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Data overload: too much of a good thing?

27 January, 2023 Reading: 3:15 mins
Sarah Reakes

By Sarah

One thing most marketers have too much of is data. The sheer volume of marketing metrics available is unprecedented and it risks being a distraction: How do I access it all? How do I process it and use it to add value?

Data overload: too much of a good thing?

More worryingly, data overload (partly driven by the ever-rising number of channels) may cause us to be misled, lose sight of the customer or stop trusting our gut on those key decisions. A 2022 survey of 300 CMOs in small to medium businesses showed over half of their teams are now using 14 or more marketing data sources and 99% use 10 or more. This is a massive increase since a similar 2019 survey, when about half of them used six sources or less.

Most worryingly – perhaps proof of overload – is that only 17% rated ‘growing complexity of consumer behaviour’ as their ‘biggest external factor impacting marketing’. In plain English that says to me that data overload risks getting in the way of a marketer’s number one goal which is really knowing today’s market needs, habits and trends, bringing those into the business and being led by them.

So – what should a busy marketing leader do?

  1. Pull together a one-screen, living dashboard showing performance against the top 3-5 marketing KPIs that you and your Board care about, drawn from your 2023/24 marketing plan. Road-test it with your team and your agency – does the data feel real? Is it measuring what we need? Are we trying to watch too many (maybe conflicting) needles? Have we lost sight of our buyer in a sea of numbers, or is the ‘red thread’ in there?
  2. Diarise time to glance at it regularly, and at logical intervals really stop and analyse: are the numbers right? What do they tell us we should do more of, do less of or stop?
  3. Take a long hard look at all the OTHER sources and metrics you have (especially if you’ve got 14 or more!). Is it time to cut a few and save time, angst and money? After all, they didn’t make the cut into your dashboard… While you’re doing this is there a marketing channel that you could lose because it seems less market-relevant now or isn’t pulling its weight?
  4. Use the resulting diary space to listen even more to your end buyers and make that a priority. As behavioural economist Rory Sutherland says, “We spend so much time thinking about how marketing works, how social media works, how targeting and technology works, we’ve taken our minds off a more important question: how do people work?”

And of course, sometimes you just have to trust your gut. The 2020s have shown us that sometimes data – pretty much all backward-looking – conflicts with what your gut’s telling you to do going forward. World events mean you just have to ditch some core market assumptions and make new ones. And as Mary Portas said recently, “maybe we need to reset the balance between head and heart, data and creativity.”

To me marketing feels a bit like high diving. You work to build strong foundations, you train and learn, you watch the competitors, you know the core KPIs you have to hit, and then … on the day you might climb up there and surprise the crowd, tweak what you actually put out there based on what feels right.

So to me the way to solve the data overload dilemma is to build the right dashboard. Make sure it’s powerful, reliable, and linked to both your marketing plan and core sales goals. Make it a living thing, checked and tweaked often. And don’t forget the power of a creative idea, or the value of pure gut instinct, especially as things change.

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