Are Marketers Prepared For Data-Driven Advertising?

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dataSkills in data-driven disciplines are in high demand, and many marketers are picking up the quantitative skills they need on the job. The problem, said John Deighton, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, is that while many marketers obtain quantitative skills as they work, business students, including marketers, are at a disadvantage by not receiving a more rigorous education in information technology, data analysis and other related disciplines.

As a recent graduate from Columbia University with a degree in American Studies, Andrea Derricks was interested in marketing, but had no experience in the industry. While searching for job opportunities, she came across a one-year program offered by the non-profit organization Marketing EDGE (Educate, Develop, Grow, Employ), which helps college students and recent graduates enter the marketing field.

Through the organization’s Next Generation Leaders program, Derricks worked at four companies (Harte-Hanks, Goodman & Company, eScholastic and Wunderman) in three-month intervals as a paid associate from 2007 to 2008.

“Through this program I gained hands-on experience in different areas in marketing and learned a lot on the job,” Derricks said. “At Scholastic, I got basic analytics skills, learned how to use Omniture and helped optimize our website based on what I found in the data.”

Derricks credited Marketing EDGE for helping her obtain other marketing-related jobs, including her current role as an associate manager of ecommerce capabilities at Unilever.

Even though recent graduates like Derricks may obtain the tech-focused skills they need as they work, engineering and IT classes should be included in a business student’s education, argued Deighton.

“The biggest hole for marketers is a lack of quantitative skills,” said Deighton, who is a Marketing EDGE board of trustees member. “It’s easy for an undergrad who is more interested in qualitative topics to say I don’t need that and then discover that it would have been handy to have a basic understanding of engineering and IT.”

In an article called “HBS’s Technology Skill Set Gap,” Harvard Business School’s student newspaper, “The Harbus Online” echoed that sentiment: “HBS grads are ill-equipped to work with and communicate effectively with IT-oriented members of the C-suite.”

The authors, MBA candidates Lauren Lockwood and Sean Liu, cite a survey that found only 14% of students know what a relational database is and specifically blame curriculum that “fails to cover the implications of technology for management, strategy, and organization, fundamental to accurately reflecting the real world for tomorrow’s leaders.”

But amid this outcry for tech-focused marketing education, Peter Fader, co-director of the customer analytics initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania further worries that the pendulum might swing too far in the opposite direction. Specifically, he fears that marketers embrace data science at the expense of more established areas, such as direct marketing.

“If we can get CEOs talking about data and thinking about customer level metrics, that’s terrific,” Fader said. “The problem is that many people in data science are reinventing the wheel. They don’t appreciate the legacy that our forefathers in direct marketing gave us with rules like RFM [Recency Frequency Monetary modeling].

Fader pointed to RFM as an example of a marketing technique that is commonly used in direct marketing to determine which customers yield the most value by analyzing the last time a customer interacted with a business, the number of interactions and the average dollar amount of the interactions.

“Direct marketers have been using RFM for decades, but marketers who haven’t learned about direct marketing don’t know the old rules or they think they don’t apply,” Fader said.

Data scientists, Fader added, tend to be “very good technicians. They’re very good at figuring out how to store data, query data and manage data but there’s very little science in data science. Because of big data, there’s this strong belief that we don’t need to think anymore. We can just collect a lot of data really quickly…when it’s just as important to think and test and learn, which are the hallmarks of direct marketing.”

Part of the problem is the perception that direct marketing is old-fashioned compared to digital marketing, said Fader. He pointed out that even Marketing EDGE’s members have distanced themselves from direct marketing.

Founded in 1966 by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), Marketing EDGE was formerly known was the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation before it rebranded itself in June. The organization chose Marketing EDGE as its new moniker to reflect its expansion into other areas in marketing, according to Craig Wood, head of insights integration at The Futures Company and Marketing EDGE chair.

“As the fundamentals of this discipline evolve throughout the field, we decided to stake our claim – proclaiming the critical need to develop marketing professionals who are grounded in measured, accountable, data-driven marketing,” said Wood in a statement.

Even though it is understandable the organization would adopt a new name that represents its broader message, Fader does “worry a bit that by having less obvious roots to direct marketing, some of that legacy will fade away and that troubles me because that legacy is what makes this field and the organization so good."

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