The conventional wisdom about data these days can be pretty negative.
I just searched Google News for “data,” and the top three stories were about users’ data exposed on the darknet, accusations of COVID-19 data manipulation by the state of Florida, and a data auto-delete feature to protect user privacy.
There are many good reasons to be wary or skeptical of data. But at its core, data is just information. Information that can help people make better decisions.
Sure, data can make things worse. But it can make things better, too, by helping companies better serve a customer. Read on for inspiring examples from a technology incubator and content studio, independent financial adviser, reviews site, tent maker and online meditation school.
This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
You can’t work in the marketing industry these days without constant talk of data. Data-driven marketing. Big data. Marketing analytics. Facebook is worth more than $650 billion, and it’s not because cat pics and grilled cheese sandwich selfies are so valuable. It’s because Facebook is just a big ol’ bag of user data.
But I must admit — and you might find yourself in the same boat using data doesn’t come naturally to me. I work in marketing because I’m a creative, not a statistician.
If you feel the same way, here is an analogy that changed my mind. I was interviewing Wharton’s Peter Fader and Sarah Toms. We were discussing how Electronic Arts used data to improve the product. “When they realized the power of the data that Pete was just talking about, they had a bit of a crisis about identity. They're like, ‘but we're a creative company. How can we now be all data, all the time?’” Toms said.
Zach Anderson, the chief analytics officer at Electronic Arts, won over those creative hearts and minds with this analogy: Cooking competitions shows where the chefs are doing incredibly creative things with ingredients that are given to them.
So data is really just another ingredient you have at your disposal as you make your creative take on a classic matzoh ball soup or marketing campaign.
“Data is actually a good thing that they should be embracing because it allows them to be even more creative,” Toms said.
So with that approach in mind, let’s look at a few examples of using data as a force for the good while improving marketing results.
Data can quickly become overwhelming. So many numbers. How do you find the opportunity?
TenbyThree© is a nonprofit that actually sells products. The charity sells baskets created by artisans in rural communities of developing countries to help the artisans pull themselves out of extreme poverty.
And it had a whole lot going on with its team pulled in many directions. Where to focus? That focus because particularly important with the rise of COVID-19.
TenbyThree mostly sold these baskets in brick-and-mortar locations like Whole Foods Market, Disney theme parks and specialty retailers. But with the pandemic came a massive drop in foot traffic and thus sales, so the nonprofit has tried to increase ecommerce sales through its website.
The MECLABS Institute team (parent organization of MarketingSherpa) worked with TenbyThree to determine where to focus its conversion optimization discoveries.
This data analysis uncovered an opportunity hidden in plain sight — product tags. Each basket sold in stores had a tag with information on how to connect with the individual artisan who created the basket by going to TenbyThree’s website.
Creative Sample #1: Product tag front
Creative Sample #2: Product tag interior
Creative Sample #3: Product sample back
Very few customers were using this feature. If the tags could be optimized to get more people to use the website’s artisan lookup feature, that increase in traffic would also likely help produce an increase in sales through the website.
In The Marketer as Philosopher Episode 2, The Data Pattern Analysis: 3 ways to turn info into insight you can see the methodical approach used to uncover this data insight to help you identify more opportunities in your own data. The episode also teaches viewers how to use a Data Pattern Analysis Tool (you can download the tool for free here).
To get more data help, you can participate in a Live Coaching Session with Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute, on Thursday, August 20th 2020, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT. In this Q&A session, participants will learn how to set up and use the Data Pattern Analysis Tool, simplify their data with three key dials, and apply the principles of The Marketer as Philosopher: Episode 2 to their own company.
It would be an understatement to say that COVID-19 has forced businesses to make significant changes. We’re all living it, we all know the impact.
But some changes are more difficult than others. When that change is to focus on a new ideal customer, it can be difficult to pivot quickly. Many companies have built their customer base and customer contacts over many years.
This is where external data can be helpful.
For example, TentCraft sells tents to event producers for concerts. But the events industry halted worldwide in March. While the team always knew they were too narrowly focused on just one industry and should diversify the business, they never got around to acting on it.
But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
Suddenly they needed to pivot their entire go-to-market approach and find a new target customer quickly. The team came up with the idea to turn concert tents into drive-thru COVID-19 testing facilities, but they never sold to hospitals and didn’t know any hospital administrators.
The team looked for a way to quickly enter a new market without increasing overhead. They worked with ZoomInfo to get data and insights for hospitals and other healthcare systems.
They used the company and contact search to quickly execute a layered approach. The marketing team would start with a broader approach to outreach — building an outreach list of 2,000 to 3,000 contacts. Based on open rates, responses and conversations, they learned not only about the specific roles they should be targeting but also what their pain points were.
The sales team would use this information to create a more targeted outreach list of 100 to 200 contacts and then tailor messaging and visuals to demonstrate how TentCraft could address the specific pain points.
The click-to-open rate for the broader emails ranged from 15% to 28% while the more targeted lists typically ranged from 35% to 45% with a handful nearing 60%. Keep in mind, when you see those numbers, that this was all cold outreach.
Because they had phone numbers, job titles and location data, the marketing team was able to supply this information to the sales team in real-time — when emails were being opened and links being clicked. This helped the teams prioritize, move to conversation quicker and shorten the sales cycle.
Over $600,000 in revenue disappeared in March alone, but during the first two months of this pivot the company booked more than $2 million in revenue, and April was the biggest revenue month in company history (during a pandemic with the core revenue shut off). They are now 12% ahead of last year’s pace. In the first month of the pivot, they went into contract with more than 100 healthcare facilities — which, remember, is an industry the tent maker had no prior experience with.
This pivot was reactive. And while it has worked out thus far, the mindset in the company has now changed.
“A big takeaway for our team is that we need to always be pivoting to new markets, new products, features and partners. That means pairing speed and agility with execution,” said Matt Bulloch, President, TentCraft.
There may be many elements of appeal in your company’s value proposition. But your customer may not be ready to receive them all at once. That’s why effective value sequencing is so important.
Where in the customer journey should the customer be introduced to different elements of your company’s value? Data can help show you the way.
David Richter wanted to use marketing data to discover how to position his company’s brand and the messaging used at each stage of the marketing funnel.
Richter works for CIPHR, a software platform that serves HR departments. “It’s a crowded market, and in any one year we find ourselves competing with upwards of fifty different vendors. In terms of functionality, it’s incredibly rare that any one provider has a distinctive edge over the entirety of the market. If functionality does get developed that is a game changer, then it’s quickly replicated by other similar providers,” said Richter, Director of Marketing, CIPHR.
The one thing that sets CIPHR apart, according to Richter, is its attitude to integrating its people management platform with specialist, third-party tools. Since larger competitors have strategically acquired complementary businesses, they are less incented to integrate with third-party tools they don’t own, Richter says.
However, Richter had concerns about leading with this “connectivity” in marketing communications.
“Connectivity is the USP (unique selling proposition) that CIPHR has hung our hat on in our marketplace and the position we want to build a strong brand around,” he said. “The trouble is that, at the initial point of engagement, most HR professionals, when looking for an HR system, aren’t thinking about what it can integrate with.”
Including terms like “API” or “integration” in subject lines cut the HR SaaS platform’s email open rate in half. Approximately two-thirds of all sales leads are generated through CIPHR’s website, so getting the messaging optimized for conversion is essential.
To prove to the senior leadership that CIPHR should tailor the focus of its messaging through each stage of the sales cycle, Richter’s team decided to try different messaging on various landing pages on the website. The landing pages were only used for PPC traffic from the same, exact match keywords with the same ads displayed to generate the click.
Armed with this data, CIPHR’s leadership is now happy to lead with relevant, product and benefit-led messaging on the website (pre-engagement) that positions connectivity as the differentiator. “We now also have a strong lead nurturing campaign to educate leads about the benefits of connectivity,” Richter said.
If you engage in A/B testing, you can learn from real customer behavior to serve your customers better while improving results. Here’s an example.
“In building our platform, we have seen immense success from using a data-driven approach for most of our marketing decisions,” said Kyle Greenfield, Founder, TheJoyWithin.org. “One example is how we used Google Optimize testing combined with heatmap and flow data from Hotjar to improve our blog layout.”
The online school for meditation, happiness, and personal empowerment discovered that less than 1% of blog readers were signing up for a free meditation course. The bounce rate was between 79-81% even though most readers were spending three to five minutes on the site.
The team tested two elements of the blog's layout — the sidebar and one inline internal ad placement.
Creative Sample #4: Original blog layout for online school for meditation
The team tested a new approach — to be more direct about different options new students have on the platform. They moved away from a banner ad with the headline “Discover a Clear, Modern Path to Bliss” coupled with a list of potential benefits. The new approach was a direct question to the user, asking “How Can We Help?” coupled with a one-sentence explanation of what was offered, and three possible paths: “learn how to meditate,” “increase my happiness,” and “manifest my dream life.”
They tested different variations of this idea, and ultimately found that making the message clearer and more direct, with fewer graphics and design elements, resulted in better conversion.
This change was combined with testing of the placement of the inline ad. It began as a top-line insert before the post. But the team discovered that users were more engaged when the ad was placed a few paragraphs into the blog post. The previous data informed this decision, since the team knew users were already reading the content and scrolling down the page.
Creative Sample #5: Blog layout after testing for online school for meditation
With this change, the team was able to more than double student enrollment rates and reduce bounce rate by 12.5%, to 70%.
For marketers looking to do good in the world, sometimes they overlook a data basic — your website should have a landing page with the ability to capture data from those interested in helping the cause.
For example, Not Impossible Labs (NIL) describes itself as a one-of-a-kind technology incubator and content studio dedicated to changing the world and making the impossible possible for individuals faced with a range of problems (what it calls “absurdities”).
Most recently, NIL tackled the absurdity of hunger, made all the more pressing by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, NIL began working with Salesforce and Postmates on a prototype platform to feed insecure people at scale. The incubator created a text-based service that connects people in need of food with pre-paid, nutritious, to-go meals from nearby restaurants. A child or family in need of food can text “hungry” and the solution connects them with nearby restaurants with extra food that would likely go to waste.
In March of 2020 when the pandemic hit the United States, NIL was in the midst of deploying programs across the country to serve some of the 42 million people, of which 15.9 million are children, who go hungry each year.
How did they make it possible — or should I say, not impossible — to fight hunger? A marketing landing page.
Verndale and Sitecore offered pro bono help to create a landing page on the site to capture information from visitors in a form connected to a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to store the data.
“We kept everything simple, from messaging and experience design, to providing several frictionless pathways to get involved. More conversion points created more opportunities to engage,” said Ross Lucivero, Manager Director of Verndale's Los Angeles office.
NIL was able to gather data on approximately 300 leads who were ready to give, partner, spread the word, nominate a new city or get involved in their local community.
“The newfound capability to capture individual leads as well as scale our ability to re-engage audiences is a game-changer,” said Joseph Babarsky, Director of Strategy & Partnerships, Not Impossible Labs.
That re-engagement relies on the ability to have the data about who has visited the landing page previously and then present another marketing message to them — a call-to-action on the Not Impossible homepage for those who have visited the Hunger campaign page but had not converted through a form submission or donation. “This customized prompt re-engages informed visitors and drives them back to the campaign environment to take action,” said Liz Spranzani, EVP of Technology, Verndale.
“If you have an open mind — the seemingly impossible can become possible. You can see this proven time and again through the work Not Impossible Labs has done to help individuals with a range of disabilities and, of course, with their hunger project,” said Paige O’Neill, CMO, Sitecore.
Most discussions I’ve seen about data use in marketing focuses on categorizing how the data is collected. First-party data is collected by the company itself, and third-party data is sold to you by a company that aggregates data from many other companies.
In addition to how data is collected, you should also consider how customers experience data. I would categorize that data in two ways — data you control and data you don’t.
The data you control might be in your advertising or your website, like “Nine out of ten dentists recommend Brusha Brusha toothbrushes.”
The data you don’t control can be shared in the press or social media, and especially on review sites. One example is a site called Best Company.
“The entire mission of Best Company is to harness data to improve the decision-making process for consumers across several industries. As a company, we believe we are changing the world for good by empowering consumers to make the best possible decisions with their money. We are a truly independent and impartial review site, promising accurate rankings and honest reviews and refusing to reward unmerited ranks for money,” said Rebecca Graham, Content Manager, Best Company.
What this means for your company is that customers’ product and service experience is also part of your marketing. The more you can control and optimize the experience, the more you can optimize this type of data for your brand. “When reviews are available for all to see, companies practicing business with high value and integrity will naturally emerge as reputable leaders, whereas less trustworthy companies drop lower in rank,” Graham said.
You can also learn from these websites as well. They provide valuable customer intelligence about how your brand is being perceived by real customers as well as opportunities for social proof and third-party credibility you can leverage in your marketing. “For example, on business lender Lendio's reviews page, prospective clients can see breakdowns of the star ratings on 400+ verified customer reviews, including the ratings of sentiment criteria like value for your money and customer service. Lendio, which currently has an average of 4.7/5 stars from customer reviews, can leverage the data referenced above by sharing on social media and through content marketing and email marketing copy,” Graham said.
So pull out your company’s value proposition, take a look at how you express it in your marketing, and then see where customers agree and disagree. Where can you learn from customers to express elements of value in your marketing that customers are experiencing but you’re not communicating well? For example, Cotton Mask Co. discovered that its face masks were especially helpful to hearing aid wearers by monitoring customer reviews, and pivoted its marketing accordingly.
But also, take a good hard look at the reviews and determine where your brand falls short. Is it because customers assume your company has a certain element of value that isn’t part of your stated value proposition? If so, change your marketing to clarify. Or is it just that your company is not living up to its value proposition? In that case, you have the data to show why the marketing department should get involved in the customers’ product and service experience to improve it.
Since consumer reviews platforms provide data to customers when they are considering a purchase decision, it is important for brands to understand how they operate. So I asked Graham for a bit of an inside look at Best Company. There’s some she couldn’t share (like how their algorithm works), but I hope the below mini-interview helps you get a better understanding of how this data about your company ends up online and a little more about the companies that put it there.
MarketingSherpa: How do you make money? What is your business model?
Rebecca Graham: Our two revenue streams come from:
1) Lead generation for affiliate partnerships
2) Business Suite subscriptions.
Like many sites, we may be compensated through affiliate relationships with the companies on BestCompany.com. But we do not have any relationships with companies that guarantee or impact their ranking or score — and we never will.
A basic profile is free for any qualifying company in the United States. The purchase of our B2B Business Suite reputation management product can't bump up your brand's rank, but it can provide traffic-based insights regarding your profile page as well as enhance it for improved visual aspects and thoroughness, such as featuring product images and videos, adding an FAQ section and highlighting how you stand out from your competitors.
MS: How do you get reviewers? How do you verify them?
RG: Best Company receives thousands of review submissions each week. Every review that is submitted goes through a very thorough moderation process to ensure its accuracy prior to it being published on BestCompany.com.
Reviews are generated in four ways:
1) Organic and direct traffic, i.e., from users visiting our site
2) BestReviews, our review generation process in which we collect reviews from customers on behalf of the company. We offer fully managed email and phone review solicitations for companies with customer contact lists as well as a custom form for companies to utilize for outreach themselves.
3) Reviews from charity and fundraising groups
4) Reviews solicited from our members
ALL reviews, whether organic or company-solicited, are subject to our review moderation process, which include email address verification and analysis via our fraud threshold algorithm (the details of which we do not divulge in order to prevent companies from trying to “game” the system).
Furthermore, Best Company reserves the right to reject or remove reviews that violate our standards, which includes content that does not relate to the company or company's service being reviewed, appears to be incentivized, or contains false information.
We also encourage consumers to resubmit reviews with their most up-to-date experience with a company.
MS: How do you ensure your data isn’t manipulated by companies to make themselves look better?
RG: Here are a few of the protocols we have in place to ensure accurate claims regarding the data on our site:
This next example is a bit of a different take on using data in marketing, but I thought it was worth bringing to you because I’ve noticed the marketing industry has a rampant problem with crediting sources.
There are so many bold-faced marketing claims that shout and brag. But why should anyone believe those claims?
Alec Tuckman shared with me the story of a seminar he was conducting about stock market performance. He was frequently challenged by an attendee.
“Not wanting to make him look bad in front of his spouse, I did not get confrontational or upset, I simply pulled out a thick notebook full of Wall Street Journal clippings I have compiled over the last five years,” said Tuckman, owner/operator, Wealth Management Partners of Los Angeles.
Every one of those articles was supportive material for the statements Tuckman made about the market. While he didn’t get the business from that particular attendee, Tuckman felt that it gave him instant credibility. “Data is the best marketing tool,” he said. “Being able to cite a credible, well-known source gives you credibility.”
But don’t just cite any data, or you may end up hurting your brand’s credibility. “Make sure the data is from a reliable source. I wouldn’t recommend quoting something you read from a friend on Facebook IM when you’re trying to prove you are an expert on a particular subject like the stock market. Make sure you are sourcing material from credible sources like Kiplinger’s, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Bloomberg,” Tuckman advised.
Live Coaching Session with Flint McGlaughlin: The Data Pattern Analysis, 3 ways to turn info into insight – Thursday, August 20th, 2020 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT
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