Three big data lessons we learned from General Mills, Tinder and more

The EconomistAs more and more organizations are becoming data-driven, everything around big data – including programmatic, consumer insights and machine learning – have become buzzwords in marketing and advertising.

While almost every industry conference addresses the importance of big data, high-profile executives from Bain & Company, General Mills, Tinder and more gave this subject some fresh thinking today at The Economist’s Marketing Unbound conference Thursday.  

Below are three things that we learned.

Marketing should center around the consumer, not data
Marketing needs to adapt, said Laura Beaudin, partner of Bain & Company. Decisions need to be made collaboratively across different departments within an organization. “We’ve seen big changes in the idea of smashing silos between functions in order to make sure that merchandising is in line with marketing and sales,” said Beaudin.

Previously, the marketing team didn’t need to work closely with the research team, for example, and a brand marketer might be required to set the budget 18 months prior to a campaign. But now, marketing needs to collaborate with IT, analytics and data. Most importantly, marketing should put the consumer at the center of every single decision.

“We see lots of companies start organizing no longer around products or channels but around the customer,” said Beaudin. “This is disruptive but beneficial at the same time because it requires companies to be more nimble.”

Companies that are leading marketing tend to make decisions two times faster and use data three times more often, according to Beaudin.

Big data can inform ideas but it cannot create ideas
While big data can help companies make marketing decisions faster, it cannot replace consumer experience. “Big data is tactical and it offers consumers guidance,” said Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT AgeLab. “But big data doesn’t create a vision that gets the consumer excited and say ‘this brand offers a lifestyle that I want’.”

While big data can absolutely drive marketing decisions, he said, it’s more important for a brand to come up with a great idea that delights its consumers. Then the company can use data to decide if its hypothesis actually works.

Michael Fanuele, chief creative officer for General Mills, agreed that no matter how marketing is changing – be it data-driven or not – fundamentally, it’s about creating something that consumers desire.

“As valuable as programmatic and analytics can be, sometimes I think it blurs the reality that at the end of the day, we need ideas – either for building the product or for building the consumer relationship – that are irresistible,” said Fanuele. “How much precision is too much precision when you precisely target people with crap?”

Digital market research cannot replace traditional market research methods
In terms of market research, organizations today can collect data from mobile, search and social media to study consumer behavior. While digital media generates faster results, traditional market research methods like telephone surveys, in-person interviews and qualitative focus groups are still necessary, according to Phil Schwarz, chief marketing officer for Tinder.

Despite being a purely digital company, Tinder still conducts online and street surveys, asking people dating culture or product-specific questions. It also runs focus groups and A/B testing on different various.

“We can quickly see what’s working and what’s not working from our product data. But none of them can be a substitute for classic methods,” said Schwarz.