“Data! Data! Data! I cannot make bricks without clay!”

Sherlock Holmes

Wondering if data analytics can really improve the performance of your marketing strategies? Just ask the most celebrated and successful data analyst of all time – Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was a master at turning raw data into valuable insights. He called it “the science of deduction”, and that truly sums up what data-driven marketing is all about.

Let’s take a look at what Holmes had to say about the science of deduction as it applies to data-driven marketing.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has the facts…one begins to twist facts to suit theories, rather than theories to suit facts.”

Here, Holmes identifies the number one problem with most marketing strategies. Marketers commit millions of dollars to campaigns built around unproven assumptions about their products and customers. As a result, they end up searching for facts that support their strategies, rather than letting facts drive their strategies. Holmes himself said “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

“Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power for stimulating it.”

You’ve read that Data has replaced Creativity as the fundamental driver of successful marketing campaigns. Holmes would strongly disagree. He’d tell you that the key driver for marketing today is insight, not data. Data is simply the tool by which marketers gain insights into their customers and prospects. Those insights are then used to drive powerful, targeted creative that gets results. Consider the fact that nearly 89% of marketers have attempted to integrate data with marketing tactics, but less than 15% of them feel they’ve been effective.* That’s because simply integrating data isn’t enough – you’ve got to use the data to glean valuable insights that can improve marketing results.

“I never guess. It is a shocking habit – destructive to the logical faculty.”

Guesswork is the enemy of a data-driven marketing strategy. But marketers open the door to guesswork when they establish campaign goals that cannot be quantified. If your goal is to “drive more calls to the call center”, how do you measure success? Success becomes qualitative rather than quantitative. A better goal would be to “drive 2,000 incremental calls to the call center over the next 30 days”. A specific goal eliminates guesswork: you know immediately whether or not your marketing campaign has been a success or failure.

“I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.”

Holmes makes an important point here: don’t ignore what the data tells you. Case in point: we work with a marketer who loves postcards. All the data we’ve collected over the past decade, along with research conducted over the years, proves that postcards get the lowest response rates and the highest cost-per-lead of any form of direct mail. And yet, this marketer still pushes for postcards. Every time he runs a postcard, his results plummet and his cost per lead skyrockets. It’s elementary, my dear Watson: follow the data.

“Having gathered these facts…I smoked several pipes over them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others which were merely incidental.”

Holmes understands that collecting data is only the first step in the science of deduction. The next step is to identify the data that is truly meaningful. Wilson Raj, global director of customer intelligence at SAS, writes: “There may be{marketers}who focus solely on getting as much data as possible. But it’s at the expense of determining if the data is truly valuable. The question is not, “Have I collected all the data’, but rather, ‘Have I collected the right data to help my customer.” Natasha D. Smith, Senior Editor at Direct Marketing News agrees. “If leveraged effectively, Big Data can be a major problem solver. It can improve customer experience, boost customer interaction, increase revenue, reduce costs and identify breakdowns in infrastructure and the sales funnel. Missteps, however, can leave some marketers with too much information, not enough solutions.”**

“It is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”

Eighty-three percent of companies have started some sort of Big Data program. Many, however, remain in fledgling states (Experian Data Quality). It’s time to put Big Data to work for you. As Holmes would say, “Hurry Watson! The game’s afoot!”

*Rowing as One – Integrated Marketing Today, DMA, April 2011; **6 Big Data Do’s and Don’ts, Direct Marketing News, April 2014; ***Turning Big Data into Smart Data, Direct Marketing News, March 2014; ****12 Big Data Facts For Marketers in 2014, Direct Marketing News, August 2014