Working at the intersection of marketing and technology means we are constantly exposed to jargon, buzzwords and general gobbledegook. For the uninitiated, “data-driven marketing” probably just sounds like another term to add to the list and dismiss, especially given that over the last few years it has been jumped upon by every man and his dog trying to sell something. However, I think it’s fair to say there is substance behind this convenient turn of phrase.

“In god we trust, all others must bring data” – W. Edward Deming

Edward Deming’s quote is at the very heart of data-driven marketing. It highlights the common practice of leveraging data to generate insights; then applying these insights to support decision making, constantly iterating and learning from each cycle to refine understanding, build awareness and inform subsequent actions.

“We are living through the shift from selling virtually everyone the same thing a generation ago to fulfilling individual needs and tastes . . . by supplying . . . customized products and services” – Stan Rapp & Tom Collins, MaxiMarketing, 1987.

It’s also a practice that has its roots in the late 80s and early 90s when stimulated by the availability of more accessible computing power and database technology, businesses could begin to collect and analyse data about their customers and use this to drive more targeted marketing communications.

At Occam, data-driven marketing is our raison d’être and we firmly believe that now is the time for businesses to accelerate their processes to bring insight and relevance into everything they do. This was the key theme of our recent event at The Royal Exchange, where we considered the opportunity, challenges and steps needed to address them across the industry. Here is the background:


  1. Consumers, more than ever, expect relevant and consistent experiences that truly benefit them – rewarding those businesses that offer it with return custom, and punishing those that don’t by simply walking away. Relevancy requires an understanding of their needs and wants, and data is the route to that insight.
  2. Marketing technology is advancing at a rapid pace, so much so that it is becoming more accessible from an investment and ease-of-use perspective, providing businesses with a greater chance of utilising the technology.
  3. The facts back up the real benefits of data-driven marketing on the bottom line for businesses. A recent Forbes study showing how leaders outperform laggards across the board when it comes to customer retention, acquisition and stronger engagement. This is the perfect fuel for driving conversations around the business.


This perfect storm of technology and accessibility provides a great opportunity for marketers, but plenty of challenges exist that can hamper efforts around the board. They are:

1. The sheer explosion of data: IDC beautifully brought this to life in their image (see below) showing the entirety of data in 2013 requiring a stack of iPads stretching to the moon to store, whereas in 2020 that stack will make the trip 6.5 times.

While this represents a massive opportunity, it’s also a challenge as IDC also identified that only 37% of the data is likely to actually be useful for business processes, let alone marketing.  

2. The quality of data: Quality also has a major bearing on its usefulness to data-driven marketing initiatives and yet a recent study by Verve highlighted that 60% of consumers provide intentionally incorrect information when submitting their personal details online.  While research from Experian shows that inaccurate data has a direct impact on the bottom line of 88% of companies, the average company loses 12% of its revenue due to false information.

3. Availability of talent: Skilled workers are needed to help businesses leverage the vast swathes of data, helping them separate the wheat from the chaff and manage quality. Studies by both Gartner and McKinsey have highlighted this shortage could be between 100,000 to 190,000 by 2018.

4. Lack of consumer trust: There is also the lack of trust in handing over data to a businesses. This is not helped by scandals with big brands like Mumsnet and Talk Talk losing important customer data.

5. Striking a balance: It’s also about balancing the consumer’s expectation for personalised service, with their intrinsic suspicion and dislike of “creepy marketing”.  Quick example: Pfaff Auto in Toronto, Canada took a white Porsche 911 Carrera S to rich Toronto neighbourhoods and photographed it in front of various homes. Afterwards, the photos were processed in a nearby cargo van that housed a print crew. Custom direct mail postcards were then created on the spot. The result – personalised direct-marketing flyers that featured the Porsche 911 in front of the person’s house inviting the homeowner to schedule a test drive. Pfaff’s response rate to the “It’s Closer Than You Think” campaign was 32%. Creepy or Cool? It’s a fine line whichever side of it you fall. 

Stepping up

Addressing these challenges is essential to unlocking the potential from data-driven marketing. To get up and running, you need to consider the following five steps your business should take:

  1. Make data your habit: Understand the business goals and identify how data supports them… and then when making decisions, always ask “do we have the data to answer that?”
  2. Look at your data landscape: Consider the business outcome and audit your landscape to understand what data is available to support it, the quality and completeness of it and just how far off it is from giving you access to the insight you need.
  3. Fill your data gaps: Develop strategies to gather and generate the data you need to inform your decision making. But, remember the value exchange for customers when asking. In today’s digital world, brands don’t get something for nothing and customers know that their data is valuable, if not precious to them. 
  4. Commit to quality: Invest in the people, processes and technology to deal with the issues and turn your data into a valuable asset.
  5. Turn to technology: Leverage tech to give you a single customer view and turn raw data into valuable insight, without you needing a whole troupe of PhD qualified statisticians.

Data-driven marketing is now at a stage where we can jump in with both feet and tackle the challenge of doing it right. But, our experience suggests that many businesses have only dipped their toes into the waters, perhaps experimenting in a particular channel or business area, and by doing so, have failed to unlock the full benefits possible. 

It’s by bearing the above points in mind that we hope marketers will use 2016 to throw away their armbands and take the plunge with confidence.