Marketing magic meets big data: How to make technology and creativity work together

Combing big data, new technology, and traditional creative skills is vital to the successful CMO. Here's how to harness them together.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Marketing is increasingly high tech; big data and customer relationship management now have a clear role to play along with the more established creative marketing disciplines.

ZDNet recently spoke to execs at the recent Data IQ Summit 2017 in London to find out how they are using new technology to develop insights and engage with customers better.

1. Remember that great customer relationships are all about quality

Noorin Virani, senior CRM manager at L'Oréal UK, says customer loyalty is being redefined in the digital age. Online search makes it is easier than ever before for customers to find products and services. Virani says firms must use the analytical insight they create to help build stronger relationships with clients.

"Data is the new oil, but only when it helps you to engage with your customers," she says. "Do not confuse data with customers. Acquiring one does not mean you're automatically acquiring the other. Great relationships are not about numbers but quality."

Virani adds: "The phrase big data belies the fact that not all data is equal -- some is better than others and you have to search for the golden nuggets."

New technology provides another element of change. Virani expects interactive and digital customer experiences to quickly become a normal element of day-to-day marketing and retailing. L'Oréal aims to take advantage of these digital advances and is, for example, investigating the potential of 3D printing and is trialling new insight-led data models.

"We believe in harnessing knowledge across all sources and that analysis needs to take place across all channels," she says. "Be curious -- constantly engage with your technology specialists. Data, and how we use it, is going to be the difference between making and breaking a brand."

2. Remember that innovation is no replacement for human creativity

Peter Markey, former CMO at Aviva and soon-to-be marketing director at TSB Bank, is another executive who says advances in technology will sponsor radical business transformation. He warns other CMOs to check that innovation meets client requirements. "You are not the customer," he says. "You might have a great idea but you need to know what the customer thinks."

Markey points to the rise of artificial intelligence. He says smart CMOs will investigate a range of concerns. "At what point do you or do you not use bots, for example? Cost is only one issue -- how far can you push technology, when there's still a need for real, human interaction? Understanding those nuances is going to become important. Constantly listening and engaging will remain paramount," says Markey.

He expects the quality of machine learning to improve, but does not expect to see a day where all human interactions are replaced by AI. Technological innovation is great but human creativity matters, too.

"We need to be careful about not going too far the other way," he says. "There's still magic in marketing and you ignore that at your peril."

Markey says senior executives must strive to establish the right balance between technology, data, and skills. "There is a lost opportunity with data in many big businesses," he says. "Managers increasingly have people coming through the organisation who are interested in data but they don't do enough with the information at their disposal."

3. Focus on finding great people with a flexible attitude

Fedelma Good, director of information policy and strategy at Barclays, says data skills are likely to be a key talent for the successful workers of the future. She also believes information-intensive activities can fit well with people who are searching for a more adaptable work/life balance. "Data provides a fantastic opportunity for flexibility. It can be analysed from any location and we see more and more people working in this way," says Good.

4. Use a common language to talk about the benefits of data

Sherine Yap, global head of CRM at Shell, says there has been a significant change in the digital landscape during the past 20 years. Her experience is in consumer-led marketing and she has had to learn the role of both technology and data quickly during her two years at Shell.

"I've brought a different perspective and I've had to meet people halfway," says Yap. "You have to work in the middle space between marketing and data teams. If you want to get your messages through to the c-suite you need to speak the language of finance and the business."

She says communication is crucial and that language barriers often persist. "Marketing and data teams should move closer together and explain in simple terms the likely outcomes of the insights being creating," says Yap. "Working in that way has allowed me to take information, package it up, and share it with the wider teams across the business. Being able to tell a story is fundamentally important."

Shell has implemented a mandatory training programme for data-driven communications. Yap says such business-wide initiatives help create an understanding of information and insight. A company whose workers understand the value of data are in a much better position to meet customer demands.

"No one in the business is exempt from understanding the customer," she says. "We need to have the empathy and we need to understand the people that really matter. If we can start infusing the language of the opportunities of data across the business, then we will be in a good place."

Read more about technology leadership

Editorial standards