The world currently creates just over 16 zettabytes—that’s 16 trillion gigabytes!—of data per year, according to market-intelligence firm IDC’s Data Age 2025 white paper. By 2025, IDC estimates we’ll be generating 10 times that amount of data. (We’ll leave you to calculate just how big that number is on paper.)
It’s undeniable: using technology to find out what makes customers tick—and anticipating their needs—has revolutionized marketing. Now we can actually make the ultimate educated guess by collecting, sorting, refining, and mining vast swaths of data.
We sat down with two digital marketing experts, Dan Hoffman and Thomas Scott Adams (both part of the Vitamin T Expert Network), to find out how data is reshaping organizations and their marketing efforts.
Thomas served as Starbucks’ MarTech Project Manager, HP Enterprise’s Digital Marketing Program Manager, and is currently Accenture’s Sr. Digital Project Manager. Dan began his career in digital marketing more than a decade ago, working with clients ranging from startups (two of which he founded and sold) to the Fortune 500.
Q: Why do we care so much about data in the first place, especially when it comes to digital marketing?
Hoffman: People just want to know more. It's like giving someone a crossword puzzle and having a few of the letters missing; it's almost natural, I think, for people to go, “I want to fill in the blanks.” In my experience, the concept of using data, making data-driven decisions—rather than just guesses—is something that people are naturally attracted to. It’s helping people understand that marketing is no longer just opinion-based, but it's actually factual and data-driven. [We’re seeing] how that spills over into entire organizations and helps grow what I call the “marketing IQ,” and how that benefits companies in the long run.
Q: What kind of influence has data had on how companies talk about analytics and marketing?
Hoffman: I’ve worked at a lot of companies where marketing or sales do presentations at a company meeting, and it would be very basic; bullet points, sales were up or down, or whatever. At SmartDraw—because we had really good built-in analytics—we actually had in-house analytics systems that we [integrated] with things like Google Analytics and our data from Google AdWords.
We had a pretty big spend, so people wanted to know: Where does that money go? How does that help the company become more successful? It was very easy for us to use technology and data visualization to share some very important trends, what data we captured, how we leveraged that data to help improve our marketing effectiveness, and how that was integrated into things like our website and email marketing, etc. People [from throughout the company] had really good ideas about how to actually improve things.
Q: How can data help companies be more agile?
Hoffman: With digital marketing, we have real-time data to support our decisions, so we aren’t just going to wait and hope that campaigns perform. Time is money, right? If you have a campaign that can capture a lot of data in a short period of time, but you let it run for a month, you can lose a lot of money really quickly. So, we had learned that it was best to have a testing methodology. How much data do we really have to capture before we can get a realistic idea of whether a campaign is working or not? That allowed us to make very quick decisions.
We basically became the ones driving the cycles within the organization, and at first that made for some natural tension between finance and marketing. But instead of waiting 30 days or 60 days to make sure finance had their numbers — and by then we had already spent a lot of money — we used it as an opportunity to really get on the same page with finance. In a lot of ways, marketing was breaking down barriers by using this kind of approach. It's not just guesses and opinions. It's really using data, data analytics, analysis, A/B testing methodologies, so that there's no longer any kind of emotion built into [decision-making] and it's much more fact-driven and data-driven.
Q: Instead of concentrating marketing within a single department, technology seems to have helped some companies breed a more collaborative, inter-departmental approach.
Hoffman: Campaign concepts could come from anywhere in the organization. Sales could say, “I heard a story talking to one of our customers that people are using our software to do XYZ.” So we would craft a campaign and we would start, potentially with just an email blast, with that content. Then, based upon the response that we were getting from that, we would decide in some cases to build a social-media campaign, do a campaign in Google AdWords, [or] put it on our blog.
Adams: Marketing needs to build a relationship with the sales team, because all the stuff that marketing is doing is going to be for the sales team. So, really having a close relationship with different departments, and really finding out what's working with their leadership and their end users, and what their needs are, and how we can help them accomplish their goals—I think it's a huge team effort.
Q: When modern digital marketing takes such an all-hands-on-deck approach, is there any such thing as a standalone marketing department anymore?
Hoffman: There has to be some form; obviously organizations can't just be completely amorphous. I mean, you see this sometimes in startups—and I've had two of my own—but it evolves as the company grows. You can't have marketing people doing finance, or finance doing sales, or sales doing product development. That doesn't make sense. But, this concept that we're open in marketing, and marketing is not just marketing to the external world but also within our own organization—I think that once you do that, everyone's light bulbs kinda go off and people think, “Wow, this is really great, we have such an open marketing group.”
Q: In your experience, how has this led companies you’ve worked with to rethink their organizational structure?
Hoffman: I think having a nimble analytics team, and marketing data analysts, was really important for us. But, they were integrated with everything else we did. Even our email marketing people were very, very close—they actually sat right next to the data-analyst team. So, I would say that we had very open communication and a very flat organization that was very driven by data. Even the people that came up with the creative were involved in the process, so there were no real silos or walls between them. We actually really kept open the entire organization, because we wanted people to understand everyone in the company had a common language.
This interview has been condensed and edited for grammar and clarity.