Data as the new Oz

When it comes to marketing analytics beware of wizards claiming false powers.

For as long as I can remember the black box at most agencies was the creative department. This is where the Gods of advertising would take client problems to be solved. Behind a curtain, magic would happen, emerging in the form of creative that was fresh, insightful and hopefully impactful.

Around 2010 things evolved. A client invited me to participate in a series of Media Agency pitches, and during one of those presentations out stepped a 6’2”, .02% body fat, Brit-accented data wizard, and as he began to speak I saw my world change through the wide eyes of my clients.

A rolling revolution

It quickly became clear that in an era of media fragmentation the new black box, the new “curtain” where client problems would go and agencies could create value, was in the realm of data. This was a significant change and smart agencies raced to quickly staff data competencies.

What’s important for clients to realize, and the point of this post, is to be careful about bringing your agency’s unbridled confidence and bluster in regards to marketing ROI into your boardroom. Marketing has always been a confidence game of sorts, and CEO’s know when they are being sold.

Today’s extraordinary communications challenges are part of a rolling revolution that has thus far been unwilling to stop long enough for anybody to master. Marketing has become a chaotic, expensive version of “whack-a mole” and what’s clear is just as creative wasn’t ever the silver bullet, neither is data/analytics likely the perfect grail we had hoped for. This game will continue to get harder, more complicated, and more difficult to get right.

Intoxicated by minutiae

To be sure, embrace the shift to a more quantifiable, analytical approach to marketing, but be careful not to overhype and oversell its promises. And avoid the temptation to become intoxicated by minutiae – decide the two or three things truly worth measuring, as opposed to measuring everything. My sense is that despite unprecedented levels of data today’s CEOs are more suspicious than ever of marketing’s ability to do its job. Credibility is job #1.

And beware of wizards claiming false powers.

Finally, be wary of agency partners who don’t show just a hint of mortality as it relates to their ability to measure effectiveness. Despite the importance of slick professional facades (particularly in marketing), there’s a strength to be had in a bit of hard-earned humility. We’re all works in progress. And we’re all still just trying to figure it out. In a business known for hyperbole and Mad Men this might not be the “New Oz”, but it’s my bet that serious, thoughtful people with budget responsibility will find a little honesty refreshing.


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