Big data challenges for CMOs and cherry-picking chiefs

By George Hopkin
Stakeholders and decision-makers are “cherry-picking” data to back up their own opinions, never mind what the full picture suggests. CMOs must take action

Marketing analytics are responsible for influencing just over half (53%) of marketing decisions, according to a survey by Gartner. But some of the most crucial calls made by the most influential stakeholders ignore important data, even as chief marketing officers (CMOs) champion data-centric decisions. This means as many as 60% of CMOs are predicted to cut marketing analytics spending by half next year because of the perception of failed promises.

Gartner surveyed 377 users of marketing analytics this year to explore the role of marketing analytics in decision-making. Data management challenges and cognitive biases are the top barriers to marketing analytics’ influence, it was discovered, with one-third of respondents reporting that decision-makers are likely to select data to back up a story that aligns with their preconceived decisions or opinions.

“CMOs often believe that achieving marketing data integration goals will lead to greater influence and increased value of marketing analytics,” says Joseph Enever, Senior Director Analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice. “The reality is that better data won’t increase marketing analytics’ decision influence alone. CMOs must address the real challenges — cognitive biases and the need for a data-informed culture.”

The survey found those organisations reporting marketing analytics influence fewer than 50% of decisions are more likely to be unable to prove the value of marketing. However, those that cross the 50% mark will discover “diminishing returns” on their work to increase the number of good decisions influenced by marketing data. 

Marketing analytics professionals point to traditional data management challenges as the top reason analytics are not used when making decisions. Respondents were most likely to cite the challenges of “data are inconsistent across sources” and “data are difficult to access” in this year’s survey.

Gartner says people and processes are the problems, not data

Marketing analytics challenges to decision-making are not always caused by data integration workflows unique to the marketing industry, it is more likely to be regular people and process problems, says Gartner.

Key cognitive biases can be an issue - one-third of respondents reported that decision-makers “cherry-pick” data to align with preconceived decisions or opinions. And roughly a quarter of respondents said decision-makers do not review the information provided by the marketing analytics team (26%), reject their recommendations (24%), or rely on “gut instincts” to make their choice (24%).

Gartner says CMOs must address these challenges by tracking the decisions that are made based on analytics to provide a current state of view and areas to improve. Identify examples of marketing analytics work that provided actionable recommendations to a marketing campaign or program. Marketing leaders should encourage their teams to look for patterns in decision-making habits and to document the types of decisions they influence.

Cherry-picking can be addressed by creating KPIs and metrics before launching a new campaign or marketing strategy, not after the data has already started to come in. Senior leaders should also be encouraged to set an example and avoid being a “HiPPO”, which describes the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

Gartner also encourages CMOs to establish analytics upskilling programs that account for differing workflows and resource constraints across the marketing organisation. This might include the creation of personas that detail how different employees need to use data in their roles and prioritise training sessions.

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