions and the idea that it will highlight missteps is something they shy away from, preferring instead to either ignore the data or keep tight manual control of it. Creating a company culture where it’s safe to fail is critical to overcoming this hurdle. In an environment where it’s accepted that transparent intelligent analysis will spotlight success and enable marketers to learn from failures, data can offer much greater value and ultimately help fuel better choices.

Q: How is the role of the CMO changing?

CMOs have more power and responsibility than ever. We’ve all heard the old adage about poor accountability: ‘half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ In modern marketing, that attitude no longer applies – so please throw it out the window! Thanks to leaps forward in martech, CMOs can meet high expectations of measurable performance; able to tell precisely where their activity is moving the needle or missing its mark.

All of this means CMOs can justify and rationalise decisions and even use data to secure greater budgets. Marketing used to be the first cost that was cut in a recession or dare I say, during a pandemic. Now, we can unequivocally demonstrate the ROI on every penny spent; as long as the foundations of good data management are in place. I always give a little cheer when I hear of companies — such as Next — planning to invest more money in digital marketing because they can effectively measure and maximise its return.

It also illustrates how the role of CMOs is evolving. The administrative elements are much more varied; covering hiring and upskilling to build essential data skills, coordinating multi-channel efforts using smart tech and ensuring they can quickly harness insights from analysis to guide their activity. Unliever’s recent decision to appoint a ‘chief marketing and digital officer’ underscores this change. Today’s CMOs are shrewd strategists who wield data to find the best path forward and as marketing becomes more complex, their role as multi-taskers will only continue to grow.

Sadly, not everyone is there yet. About half (47%) of CMOs are still struggling to illustrate the business impact of marketing efforts, frequently due to the problems that stem from manual data processes and outmoded systems but we are moving in the right direction. Marketing leaders need to embrace the capacity of advanced tools to help them juggle each aspect of their ever-expanding remit. 

Q: Are there any sectors using data particularly well that others could look to emulate? 

Unsurprisingly, the strongest data users tend to be digital natives. Over the last few years, we’ve seen many pure-play digital companies rapidly gain ground in the increasingly digital-centric climate — with the likes of Revolut disrupting financial services, while Vitality has brought streamlined automation to insurance. But what organisations should be taking inspiration from is not their fully digital nature; it’s how they are leveraging data.

Our research has identified several points of correlation between high rankings for strategic capabilities and data best practices. For instance, about half of ecommerce businesses feel they are very strong in campaign reporting, audience building and targeting and personalised content delivery. It’s no coincidence that organisations in this sector are also major adopters of sophisticated data processes: over 75% use a business intelligence tool to visualise marketing data, nearly as many (72%) combine data with other departments to steer company-wide decisions and 64% have self-serve access to real-time reporting. The ability to easily see, tap and activate integrated data gives them a defined competitive advantage and it’s something that other firms can replicate by following their data lead.

Similarly, it’s worth noting that financial services companies are close behind on most strategic fronts and mature data use. While the sector isn’t without its challenges — especially fuelling marketing with data-based insight — this is part of the reason why it’s the only industry not to name manual data wrangling as a big problem.

Q: What will be the most important attribute for the future CMO?

The ability to leverage data with confidence. Essentially, CMOs will need to be leaders on every front when it comes to the way they handle data.

A major element of that is high tech and data literacy. The ability to manage smart systems effectively is critical to producing the trustworthy, valuable insights they need to accurately measure ROI and make decisions; as is confidence in tools designed to make these tasks simpler and more streamlined, such as centralised data lakes, consolidated dashboards and automated omni-channel reporting.

Equally important, however, is how CMOs connect with the overall company. The intelligence they generate shouldn’t just be confined to the marketing department; it must also help pinpoint new opportunities and market trends and drive wider business strategy — in both the short and longer-term. This means their role needs to sit at the heart of a hybrid sales model, where every team is interconnected and led by reliable insight.

In other words, CMOs need to act as the main heroes for turning data into an organisation’s greatest superpower.