El Kanagavel

Group Director of Data Strategy, dentsu

thought leadership

While giving a talk to one of our retail clients at their recent European digital summit, I was asked, “When it comes to creating a great marketing data strategy, what is the most important thing to consider?”

It led me to reflect; of all the things I talk about every day, what is the most important theme? What is the key tenet that can’t be ignored? I kept coming back to the idea that, in my opinion at least, people are the consistent and most important aspect to consider.

I can’t remember the exact answer I gave at the time; hopefully it sounded something like this!

Whilst the technology which companies purchase can create phenomenal customer experiences, using a dizzying array of advanced analytics capabilities, 82% of the top-performing companies report that they pay close attention to the human experience around digital and technology.[1]

The word people is broad, so to be more specific: Marketers should create data strategies that consider their customers, their employees, and their organisation, in order to extract the most value from their investment in data and technology. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.


When thinking about the people-based factors in our data strategy, we must start with customers. Organisations that fail to put customers at the heart of their data strategy risk missing the point. In today’s digital economy, customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product, but rather they are retained by companies who deliver great experience.[2]

So what does this mean for marketers? If we agree the objective is to deliver customers with the best possible experience through our owned, earned and paid media estate, how should this affect our decisions when it comes to data and analytics?

Increasingly consumer privacy expectations are one of the first things to consider. In Forrester’s recent report, The Future Of Analytics, they reveal that where marketers might have historically been focused on features or services when selecting analytics technology, today they are much more concerned about protecting consumer data and trust.[3] The reward for doing so is a two way street: 63% of US consumers say they’d share more data with a company that offers a great experience,[4] which only further improves an organisation's ability to deliver more personalised and relevant experiences.

Brands have a common vision of delivering the right message to the right person at the right time and place, in real time across their customer journey. However, the vision is only as effective as a brand’s ability to know who it is talking to at every touchpoint. Identity management of customer first-party data is a key business advantage.[5]

When building a data strategy, marketers must evaluate their maturity in collecting and activating first-party customer data, so that when it is shared with marketing consent, it is used effectively. Organisations with advanced marketing analytics capabilities use first-party customer data to reach addressable audiences across their media touchpoints, are predictive in their marketing to drive media efficiency, and measure their marketing effectiveness with customer level metrics such as lifetime value.


The second group of people critical to an organisation’s data strategy are its employees. The best performing, most digital advanced organisations, are reported to have identified, hired, and trained technical talent, such as in-house data scientists and measurement experts, and also successfully integrated these people with other members of the marketing staff to produce effective cross-functional teams.[6]

However, in a survey of 300 CEOs in the UK and Ireland, 71% said a shortage of data skills and lack of data access could create major issues in their business. [7] And marketers increasingly need a broader range of specialist data skills in their teams, such as data analysts, engineers, solutions architects, and visualisation experts.

One way to address the skills gap is to actively foster learning cultures that take advantage of the growing number of free on and offline resources.

In my opinion, all digital marketers should complete Google’s free Analytics Academy courses. In recent years Google’s have continued to enrich this program by adding great new courses on Google Analytics 360 (the paid-for version of Google Analytics with enterprise capabilities) and Google Data Studio (a free to use, excellent dashboarding tool for non-experts in visualisation).

For more advanced skills, organisations should consider investing in specialised educational resources. One of the most well-known is Codecademy, who have been a reliable home for technically curious individuals starting a career in web design, computer science, game development, and more. In the past few years they have expanded their catalogue to include Machine Learning, Data Science, and even Data Visualization. There is plenty of choice in this market, depending on your needs, with some other great options being DataCamp, Udemy, and Coursera. While much of the content is free, organisations should consider investing into these and similar courses for their employees, to close the data skills gaps facing the UK and Ireland market. 


Advanced marketing technologies have now become quicker than people to identify and correct  underperformance. But it takes humans to apply strategic considerations and adjust for compatibility factors that algorithms continue to have difficulty seeing. While technology-driven improvements deliver up to 20% better campaign performance, digitally mature organisations see on average another 15% with the right human adjustments.[8] This human boost is only partly enabled by employees having the right specialist skills: agile teaming with test-and-learn culture, and strategic partnerships with third-parties are key as well.

Agile has become somewhat of a tiring buzzword, and many marketers believe it is something they should adopt. Indeed, a survey from 2019 found that 50% of traditional marketing teams planned to implement Agile within a year[9]. However, there is often still confusion around what “Agile marketing” truly means.

While many marketers confuse Agile with simply “going faster”, a specific methodology such as Scrum or Kanban (not untrue, but overly simplistic), or the absence of a planning process, the reality isn’t quite the same. Some core tenets of Agile Marketing are: planning for and responding to change over following a set plan; delivering rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns; testing and data over opinions and conventional; and crucially collaboration over silos and hierarchy. These examples are borrowed from Workfront, who provide some excellent resources for marketers keen to read further.

Lastly, organisations can maximise their data strategy by leveraging the capabilities of strategic partners. This is not an either/or decision to completely in-house or rely completely on external agencies.[10] Marketers have always needed to calibrate their resource mix for the most effective results, and this is especially important in the areas of data and technology.

Marketing technology vendors are finding that their customers (businesses) see dramatically improved results when solutions are implemented and supported by specialist teams. Brands should build collaborative and transparent relationships with service partners when it comes to data, to give themselves the best chance of delivering all the promise of their (more often than not) expensive technology investments. Equally, marketers should favour technology solutions that have mature and diverse partner ecosystems, giving themselves plenty of choice between a range of partners that address a diverse set of needs.

In Summary

2020 has been a tumultuous year for marketers. The accelerated pace of digital transformation has meant many of us are working hard on our data and technology plans, to ensure we are adapting to the challenges we face and becoming ready to take advantage of the new opportunities ahead of us.

As we continue this journey, let us not forget the role of people – as customers, employees, and organisation. By setting up your data strategy with People as a core tenet, I hope that you can become well placed to succeed in this period of dramatic change.

[1] https://www.pwc.com/us/en/advisory-services/publications/consumer-intelligence-series/pwc-consumer-intelligence-series-customer-experience.pdf

[2] https://www.adobe.com/uk/offer/digital-trends-2020.html

[3] https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/google_forrester_consulting_july_2020.pdf

[4] https://www.pwc.com/us/en/advisory-services/publications/consumer-intelligence-series/pwc-consumer-intelligence-series-customer-experience.pdf

[5] https://www.merkleinc.com/emea/thought-leadership/marketing-imperatives

[6] https://www.bcg.com/en-gb/publications/2019/dividends-digital-marketing-maturity

[7] https://www.domo.com/int/solution/are-you-keeping-pace-with-the-flow-of-data-into-your-business

[8] https://www.bcg.com/en-gb/publications/2019/dividends-digital-marketing-maturity

[9] https://gallery.mailchimp.com/7afd08445ac93d9a232aeaab7/files/1a9e7861-61f7-41c7-958c-785c5714f5ff/_2nd_Annual_State_of_Agile_Marketing_Report.01.pdf

[10] https://www.merkleinc.com/emea/thought-leadership/marketing-imperatives