‘Arrogance Over Insights’: Confessions of a Digital Marketer

what’s really happening in digital marketing?

We recently sat down with a friend and former Coherent Path user, who has had an incredible career in marketing, where he’s focused on driving improved customer experience across all channels. He has a breadth of experience across industries, having worked in ad agencies (pre-digital), CPG marketing, at a world-famous theme park, at a #1 national newspaper and at a leading online marketplace, where he was a Coherent Path platform user. We wanted to get the low-down on what’s really happening in digital marketing.

Here are his confessions:

Coherent Path (CP): Ok, give us the low-down on what’s really happening in digital marketing?

What I’ve learned through a number of organizations is that there is a desire to have insights guide product development. The challenge, however, is that insights aren’t always welcome in most organizations.

CP: Maybe it’s because we live and breathe data all day long, but based on everything we read in the media, hear from analysts and in our conversations with retailers, there seems to be a movement across all industries for organizations to be more data-driven. How is it that insights aren’t welcome?

Product teams understand the technology they are building, but don’t want to understand the consumer. They have an adverse reaction to insights driving product design because they think the product is what’s most important, not the consumer. This is an arrogant point of view.

I learned that if you’re led by the consumer, you’ll get better results. It’s been my experience that product teams often think they know better. They believe they can create something that is technologically cool, but that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be relevant to the customer.

CP: What would your advice be to these teams?

You have to be consumer-led to be successful. Partner with technology companies that will give you endless insights into customers – and not just in groups or segments. As digital marketers, it’s our responsibility to have a 360-degree view of every customer.

Digital has leveled the playing field for marketers. You no longer need to be a supermarket or other high-frequency retailers like Amazon to know what your customers are interested in. Now you can see what customers are actually doing. This explosion of data and insights, combined with more sophisticated math models, really contributed to our success at my last company.

Some companies, like some of the larger, more established organizations you’ve worked for, have the benefit of old revenue sources – you’re not building your first million from nothing. How can insights be useful to introduce new products within these organizations where you’re charged with generating “the first million” for a new offering?

During my time working for a national news organization, we had a product that helped high-net worth customers manage their own portfolio. We picked one area and went deep, which is where digital insights really come into play. Organizations can’t survive by building a shallow product anymore. As a news organization, you can’t go deep into all sports, but you can go deep into hockey, for instance. You have to start selecting where you want to go an ‘inch wide, mile deep.’ That first million might be a little tough, but the deeper you go, the more revenue you can generate.

CP: Who is it in the organization that doesn’t get that the ‘mile deep’ opportunity is the way to win?

It’s different in each organization in terms who gets in the way. In my experience, the attitude can be arrogance, where teams thought they were smarter than their consumers or a product development person who thinks how they engage with the product is how everyone else will. What these people don’t understand is that you can’t judge everyone else by how you behave. You have to be observant, curious and objective.

That first million can be hard to grind through and really identify a competitive advantage. A CEO or CFO who wants to double EBITA overnight can be an impediment. They will want to kill projects too early. This is typical humor error. Traction can take a while, but it’s been my experience that patience pays off in the end.

CP: Any closing thoughts?

I think there is still an inability to understand what can be done with data and insights today, and – in some cases – it’s straight up incompetency. Some people think they can do internally what every vendor they meet with specializes in. There needs to be a respect for all the skillsets that will make data and insights success a reality.

If you know something is strategic to your business, don’t let the arrogance of thinking you should be doing it yourself get in the way. It’s ok to outsource to specialized partners.


Also published on Medium.

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