Data and marketing: A match made in heaven

Mirela Cialai, head of global cross-channel digital marketing at Zinio, discusses the intersection between marketing and data, and why the partnership is critical to the success of marketing teams in 2019


Since the big data boom began, it's been common lore that data and marketing are a business match made in heaven. According to an Invesp report, businesses that employ data-driven personalization delivered five-to-eight times the ROI on marketing spend. Yet, despite the impact of successfully employing data in marketing campaigns, a little under half (49%) of respondents reported being somewhat or very effective at using data-informed insights to guide future strategy.

To establish the importance of data in marketing, Innovation Enterprise spoke with Mirela Cialai, head of global cross-channel digital marketing at Zinio, ahead her presentation at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in New York.

Innovation Enterprise: Do you believe that in the future digital marketing could be fully automated? Or will there always be the need for the human in marketing?

Mirela Cialai: To some extent human engagement can be taken out of the equation. This is mostly the case of digital marketing channels which rely heavily on data such as SEO, SEM and digital advertising where there are already quite a lot of tools available today which on top of automating mundane and monotonous tasks can also provide deep analysis and help devise the marketing strategy. Most likely the future will bring even more automation in this space, quite possibly removing the human factor completely.

However, that might not be the case for content-driven channels where brands interact with their consumers and get to learn more about them. It will also be difficult to remove the human element from marketing, especially where the brand's voice gets defined such as on social media, or via email and other content marketing outlets, given the fact that consumers tend to react to stories that convey human emotions. Additionally, balancing the challenge of remaining authentic and relevant would be very difficult, if not impossible to achieve without human interaction between companies and their consumers.

IE: With so many brands aiming to have a significant social media presence, how can companies stand out from the crowd?

MC: Some of the most important factors in capturing consumers' attention and ensuring a successful social strategy are:

  • Relevance: Ensuring that the content posted is relevant to your target audience and truly resonates with your followers. It helps to run audits to see which social posts generate the highest engagement and to gather feedback from the followers and act on it.
  • Keeping a close eye on the latest digital trends and making use of them to grow your business. For example, while social media has been until now a channel meant to drive traffic to the website, it is slowly becoming a go-to place for shopping.
  • Delivering the right message/at the right time/on the right channel in order to engage followers. Marketers have access to an increasing amount of data, so using this data efficiently allows you to personalize the message and deliver it through the channel where customers are most likely to engage with it.

IE: With the vast quantities of information available today, what techniques can you use to make sure big data provides real customer insight?

MC: Big data is an important factor in gaining a deeper understanding of the target audience and a major tool that drives strategic business decisions. However, due to the shortcomings inherent to its continuous and fast growth, it's getting increasingly difficult to discern the useful information, isolate the noise and get actionable insights.

Additionally, big data tends to be siloed between different departments such as business intelligence, marketing and finance. So, using big data efficiently requires first of all the ability to integrate the masses of customer-generated data from varied sources and to combine it in order to provide a comprehensive customer view.

Secondly, it's important to combine big data with social science, data analytics and customer feedback in order to truly understand the behavior of the customers, understand what motivates their actions and identify changes in their behavior, plus predict customers' future needs. So humanizing big data is crucial to turn disparate data into true insights that lead to impactful initiatives.

"It's getting increasingly difficult to discern the useful information, isolate the noise and get actionable insights."

– Mirela Cialai

IE: How can you use your data to create content that will appeal most to your target audience?

MC: The first step in creating compelling content is using the data to understand the audience for each particular channel of communication. This entails not only knowing the demographic attributes but also what type of content they engage with the most through each channel, how much time they spend using each channel, what time of the day they tend to engage most with the content and more. Creating relevant and highly engaging content is an important factor in generating engagement; however, there are other contributing factors. Timing is also important, making sure that the content is delivered at the right time for the customer and through the right channel.

IE: What technology has most changed your day-to-day role in the last two years?

MC: Cloud-based team collaboration and sharing tools have completely changed the way our entire company communicates, the way we share ideas, the way we deliver or gather feedback from teams based in different countries in different time zones. We no longer struggle with files attached to emails being passed from one person to another with changes getting lost along the way and people left out of the conversation by mistake. Plus, the cloud has considerably reduced the amount of needless email exchanges and internal meetings.

IE: As our digital world is continues to shift, are there any ways in which you can prepare for the next big disruptor?

MC: The best way to prepare for the change is to be the change: To constantly innovate without being afraid of failing. It's also crucial to keep learning and never be satisfied with the knowledge you've accumulated so far as there is always more new information becoming available every day. It's always very important to focus on your customers, understanding their needs and how their behavior is changing dictates what will be coming next.

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