Marketing has undoubtedly entered a new age of accountability. Today, the effect of every piece of creative can be measured, quantified and optimised, allowing marketers to course correct campaigns in real time.

Never before has marketing been better able to demonstrate its return on investment and explain how its activity is positively impacting on the bottom line, evidence that is helping marketers gain a seat at the top table.

However, is this new age of accountability all it’s cracked up to be? Are marketers slowing themselves down by consulting every possible data source before making a decision? Could they be tempted to opt for easily measurable “safe” campaigns rather than more challenging, innovation projects that might not always be supported by firm numbers?

A clear step change has occurred as a result of the volume of data flooding into marketing, as brands become more immersed in digital, says Ovo Energy CMO, Adam Rostom. He argues that marketers must resist the risk of “over datafication” by mixing accountability with agility and refusing to let data get in the way of making brave business decisions.

“Numbers talk and if you’ve got data that can back up your point, then of course you should use it. The risk that you run with the sheer volume of data available is that you might become hamstrung by the need to consult lots of different data sources,” Rostom adds.

“So yes, numbers talk, but actually the need to progress and move quickly to make fast decisions is actually more valuable.”

Be accountable

Brand managers have always had to be accountable for their P&L and performance, but the speed at which marketers can tap into the data is the big difference in 2017, says Karina Pyne, area oral health category marketing director at GlaxoSmithKline consumer healthcare, Northern Europe.

“Historically, you would run a campaign and your main data on effectiveness would probably be market mix modelling. You would get that two or three months after you had run the campaign. Then you would be able to optimise your activity for the next burst of the campaign.

“But with digital data you’re able to look immediately at how effective the activity is, which gives you the ability to optimise sooner. So there are fewer excuses. If it isn’t going exactly to plan, you have to be seen to be failing fast and to increase spend into the channels and areas where it is working.”

If you take Cadbury in the UK, we have doubled our media spend over the past five years. Data has been an enabler for us, not something stopping us from advertising.

Matt Stockbridge, Mondelēz International

Matt Stockbridge, growth analytics manager at Mondelēz International, agrees that accountability should not be seen as a barrier preventing marketers create great work.

“If you take Cadbury in the UK, we have doubled our media spend over the past five years,” he explains. “So using the data well, proving the decisions we’re taking are making it better, means we are exactly looking to invest more in media and advertising than ever before. Data has been an enabler for us, not something stopping us from advertising.”

Stockbridge recognises a shift in marketing towards work that is more “accountable” rather than risk taking, which he believes represents an opportunity rather than a problem for marketers.

Cadbury breaker

“There have been complaints for years that people in creative, marketing and media are not leading companies and they’re not getting onto the C-suite.

“Finally, we’re getting the tools and metrics to prove there are actually real benefits to the work we’re doing, that it can drive measurable and sustainable business results. So it seems odd to me that they say, ‘well, actually we don’t want that because it’s going to be spoiling our craft or our art’.”

Data ownership

The democratisation of data across companies, especially digital businesses, means that in many cases every department has access to data and insight.

Monster CMO, Andrew Warner, explains that this shared access to data is helping marketing shake off the “colouring in department” cliché as the financial input of marketing becomes more visible across the business.

“That’s also put more pressure on marketing to be able to show results and that in turn has led to an obsession with reporting numbers rather than actually measuring the right things. Just because you can measure something doesn’t necessarily mean that is the right thing to be measuring,” says Warner.

He argues that is the job of a good CMO to take the business’s strategic objectives, devise a marketing strategy and decide the metrics that matter for each campaign, rather than getting lost in the tactics.

“That can undermine marketing because people within those organisations will look at marketing and think, ‘well these guys are the tactical guys, the social media guys’ and it’s almost like the old ‘colouring in department’ [all over again],” Warner explains.

“If we’re not careful in terms of how we use that data we’ll actually undermine our own strategic worth within organisations, whereas actually there is a huge opportunity for us to own that data and interpret that data to help the organisation.”

Team structure can be critical to ensuring that marketing does not prioritise data at the expense of agile decision making. Made.com commercial director, Annabel Kilner, has consciously hired one team of marketers focused on driving the “intuition side” and one to prioritise data, which means the neither team slows the other down.

“I hire two different profiles of people. One is incredibly brand and visual…