Audience buying, search, social, content marketing… almost all of today’s modern marketing techniques are built on the new gold currency of our era: branded data.
This shiny commodity makes up a large part of today’s brand-agency relationships; the majority of RFPs (requests for proposals) involve questions around the agencies’ data and analytics capabilities.
This is great news for a data geek like myself, but it also creates challenges for brands and marketers when it comes to the management of their data assets.
That’s because a lot of larger brands today engage multiple specialty agencies instead of a single integrated agency. One agency manages creative, another one social, another one search and so on.
Although this approach ensures that you have best-in-class people working in each channel, it also leads to the creation of some dangerous data silos.
Let’s use search as an example of this growing problem. Generally, the search agency will manage all the search data.
Most modern search agencies collect search-specific data from platforms like Google Analytics, AdWords, Trends, Ranking Tools, Bing and so on and import that data into the agency’s tools and proprietary technology stacks.
Then, after analyzing the data they’ve collected, the teams will modify campaigns or create recommendations to improve performance and ultimately help the business, all based on that data they have and the conclusions they’ve drawn based on it.
While this will greatly benefit the search performance of the brand, it causes a few other (unanticipated) problems for marketers (and their other agencies).
1. Agency Dependency
In most cases, the data, learnings and trained models will sit with that individual agency. The brand will be informed via summarized PowerPoints and reports, but the underlying knowledge and wealth of information will, in most cases, remain with the particular agency.
That means that if, and when, the brand decides to move its business elsewhere, it will often lose all that rich underlying data, learning and insights, and the brand and its new agency will have to start from the beginning.
2. Failure Of Cross-Agency Collaboration
We all know that consumers move seamlessly between channels and platforms, and that means the data should move with them. However, the competitiveness between agencies often hinders the free sharing of information between them.
I have been there, as well — we would never want to share our campaign data with a potentially competing agency that could look for flaws in our work or reinterpret the data differently, then bring their insights and judgments to the brand in an attempt to steal the business.
That’s why, for example, most search agencies reject the idea of giving AdWords access to another agency. It makes sense from the agency perspective, but it leaves a wealth of potentially insightful information inside that agency’s “silo” without the opportunity to leverage that data in another channel.
3. Decentralization Of Data
Data by itself is meaningless; only when you start combining and analyzing it can you create meaningful insights.
But how can a brand truly achieve that if each of its distinct agencies is holding a part of the puzzle? How can a marketer truly understand the impact of all the marketing activities without seeing the complete picture?
Going further, how can a brand hold its agency or media partners accountable (or judge their KPIs) if they’re only measured based on their self-reported, siloed data?
I think all of this clearly highlights an open question of data ownership. The data itself belongs to the brand, but it is unclear who owns the findings and the data collected from third parties as part of the research.
We recently started helping our brands build out their own data infrastructure in an attempt to solve the data silo dilemma. Instead of the brands feeding data to their various agencies, the agencies are now starting to feed data into these brands’ data warehouses.
This has led to the brands having access to all the different datasets in one single place, which allows for easy data access and integrated measurements. It also allows their partner agencies to have access to insights from the entire landscape instead of just their own narrow data view.
To be honest, we’re finding that right now, these brands are only accessing and using about five percent of that data. But at least they are starting to mine their own gold, rather than just “leasing” it from the agencies.
Going forward, I hope to see a broader, sustained change in the approach to how marketing data is managed and leveraged in order to impact the business.