What You Missed at the 2015 AMA Analytics With Purpose Conference

This week I had the privilege to attend Analytics With Purpose, the third annual conference sponsored by the American Marketing Association. Over 200 attendees gathered in San Diego to hear business leaders talk about using data to personalize marketing, understand marketing analytics, conduct unstructured text analysis, build a marketing mix model, and lead a data-centered organization. A wide variety of industries were represented, and I managed to meet up with more than a handful of higher education professionals—among them faculty, development staff, web programmers, and campus marketers.

Although this was a marketing analytics conference, it was made clear to attendees that data isn’t just important for marketing; it’s essential for all functions within an organization to make smart decisions. The opening keynote speaker—not a Chief Marketing Officer, but a Chief Data Officer, made that abundantly clear during the first session. Over two days, the following key themes emerged that should be top of mind for data-driven marketers, and all leaders of businesses and organizations.

Big Data Is Old News—Owned Data Optimization Matters More

The phrase “big data” was not mentioned much at this conference. Just a few short years after it graced the title of every marketing conference keynote, it’s now relegated to a slide that’s mentioned off-hand. Rather than focusing on big data (all-encompassing data about consumers and customers that can be purchased from data aggregators), organizations are more concerned with getting the most from the data they already have. This requires understanding all the data elements being collected, engaging in statistical analysis and modeling to determine what elements account for variance in key business outcomes, and using the resulting insights to optimize investment, operations, and marketing.

Companies are getting their customer data through web and mobile app analytics, loyalty programs, purchase history, and surveys. Often, they still combine it with third-party data (weather, school calendars, labor statistics) that can be obtained at no additional cost.

Strong Analytics Programs Span All Corners of an Organization

The rise of the Chief Data Officer happened for a reason—to make good use of business data, it must be collected from throughout an organization, but used at the executive level to make decisions. Business units still require their own analysts (customer service may use data to optimize call center efficiency, while marketing uses data to calculate ROI of various messaging channels, and account figures out what it all costs), but the data must be funneled up the food chain so all lines of business are considered in a company-wide model. If marketers increase investment in television because they notice that it drives a higher order value than print advertising, but don’t account for the fact that it also increases inbound customer service calls, cost savings in one area could quickly be spent in another area because of poor coordination. The leader held responsible for data analytics at the organizational level must have all this information—and environmental data—at her disposal to provide key insights that don’t have an unforeseen impact.

At lunch, two of my higher education colleagues talked about how to integrate data across an institution and came up with an excellent example. Event planners in student activities often keep track of event attendance (very easy to do if you’re using ID readers at events). But, other than trending event attendance, what is done with this data? Imagine the value it would present if it was shared with the development office, so they could identify what students happened to attend athletics events, or events related to the arts, and offer the chance to donate to similar events/programs after graduation? This conversation continued to explore how course registration, student organization involvement, and even student employment data could be used by other areas of campus to help them better target messaging to meet their objectives. (I must offer a hat tip to Rachel Dohmann from Texas A&M, who was the source of many of these suggestions. Her head is spinning with ways that data and analytics could impact fundraising and development, so hit her up on Twitter if you want to talk more.)

Decentralized Analysts Provide Maximum Value

While a Chief Data Officer must have visibility across all areas of an organization, analysts housed within separate business units can provide relevant, actionable analysis that enables quick business decisions. A centralized analytics team that responds to ad hoc requests for analysis will never provide the utility that derives from a dedicated marketing, customer service, or financial analyst. In a model like this, the Chief Data Officer serves as a conductor of a beautiful symphony of analysts.

Marketing Is Not a Cost Center

In many organizations, the marketing/communications group is given a budget, and expected to spend it. If they get some positive buzz because of the “wow factor” of the marketing spend, they’ll consider their efforts successful. In 2015, this can no longer continue. Most organizations have data that makes it possible to calculate the ROI for any activity, marketing or otherwise. What many lack, in my opinion, is the commitment to measurement and data collection and the analytical expertise to find business value in the data. Imagine the difference in perception of a marketing department that consistently spends its budget without reporting real results, and the data-driven marketing department that can show that it brings 3.5x its budget back to the organization in the form of revenue.

People Are More Valuable Than Ever

No matter how many sexy analytic tools your organization owns, the data will be useless absent a team of curious, statistically gifted analysts. Remember the correlations, regressions, and log equations you despised in math class? They really do matter in the real world, and your organization needs people that know how to apply them to your business objectives. People can be rented (consultants and contractors) and can help you get up to speed quickly, but forward-thinking organizations are investing in in-house talent that can mentor future employees and understand unique business challenges. The rock stars you should never let go of can take a spreadsheet of data and turn it into one or two pictures or sentences that enable leaders to make confident, data-driven decisions.

Marketing Analytics Conference Review

In addition to the two-day conference, I participated in two pre-conference tutorials—Marketing Analytics 101 and Intro to Marketing Mix Analysis. In just 2.5 days, I feel as if I took an MBA survey course or two, and my mind is spinning with ideas—some of which I will be implementing at work, and others I hope to offer here or in my social media measurement class to help higher education professionals make better use of data for marketing and institutional purposes.

This conference was excellent; sessions were valuable, networking opportunities abounded, and the vendors provided true value through their sponsored sessions. While I don’t know if I will be able to attend the 2016 event in Scottsdale (Arizona in February sounds mighty nice!), I would definitely recommend this event to others. I must take a moment to note that almost every session at this conference made me appreciate the statistics background I’ve gotten from my Ph.D. program, and I’d encourage any marketer or leader interested in leveraging data in their organization to brush up on their statistics if necessary—not just for events like these, but so you can provide maximum analytical value to your organization, even if that’s just the ability to interpret statistical analysis performed by others.

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3 Comments on “What You Missed at the 2015 AMA Analytics With Purpose Conference

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Carlie. What did you think of the conference as one of the higher ed attendees?

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