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“Advertising People Who Ignore Research are as Dangerous as Generals Who Ignore Decodes of Enemy Signals.” ~ David Ogilvy
Many marketers will already be familiar with that quote. It’s from the book “Ogilvy on Advertising” (18 Miracles of Research” pp158-163) published by Vintage Books in 1983.
David Ogilvy is a well-known figure in marketing lore. He became an ad man in 1948, after first working as a cook, salesman, and even a farmer. He was 38 before he ever wrote a line of copy, according to his biography on Ogilvy & Mather’s website. Yet Ogilvy has left the marketing environment with more wisdom than many other individuals with longer careers. Ogilvy was renowned for being the father of modern advertising, moving the industry toward a higher standard. He also published a number of best-selling books that have helped him maintain his legacy, like the one that produced that famous quote.
Ogilvy’s advice to advertisers was not only way ahead of its time, it rings true for marketers today. What happens when generals ignore enemy signals? They lead their soldiers blindly into battle where anything could be awaiting them. Marketers are creative people, but if they ignore what they know about their customers then it can have a serious impact on your brand. At times, this can be disastrous.
Campaigns flop all the time, and you have to wonder why that is. Most of the time, it’s because marketers get their audience wrong. In a time when marketing is increasingly data-driven, there’s little excuse for such mistakes. Marketers that ignore data are dangerous for their companies, poorly planned campaigns can kill sales.
Take Gap’s recent “Dress Normal” campaign, for example. The ads urged customers to dress in Gap’s basics and try not to stand out. The campaign was going off the normcore trend identified by New York Magazine. The magazine profiled hip urbanites that purposely go against fashion trends, and name celebrities like Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld as their fashion icons. The kids embracing normcore were essentially fashion-savvy hipsters and their love of anti-fashion had an ironic bent.
However, those who subscribe to the normcore aesthetic and Gap’s customers don’t intersect. In an interview with BuzzFeed, fashion and lifestyle blogger Jaclyn Johnson noted that the problem is likely that Gap’s customers don’t understand the irony of normcore or even understand what it is. As a result, customers found the Dress Normal campaign confusing and it didn’t make them want to buy clothes. The message wasn’t right for their customers and sales suffered as a result. Critics called Gap out on the failure and even called its marketing department “out of touch.” With adequate research and a better understanding of its shoppers, Gap may not have produced a campaign that its customers disliked. Instead, the business is coping with dwindling sales and defending its campaign in the media.
This type of blunder happens in B2B marketing too. Last year, Kapost, a content marketing platform, created what appeared to be a brilliant marketing campaign. It was based on two prominent science fiction fandoms that most people are familiar with. The campaign asked content marketers, “Is your content like Star Wars or Star Trek?” The campaign was supposed to be the major traffic driver for the quarter, but it flopped. Within the first 30 days, the assets received 59 percent fewer unique visitors than other campaigns. It only drove 15 leads in that first month. In an apologetic blog post, the brand admitted that they made the campaign more for themselves than customers. Had they first tested it with their audience, they would have caught the misfire ahead of time.
Marketers still ignore data and research. In an era with more data than ever before, this behavior needs to stop.
Marketers are sometimes intimidated by the prospect of translating customer data into meaningful marketing campaigns. After all, there is an endless stream of data, pouring in from many sources. It can be overwhelming, but if you harness customer data effectively, you can vastly improve your marketing efforts and better meet your company’s goals. Think about it this way: data-driven marketing isn’t a new idea. It’s been around for a long time.
Ogilvy realized the importance of understanding the customer through data and research. His firm, Ogilvy & Mather is a data-driven company. In fact, the New York Times reported that the firm just added a division that is devoted to data strategy, analytics, and data management. Ogilvy & Mather is still drawing on its founder’s legacy and vision with these new initiatives. But the move into greater data management is necessary. Something tells me Ogilvy would think it’s long past due.
Despite the fact that data-driven marketing has been around since Ogilvy’s time, many marketers struggle to keep up. There is simply more data coming from more sources than ever as customers use an increasing number of channels to interact with content. There’s data from how visitors interact with your website, how many subscribers opened and clicked your email, who watched your videos and when, who engaged with you on social media, who visited on a mobile device versus a desktop. It can be hard to effectively manage all of this information and maintain a cohesive view of customers. This puts marketers in a period of transition. Being data-driven is no longer an option; it’s a necessity.
According to a recent study on digital marketing trends from Adobe, 74 percent of marketers believe that capturing and applying data to inform marketing strategies is the new reality. Almost 70 percent believe that marketers need to embrace “hyper-personalization,” using data to provide the right products, services, and content at the right time. All in all, 76 percent of marketers believe they will need to be more data-focused to succeed. There’s simply no room for marketing teams that can’t analyze the data flooding through their departments.
This doesn’t mean marketers have to blindly follow where the data leads them. It simply means that they need to test their new ideas to see how customers respond. Ogilvy advocated for research throughout his career. Marketing ideas, no matter how creative, need to be backed up with research to work. Ogilvy has another quote that’s worth remembering in this day and age:
“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
Having vast amounts of data on hand gives marketers the ability to test their new ideas and improve their campaigns. When you have a new idea, A/B testing can help you figure out whether it will actually work. For instance, with videos, we recommend that companies A/B test multiple attributes, from calls to action to splash images.
Marketers have always used data to inform their campaigns. They’ve been using demographics and other information to inform strategies since the beginning of the profession. In addition to market research, marketers now have a constant stream of data pulsing through their CRMs and MAPs. They know who visited their website when and what they did while they were there. They know who watched which video and for how long. This level of detail can be overwhelming, but it’s also fantastic. Marketers can take this information and use it to reach out to more qualified prospects with a better understanding of their behavior and what pieces of content interest them.
Digital platforms can sometimes give us an overwhelming amount of information to work with. But if you harness and use it correctly, all this information provides valuable insight that you can use to better reach your audience. Ogilvy wouldn’t be concerned about the amount of data marketers have access to, he would be excited. Marketing departments need to take Ogilvy’s approach and retool it for the 21st century.
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