Bushwhacking In The Data Management Woods

joannaoconnelrevised“Marketer’s Note” is a weekly column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. It is written by Joanna O’Connell, Director of Research, AdExchanger Research.  

I just read another study – this one from business analytics firm Domo – highlighting marketers’ challenges and frustrations when it comes to accessing and making sense of data, in spite of survey respondents’ strong belief in the importance and value of the same.   Long and short: there is still a big disconnect between point A (the data) and point B (using it in meaningful, timely ways).

So where are things falling down?  According to Domo, both the tools marketers use, and the cadence with which they access them to review data, are lacking.  On both points, I totally agree.  But I suspect the problems are more systemic than that. Whether we’re talking about good old-fashioned display, the unprecedented explosion of social activity, or smartphone/tablet adoption, the digital world is — in the grand scheme of marketing — very, very young.  Flipping organizational structures, business practices, hiring guidelines and the like overnight is no easy task.

Better tools are absolutely needed — hence the data management platform (DMP) craze of the last two years. (On that note, look at Adobe’s acquisition spree in building a marketing cloud that now includes digital data management, web analytics, campaign management and a host of other data and executional tools, all under one roof.) But those tools are  only as good as their users.

Which makes me wonder about the composition of the surveyed audience – might we see major differences in the responses of financial services marketers relative to marketers within, say, CPG organizations? Might we find that, while financial services marketers are working (struggling, I’d guess, in some cases) to evolve their sophisticated direct mail thinking – direct-response oriented, highly segmented based on data, test-and-learn in nature – to become real time in a real time digital world, CPG marketers feel hamstrung by a company-wide reliance on once or twice annual marketing mix model reports?  I also wonder about the agencies’ role in all this.  Are those monthly reports coming from agencies that have been trained (by their clients, by history) to create pretty monthly or quarterly PowerPoint presentations? I would bet there are many agency folks chafing under those old models, and many more who have a much different kind of relationship with their clients – where data is a shared asset, and making sense of it is a shared responsibility (case in point: Ford and Team Detroit).

My aim in raising these points is not to criticize any one particular group or marketing practice, but rather to raise questions about where we’re all getting stuck.  If I really were to criticize anything within the context of Domo’s findings, it’s our innate human fear of, and resistance to, change. Because what we’re really talking about is changing behavior. Where I get really excited is when I talk to a marketer who tells me, “Two years ago the DR and brand teams didn’t even talk to each other and now we’re sharing learnings and collectively working with our agencies using a common set of rules.” Or, “We used to spend weeks getting a list from our database to target high value customers in display, but now we’re working with a technology partner to accomplish that in minutes.”  I’d love it if those kinds of seemingly small, but actually huge, wins got celebrated within (and even better, although tougher to achieve, outside of ) organizations because that’s the kind of stuff that will lift the whole industry up.

Anyone with stories to share on this topic — or opinions, questions or comments — share them!


Follow Joanna O’Connell (@joannaoconnell ) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!


  1. What Josh understands and a few others like IBM and Google is that marketing systems of the future will analyze and activate data in real-time without people getting in the way of success. Put another way the tools will not be as good as their users – that is the present. In the near future they will be better and prove it so.

  2. Joanna – Indeed the hard part is not just getting from point A (the data) to point B (usability).

    Just getting to point A — repeatable, reliable access to data — is excruciating.

    I know an agency executive who said “we’re spending tens of millions of dollars, and 40-70% of our time acquiring and cleaning data.”

    The infrastructure build-out for robust, automated access of data from a growing array of digital sources is just beginning. That is the true, but hidden, bottleneck to real-time insights.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree that a tool is only as good as it’s user.

    I also firmly believe that certain, amazing new tools are not being adopted as quickly as they should be because those explaining the benefits of these tools cannot translate their benefits into real-world examples. Too often I sit through a conference, a pitch, a meeting, etc. and listen to people drone on with phrases that are 30,000 feet high. “We make insights actionable.” “Gain leverage you never had before.” “Hold conversations with customers in exciting new ways.” … Bring it down! Show me exactly how this tool does A, B, C. Only then do people have a heightened interest and can connect the dots.

    DMP’s are no exception. These tools are amazing. No doubt about it. But a publisher or marketing firm is only going to adopt them if the user(s) presenting its benefits can do so with substance — with concrete substance. Tie it back to the business. Explain ‘why’ it is so important using multiple examples.

    I find this is just as important, the framework for acquiring these products, as it is to correctly staff those using the product/data everyday. Once you lay that foundation (and correctly) you have inter-working-departments buzzing about what they can do.