One lesson I have learned serving on the board of the American Marketing Association in Chicago is that for most companies, research and marketing can no longer be separated. Why not? Because marketers now deal with immense volumes of data. If they want to make smart decisions and execute campaigns effectively, they need to use that data. And who best to help them find, interpret, and use data than the research team?
This became even more clear at our AMA event two weeks ago, where Luanne Calvert, vice president of marketing at Virgin America talked about her team’s effort to build an airline customer loyalty program from scratch. One of the challenges, she noted, was making sense of their data. “We have tons of data,” Calvert said. “There’s so much we barely know what to do with it. We are just starting to get a handle on it.”
Effectively dealing with tons of data requires a thoughtful research approach, which, by the way, does not necessarily mean doing yet another survey or creating a dashboard of mindless metrics. In our view, it means the following:
1. Asking questions. No matter what the software salespeople tell you, there are no hidden patterns in your data that you can reveal simply by clicking a “predictive analytics” button. But data can be an immensely powerful resource for answering specific, well-formulated questions.
2. Using the right tools. Good data querying and analysis nearly always involves a variety of methods and tools, including statistics programs, database tools, spreadsheets, conjoint models, text analyzers, tabulation programs, and so on. There is no enterprise-wide platform that can do it all.
3. Telling a story. Just as hidden patterns are never revealed by themselves, data likewise never speaks for itself. The art and science of research is interpreting the data and communicating the story so that it answers key business questions.
The idea of research finding a seat at the executive decision making table is worth striving for. But it is far more important and far more useful for research to be sitting at the table with the marketing, communications, operations, customer service, innovation, and product development teams. They are the ones who most urgently need our help to use their wealth of data in truly smart ways.
–Joe Hopper, Ph.D.