At the end of 2022, Funnel released a survey of American and European digital marketers. We dug into the problems they face when working with and analyzing data. You can check out all of the results here, but the upshot is that digital marketers lack confidence.
After unpacking the results and insights from our report, I sat down with Juuso Lyytikkä, Funnel’s VP growth, to get his views on the matter. With more than 10 years of experience in leading high growth marketing and growth teams, I thought that he would have some interesting perspectives.
He took us all the way back to the start of his digital marketing career, to present day and beyond. We touch on how much the industry has changed, why the data skills gap exists, and how digital marketers should hone their skills to have the best performance in 2023.
Plus, as a leader himself, Juuso spoke about how CMOs and marketing leaders can empower their teams with the skills, technologies, and processes they’ll need.
Looking back, how has the role of the performance marketer changed?
The role and requirements have changed drastically in just five to six years. This is mostly due to how the platforms have transformed, from the meticulous manual optimization we used to see to the complex automation set-up we have today. Then there’s the undeniable influence of players like Facebook and Google who have managed to control the evolution and course of action in these advertising spaces in the past decade.
Before, platforms rewarded marketers who excelled at optimizing their campaigns. This could involve numerous things; manual adjustments in bids, targeting, exclusions, audiences, placements, etc. This was great for the marketers who were experts in this area, because it created a competitive edge for those who managed to stay on top.
Today, the platforms are starting to behave a lot more like black boxes in the sense that they are providing marketers with less levers to pull.
How can marketers leverage this change?
The levers have also changed. Automation and campaign types like Performance Max have leveled the playing field in favor of the platforms, as less advanced marketers can expect better results and spend more. For those looking for a competitive edge, there are a couple of things to consider. It all boils down to creatives and data.
An ad creative is perhaps the biggest lever a performance marketing team has, so we should expect to see big improvements in creatives in the coming years.
The second important lever is data. To be more specific, it’s the data that performance marketers feed back to the platforms. Trying to find a performance marketer who is an expert in both might be like trying to find a “needle in a haystack,” though, so consider finding expert talent to focus on these two areas.
Marketers say they have gaps in their data skills. At the same time, marketing leaders say improving their team’s data skills is a high priority. What do you think needs to happen in order for these two to be more aligned?
I don’t see a big misalignment between the two. The fact that marketing leaders recognize improving their team’s data skills is a high priority doesn’t surprise me. I see two reasons for this.
First, many marketing leaders acknowledge where the market is headed, and the new requirements to perform in this new reality will require better data skills. They also recognize the urgency to get started.
Secondly, the marketers who don’t see a need to fill their data skill gaps will soon need to look for new roles. The technical requirements for performance marketing will only grow, and we can already see a close resemblance with data engineers.
For marketing leaders, the lack of data proficiency in their team will be a big issue depending on the data maturity of their company. After all, Marketing tends to be one of the most, if not the most, data-driven functions in the company.
Why do you think marketing teams don’t trust their data?
The real question is, do marketers trust their data more or less now than they used to?
Perhaps marketers are climbing the second hill displayed by Dunning-Kruger (see below). In other words, do they know enough to know how little they know? This is a much better place to be, rather than on the first hill without competence or insight.
Source: Conversion uplift
We have to understand that there are several things at play:
- Overall, marketing is expected to be data savvy. As such, their data is used to form and drive overall business decisions – sometimes more than any other sector of the business. This means the data and analysis have to be on point, with little to no room for error.
- We see an increase in data volume while the number of platforms is growing faster than ever. Many marketers are also stuck in cumbersome ways of working with data like spreadsheets that require continuous data-checking. Plus, the number of fields and metrics has grown. This opens up lots of new opportunities to perform analysis, but also for error and misinterpretation.
- Lastly, you might be dealing with over-attribution of conversions in some platforms. If you are still looking at siloed performance data, the lack of trust is unsurprising. Because the truth is, if you add up your platform-reported conversions and compare them to the actual conversions pulled from your analytics or transactions platform, they will never match.
Given the advancement of this performance role, do you think marketers need to think more like an analyst?
The modern performance marketer definitely works a lot more like an analyst or data engineer. They collect, clean and organize the data. They analyze and report the findings and these findings are used to guide the decisions made in the team.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should think like one. Not having this skill set in your team will quickly become a bottleneck and slow you down significantly.
What I mean is, by performing better data analysis, marketers can improve their performance and guide their strategy and business in the right direction.
It’s usually the marketing team that gets initial feedback and the earliest data about what is happening in the market. They can answer questions like, is demand going up or down? And the modern marketer should be able to feel confident sharing these insights with the rest of the organization.
Performing proper analysis and improving the data quality and input to platforms is one of the few major levers we currently have: this is a hygiene requirement for any performance team.
So yes, you should have marketers who are able to perform advanced data analysis themselves and not rely solely on other resources. Those non-marketing analysts tend to lack context and hence the insights might not be as relevant as those compiled by a marketer.
If your performance marketing team isn’t doing this today, your main focus should be to upskill, support and recruit. Train the team while working closely with more mature analytics resources in your organization, while bringing in new talent (which is already hard to find).
How do you influence C-level executives and stakeholders to invest in talent and technology?
A lot of times, the executives simply aren’t aware just how cumbersome and time-consuming it can be to get to the insights and reports that are presented to them.
In addition, most executives don’t know how much stress ad hoc questions can cause the team. For instance, wanting to review sales performance in conjunction with a specific campaign or creative.
This is especially true when their teams don’t have a system in place nor a reliable source for their data that allows them to quickly pull up the answers. In general, many companies don’t treat their marketing data as the strategic asset it is.
These strategic assets often live in spreadsheets and are updated either manually or using rudimentary data pipelines that have a tendency to break without clearly informing the marketer that something is off or not working. Again, this increases the risk that important strategic decisions are being based on poor or false data, which can have costly implications for the company.
What can marketers do about it?
Communication is key. Make sure your executives understand how much work goes into answering their ad hoc questions or creating the weekly, monthly, quarterly reports they’re asking for.
Also, every marketer I know has reported incorrect numbers at least once in their career. I would say that in 99.9 percent of the cases, it is due to human error.
One way to reduce human error is to reduce the number of human touch-points required to have a dataset that allows you to answer the question at hand with confidence. If you have a clean dataset that is always up-to-date, you’re already halfway there.
Every marketer should feel comfortable to perform basic analysis such as reading, interpreting and presenting data. Make sure to educate yourself on the essentials, which is something any marketer is expected to do. There are plenty of resources and online courses out there. If the team isn’t there already, it is time to invest heavily in improving the team’s data skills.
What skills do C-level executives and marketing leaders look to implement in their teams? What ways are there to upskill marketers?
They need someone who can perform holistic analysis and maintain a connection to real business results: an understanding of how their marketing impacts the core KPIs of the business.
Marketing teams need to both understand and care about the real business outcomes. Long gone are the days when a marketing team celebrated hitting their leads targets – the most successful marketing teams don’t stop there.
Evaluate their performance based on the real revenue and retention targets that they’ve affected with their contribution. Marketers should definitely look into KPIs earlier in the funnel and use them as leading indicators, but what matters in the end is marketing's impact on revenue.
Marketers are expected to know and be on top of their numbers at all times, hence marketers need to be comfortable working with data and presenting it effectively to guide the company's direction.
As such, marketers need to continuously prove their contribution to the business goals of the company. In order to do that, you need to have a solid actionable data foundation and the skills to utilize it.