Can organisations become too reliant on data?

With the digitalisation of marketing has come the rise of data as a central tenet upon which strategy is formed. Data collection itself is of course not new, as even the earliest marketers conducted consumer surveys, stored information about their subscription lists or asked for feedback on products and services. What has changed however is the volume of data, which has grown exponentially as a result of digitalisation and can be stored, mined and interpreted with a speed and complexity previously unknown.

Too much data?

With this data being collected from DM campaigns, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, browser histories and mobile location data, marketers now possess a wealth of data that allows them to build a remarkably clear picture of their target market and demonstrate the return on investment of any given campaign. Yet though the positives of this are clear, commentators are beginning to question whether in fact the marketing industry is becoming too reliant on data. 

This is exactly what was argued by Marketing Week in their article which warned that ‘marketers must avoid the risk of “over datafication”’ if they are to avoid sacrificing pace and creativity in the bid to be overly numbers-focused. Quoting Ovo Energy CMO Adam Rostom, it is argued that ‘by mixing accountability with agility and refusing to let data get in the way of making brave business decisions,’ marketers could avoid unwittingly opt for safe, measurable campaigns that stall innovative ideas and approaches.

Fast Company also believes that too much data can be harmful, but specifies that this is particularly relevant to our productivity and decision making. Suggesting that ‘data findings that aren’t actionable aren’t worth a thing’ and that ‘data analytics is only valuable when it changes someone’s behaviour,’ Fast Company believes that human nature’s susceptibility to blind spots and biases means that we cannot always make the most of the data available.

Learn the limitations of data 

Other commentators have suggested that rather than being a problem of too much data, in fact the primary challenge marketers face is knowing the limitations of data and not expecting the impossible.

Marketing Week editor Russell Parsons wrote recently in an article that while he is a firm believer in the value of data at a general level, ‘data on a spreadsheet can blind marketers not willing or able to ask the right questions.’ Pointing to programmatic as an example, Parsons points out that ‘data will tell you that programmatic is definitely the most efficient way of reaching customers online but it falls well short of revealing if it’s the most effective or right thing to do.’

Understanding and appreciating the limits of data therefore is just one way of ensuring that organisations do not become over-reliant on data. Parsons suggests first considering what is the aim of your campaign, before deciding whether to launch in with data. If you’re looking to grow your brand, for example, he suggests that ‘outdoor, TV and radio offer reach, awareness [and] share of voice, if that is your objective’. 

Use the right data at the right time

For Forbes contributor Christine Crandell, quite simply ‘the problem with data is too much of the wrong stuff.’ Pointing to Bluewolf’s (IMB’s consultancy wing) The State of Salesforce report, Crandell highlights the statistic that ‘79% percent of salespeople routinely input the same data into multiple systems.’ Seeing siloed business systems and incompatible data as ‘the major culprits,’ she believes this leads to lost productivity and roadblocks to innovation in even the most streamlined organisations.

For organisations to get the most out of their data, three strategies are suggested:

1. Define ownership of analytics. Establish your governance processes to get the single version of truth.

2. Deliver broad executive education to help them understand how to interpret the data they’re receiving.

3. Foster a data-driven culture. If only a few people care about the data, it won’t go anywhere. Data must be a priority for all employees.

With a clear understanding of the limitations of data, what constitutes too much data and how to use the right data at the right time, organisations can foster a positive relationship with data and avoid the over-datafication commentators are warning against. This will be no small feat, but only by taking the initial steps towards a healthy data policy will marketers reap the true rewards that the data revolution can bring.

Can organisations become too reliant on data?