October 09, 2018

Filed under: Knowledge

How to Use Data to Sharpen Your Message

Data has revolutionized the way we market goods and services, and, over time, our collection of that data has gotten increasingly sophisticated. All sorts of insights into consumers—both demographic and psychographic—inform when, where, and how a brand gets in front of its audience. Brands can stitch together online and offline data to create custom experiences; build advanced attribution models to identify all steps in a customer’s journey; understand not just which content performs best, but which content converts best; use machine learning and algorithms to predict (and encourage) the consumer’s next move; and leverage myriad research and market data to inform marketing campaigns and product development. But data is a power to be wielded carefully—it should always sharpen your message; never dictate it.

Data literacy and the misuse of data

If you’re a marketer, it should come as no surprise that you need a data literacy. From likes and comments to clicks and impressions, brands demand performance metrics from their marketing teams. In fact, a grasp on digital analytics and measurement strategy is now table stakes for any marketer. (Case in point: try finding a job description for a marketing role without a requirement for Google Analytics or the like.)

But things quickly go sideways when you use that data literacy to sell your product without considering whether it's something your brand truly believes in. Let’s recall Pepsi’s April 2017 “Join the Movement” campaign featuring Kendall Jenner. Here’s what the data showed:

  • Jenner is the highest-paid model in the world
  • According to a Deloitte Survey, 84 percent of Millennials believe it is their duty to change the world
  • Millennials have a buying power that exceeds Baby Boomers
  • Black Lives Matter is one of the defining movements of the past decade

When you use data to drive your message—rather than to inform your message—you’re side-stepping into manipulation. The only thing that should drive your messaging is your conviction; what you believe. If Pepsi had a long history of engaging with civil rights movements, Jenner keeping the peace with a can of soda would work. (E.g., no one questions Patagonia’s fight for public lands.) But Pepsi has never demonstrated a commitment to social justice. The “Join the Movement” ad was calculated and patronizing, exploiting a powerful image from Black Lives Matter to sell their product—a clear and egregious misuse of customer and market data.

Brands built on conviction

There is, however, a better and more effective way to leverage data to build your brand. It starts first with this: data should sharpen, not dictate, your message. We can use Pepsi as a cautionary tale here. Pepsi wasn’t operating out of some core conviction. They allowed data to dictate their message, and they suffered for it. They pulled the ad within hours and issued a public apology. Jenner did too (and we watched her tearfully apologize on KUWTK).

We believe that good marketing is telling the truth about who you are, what you do, and what your customers can expect—and that truth should be the basis for your marketing strategy. You use data only to help you tell the truth to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Nike’s recent “Dream Crazy” campaign with Colin Kaepernick is an interesting case study, too—but not in the misuse of data. If Nike just looked at the data, they would see:

But rather than relying on the data, Nike built their campaign around a message that has been true to them since the beginning.

Just do it. Bill Bowerman said, 30 years ago, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Nike has made products for all athletes—making it easier for anyone, everyone, to just do it, to just get out of bed and lace up their sneakers. The campaign is timely, sure, as it speaks directly to the increasing polarization of the NFL, specifically Kaepernick’s decision to kneel for the national anthem. But this is not leveraging data to capitalize on a moment; it’s leveraging data to further strengthen and communicate a conviction—a truth well told for three decades.

Maybe you’re hearing Nike’s belief for the first time—but it’s probably not the first time you’ve felt it. If you go back to the Nike campaign archives, you’ll see their belief woven throughout. From If You Let Me Play to Find Your Greatness, Nike has always championed every athlete, every person with a body—especially those who have been cast aside or maligned. This makes Kaepernick, regardless of whether he’s on an NFL roster, an appropriate face for the campaign. Kaepernick just did it—he knelt for what he believed in, despite the consequences. Nike just did it, too, and the market responded. We like to say that your brand is a gate: it lets some people in, and it keeps others out. Despite all the internet backlash, Nike’s stock closed at a record high after they ran the ad.

When you use data to try to predict the demands of a fickle and changing market, you’re likely to fail. The best use of data is to get in front of the right people, in the right places, at the right time. Data tells you to cut down your YouTube video or change the background color on your banner ad—it should not tell you what to say. If you cling to your core conviction, use your brand’s belief as the filter to make your decisions, and then use data to sharpen how you reach those who share your worldview, your brand—and your bottom line—will grow.