The CMO focus is moving ever closer to the extraction of value from data

Sandy Ghuman shares the vital elements needed for building your data strategy

In the final instalment of the Martech Heroes series, The Drum, in association with Stein IAS, talks to Sandy Ghuman, SVP data strategy at Silverbullet, to hear her thoughts on acquiring and managing martech.

With global marketing technology investment growing 22% last year and now valued at an estimated $121.5bn, the opportunities for data-driven marketing are increasing exponentially. For Ghuman it’s essential not to lose sight of your goals in a landscape “awash with data.” She highlights the importance of understanding your business and assets and recommends creating objectives as “a vital exercise that we often let slip by in an industry that changes so often.” In the following interview, Ghuman provides valuable insight into building a compliant and intelligent data strategy to help your business grow.

The Drum: A fast growing martech market requires new data skills - what does this mean for the marketing skills we need today?

Sandy Ghuman: Marketing technology is an exciting place to be right now. The focus for CMOs is moving ever closer to the extraction of value from data through the means of technology – all within a safe and respectful way.

Getting this right – and building trust - is critical to continued martech growth, especially as the fast-growing digital formats open up even more opportunities for data-driven marketing. This requires a blend of technical expertise, true transparency and trusted skills, as well as a data culture - which are hard to find.

Businesses need to consider partnerships and collaboration with specialised services that can help them achieve their goals. It’s no longer enough to simply understand your target audience; we need to dig deep into our data sources to untap opportunities; we need to segment our data assets to best utilise them through activation methods; we need to head back to the future and discover fresh contextual intelligence methodologies to understand a world beyond the third-party cookie; and we need to generate data back into our businesses so we continue to grow intelligence.

Skill is extremely important for marketers moving forward. And collaboration is key - blending data and content expertise will be high on the agenda in a forward-thinking future.

TD:Businesses sometimes have over 400 different tools in what they consider their marketing technology stack. What should they consider and prioritise when acquiring new marketing technology? Top tips?

SG: Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And it’s easy for businesses to become submerged in technology platforms. Don’t forget: just eight years ago the Marketing Technology Landscape consisted of circa 150 vendors – now, it’s well over 7,000; it can be a little overwhelming.

The key is in truly understanding your business and creating a closer relationship with what you have right now. Understanding your current state and creating your future objective(s) is such a vital exercise that we often let slip by in an industry that changes so often.

My advice would be to bring in a team of data and technology experts with deep experience who can help your business to truly understand the data assets available to them, and what architecture they therefore need.

We believe this part of the journey is most vital; you wouldn’t build a house on a weak foundation, so why take the same approach for your data and technology structure? Data isn’t just an asset – it’s there to be unlocked and turned into intelligence – fuel if you like – for businesses to grow and evolve. Without it, we’re blind in our approach.

Once you understand your business and the assets throughout, you can then create an architectural roadmap – designed specifically for you and your objectives. This might mean 200+ vendors, or it might require a more streamlined approach – it entirely depends on the size, ambition and needs of your business.

For those businesses perhaps stuck in a rut, and who are concerned they have too many different types of tools in place, I recommend assessing your current situation. You might find that 20% of your tech stack is no longer working for you. Our worlds change so quickly in this industry – don’t be afraid to regularly check your stacks and their performance.

TD: In some of the earlier interviews, martech heroes have said it’s easier to buy than to manage when it comes to marketing technology. Do you think there should be a process when managing martech?

SG: Absolutely, particularly as we have become data rich but information poor. The world is awash with data that we simply don’t understand. A large part of this is due to lack of expertise, and businesses not always having the right resource, operating model, or time to manage these platforms correctly or efficiently. This can often come from a lack of confidence in the technologies’ capability, limited understanding of data and tech, and scarcity of resources.

Building a data culture along with a centre of excellence and an operating model with the appropriate ownership of martech that joins the dots and breaks down silos across CRM teams, data scientists, marketing teams, digital teams, media agencies and partners within an organization is key to unlocking the value of data.

Data is often siloed and left untapped especially if it’s not correctly plumbed within an organization and if teams are fragmented. By fixing culture and plumbing along with embedding an effective operating model and governance processes, you can create a seamless flow of data whereby you continuously enrich the data you use to activate and ensure audiences are fit for purpose and built with the customer in mind.

TD: Brands often say that budget constraints are the main barrier to martech investment. What do you think is really happening?

SG: This is certainly true. Investing in a robust marketing technology strategy can come with a hefty price tag. But it’s 100% worth the investment.

Many brands feel as though they are in a ‘chicken and an egg’ situation; lost between the ability to invest, versus the need to achieve revenue goals, as well as truly understanding and educating stakeholders on the benefits of marketing tech.

Yet, without a strong and transparent strategy in place, revenue will evidently fall. It is worth investing in the right areas in order to grow your business.

My advice would be to surround your business with trusted partners – almost creating your very own universe of partners and tools. Don’t be afraid to outsource where you need, and don’t be afraid to bring certain capabilities and functions in-house – it’s about creating the perfect mix for you.

What’s more, there are tools now available to help evaluate the returns on investment when it comes to marketing tech. These types of innovations are really exciting, as for the first time, a marketer can go back to internal stakeholders and prove the impact specific tech has on their business and revenue – therefore help relieve the constraints of budgets.

TD: How should brands go about building privacy compliance into their process? Who owns it? Data and tech departments or marketing departments?

SG: This is another tricky question without a one-size-fits-all answer!!

For me, to ensure privacy compliance is adhered to, brands should adopt a varied approach.

Firstly, my advice would be to start with crafting a data strategy – audits, assessments, tech implementations, integrations and on-going management will all help your business take back control, a specialized partner can help you do this. Typically, a business will be utilizing in some way a variety of data sources and types; 1st party, 2nd party, and less frequently, but still prevalent, 3rd party. How you are using it, who you’re working with and in what context will determine who owns what. My advice would be to understand the architecture of your tech stack so you decide who’s responsible for what.

Secondly, you need to ensure that the integrations of your tech stacks are correctly intact, so each platform is correctly speaking to the other. I often see incorrect integrations causing blockages throughout a business; not only preventing intelligence to be passed through but causing discrepancies and therefore concern.

Thirdly, I’d consider working with an audit partner, and perhaps aligning your business with verification partners to ensure you are protecting your data processing at every step of the data journey. One of the complexities of adtech is that so many vendors have varying interpretations of GDPR, so it’s increasingly important for businesses to understand privacy policies of their chosen partners.

My last thought on this: It is so important for businesses to ensure they are compliant throughout their practices. With the damming ICO RTB report released earlier this year, and the growing demands from the consumer, all eyes are on us. Don’t be afraid to take back control.

TD: Who are your digital heroes?

SG: I would say my boss at Sky, Rob McLaughlin who not only guided and coached me in the world of martech in my journey at Sky - which involved driving some of the digital transformation and targeting capabilities - but also inspired me personally to think beyond the norm.

In addition, my digital heroes include some key individuals with whom I had the pleasure of working with who were leaders and experts in their areas, be it my stakeholders, technology specialists, agency, publisher, and media.

You can check out our Martech Hero coverage here.

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