Data Storytelling

Marketers take note: when data is smarter than it looks

Published on May 21, 2017 19:30 PM

*This story first appeared in CMO Innovation.

When it comes to acquiring customers, data plays a huge role in any business. You could in fact say it’s the new currency, especially when it comes to marketing. While many are aware of new data technologies, most people are still clueless with regards to how to leverage them.

The Pepsi ad fiasco

Take for example the seemingly damning coverage of Pepsi’s ad fiasco. It’s clear that it is more important than ever that companies understand and connect with their customers on a much deeper level.

Thanks to in-house limitations in resource, knowledge and technology, several brands are still struggling to keep up with their data to make informed decisions. While it is easy to buy in to the power of data, the data world is not accessible and approachable enough for people to use freely, confidently, and quickly. As a result, their analytics are often inaccessible at worst or incomplete at best.

No doubt the creatives at Pepsi had their ears on the ground and found data that supported tackling social issues such as racism, would resonate with audiences, but the execution was tone deaf. There are those who would argue that there’s no relation between data and creative execution, but Pepsi’s ad flop proved why there should be one.

Perhaps with further analysis, “cultural appropriation” would also have been considered, thus preventing the lash back the ad received for diminishing the Black Lives Matter movement.

When data gets done right

Fast forward a few weeks and Heineken swoops in with their own messaging of connecting people. Only this time, Pepsi needs to take notes. Called “Worlds Apart,” it asks the audience the age-old question of ‘Is there more that unites than divides us?’ in a brand-new way.

The ad starts with data on the participants. It becomes clear to viewers that two strangers with opposing worldviews on important subjects, have been placed together in a room. They go through various stages where they build things, complete a Q&A and interact, slowly finding out more about each other.

The kicker is at “The Decision” stage, where each participant’s polar viewpoint is aired in a short video. Do they stay and share their viewpoints over a Heineken, or leave? Watch the full story unfold here. 

While the ad wasn’t an overnight sensation, it didn’t get lambasted within hours either. To date, it has achieved over 8 million views and over 53,000 likes on YouTube alone. Take into consideration Facebook shares, Twitter and the media publicity it has garnered since, that number is easily multiplied.

The resounding support and the fact that it came in the wake of Pepsi’s fiasco, meant it was inevitable that comparisons were made between the two. As far as people were concerned, it was a fight which Pepsi lost.

So how can you avoid Pepsi’s experience and come out winning like Heineken, with data?

  • Focus on quality, not just quantity

Bear in mind that when we say this, it is in reference to the metrics you can measure, i.e. vanity versus value metrics, not the amount of data you feed in. Holistic data points from various channels should be collated and fed into your analytics in order to get the complete picture, and prevent “blind spots” that can often skew results in your reports.

Once all your data is fed in, it’s time to pay closer attention to those insights that matter. Of course, these metrics and KPIs will differ, depending at which stage of the business you are currently in, and the objective of the campaign. If your aim is to raise awareness for a brand or cause, then naturally, impressions and virality matters. But if your KPI is to increase sales and revenue, your stakeholders will probably seek more in-depth insights from your data than just views.

  • Leverage on technology

There are several tools and apps on hand to help you keep abreast of your data as it happens, when it happens. From social media and brand awareness tools such as Sprout Social and Brandwatch, to business management solutions such Dropbox and Google Drive, there’s something for every business at every budget.

The velocity of data is not going to slow down anytime soon, so it is best to leverage on technology where possible. Not only does it streamline processes, thus saving you time for more important things like your strategy, automation also reduces the risk of human error. Technology also helps to connect teams and allows for better collaboration, regardless of their geographical location.

  • Be agile enough to operate in real time

The biggest challenge any business faces today, is customers; their wants, needs and priorities are always changing. In order to keep up, brands must be equally agile in order to address these changes. This cannot be done without technology (automation). To ensure that your business doesn’t lag behind the competition, the data captured and processed should be able to be done on the fly and frequently.

The ability to gain useful, clear insights into customers’ experience and behavior in real time allows you to understand what’s happening, when it happens. This in turn allows you to take appropriate action as needed, giving you a business advantage. Fortunately, Pepsi learnt what to focus their attention on next when it came to their data, and as a result, could respond swiftly to a PR crisis. But was it too little, too late?

Many still reach for a Pepsi

Post-campaign, Pepsi did a poll and found that despite their huge gaff, their quick response time in pulling the ad within 24 hours, showed an increase in their popularity ratings; audiences (in the U.S.) had a more favorable opinion of the brand after the incident. According to a report on Fortune, the Morning Consult survey found that about 44% of people had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the ad.

This, coupled with Coke’s announcement on layoffs to fight their sales slump and save $800 million, is making Pepsi look unscathed despite initial public lashing. So, while they overlooked being sensitive towards cultural appropriation as an issue, it seems that the data was correct in its forecast of addressing culturally sensitive issues.

While it’s business as usual for Pepsi, remember that the key is not to let the technology or big data manage you; data analytics is for you to manage your data. Beyond just proving concepts, data is there to provide insights that serve as a guide that could lead to innovative solutions, enabling you to be more responsive as opposed to reactive.

By first ensuring that the right – and complete – data is available for effective analytics, businesses can find new ways to truly understand and connect with their customers, thus gaining an edge over the competition.

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