Why it pays brands to be more offensive with their data

Ross HAwkes_2019Data is the backbone of modern enterprise. It drives, improves and supports business advancement and growth. But despite its progressive nature, data is used mostly defensively today; to substantiate and measure an event that’s already happened, or to justify decisions you’ve already made.

It’s time we all got a little more offensive with our data practices – bringing better experiences to market faster, and maximising the value of this important asset when it’s at its height. Which is to say, now. Think bigger than just reporting.

It’s not about how well you understand your data, but how you’re putting it to work in this moment. Take Spotify – its in-house team uses hyper-local listener data to create those genuinely funny out-of-home pieces. Without data strategies that live in the present moment like this, how else would you know that someone in Brighton played Bieber’s Sorry 42 times on Valentine’s Day?

They’ve not just sat on that data. They’ve had a clear, brave, real-time game plan for it, carving-out a new Spotify-advertising staple in the process. And it’s this kind of bullish, dirt-under-the-nails behaviour that we need to encourage in our data teams.

We did something similar for a client recently, implementing a content scoring strategy that blended several data sources to understand what has and will work. This prompted us to rapidly build an algorithm that matched content to varying business objectives, with the aim of maximising spend and making campaigns more effective in future. Being offensive worked.

At the very least, your data deserves this kind of potency. It wants to be used in a more predictive way. Make it do the grunt work so you can focus on the bigger tasks.

In-housing is just one way to achieve this.

Naturally, I believe in-housing is a great ecosystem for offensive data strategies. In-house teams gain access to a catalogue of information that’s constantly updating itself, helping to drive improvements at both ends of the business spectrum: business as usual and growth. On one end, we’re improving the effectiveness and pace of business as usual (optimisation and iteration is turbocharged due to working closer with clients). And on the other end, we are the strategic partner for clients and their future ambitions.

Whether in-house or not, the crux of the matter is: the time for offensive data is now. As I write this, offensive strategies feel new and perhaps a little scary. But soon it will be as good-hygiene as Google Analytics.

So factor in failure, fast.

Modern marketing moves fast, which means offensive data strategies need to have failure factored in. Failure helps us to learn faster. After failing, you gain the confidence and knowledge to push the next iteration of a campaign forwards, more successfully and with more likelihood of reward.

No client likes to hear that you’re preparing to fail, but it’s the only way to drive innovation through data – which, subsequently, is the only way to get cut-through with customers.

Many brands and agencies will resist, preferring to wait for others to do the testing, trialling and, of course, failing for them. Their rigid organisational structures allow for little deviation from the traditional ways of working.

As data people, in order to do market-moving work, we must be offensive in tackling these operational barriers, too. If we don’t, it won’t be Bieber singing ‘Sorry’. It’ll be your customers as they leave you for your competition.

Ross Hawkes is data strategy director at in-house agency Oliver

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