Big data skills scarce among marketing pros

Lloyd Dunstall our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 7/23/2013 2:53 PM

More than a third of executives rank big data analytics as a top marketing skill, but many marketers lack the requisite knowledge. Business executives in the U.S. and U.K. see data analysis -- specifically, the ability to extract predictive findings from big data -- as one of the most important skills for today's marketers. And yet many of them claim that marketers' limited ability to analyze data is a major roadblock to executing better big data strategies.

That's according to a new study from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which conducted two concurrent surveys in March for digital analytics marketing firm Lyris. 

One survey of 257 executives, and the other of 409 consumers, inquired about the effectiveness of various marketing channels. The executives were from six consumer-focused industries, including automotive, clothing, banking, entertainment, media and travel. Respondents in both surveys were evenly balanced between the U.S. and U.K., the EIU said.

The report covered a variety of topics relevant to digital analytics marketing, such as which factors influence customers' purchase decisions, as well as consumers' views on privacy issues. From a big data perspective, the study's most interesting finding shows a notable gap between the value that marketers place on big data and their abilities to glean insights from it.

When asked which skills were most necessary for a successful marketer today, 37% of executives said that "using data analysis to extract predictive findings from 'big data'" mattered most. Five years ago, just 17% of executives said this was true, the EIU report says.

But while marketers want big data, they often lack the skills to analyze it. 

"This change in the required skill set ... has created a challenge for marketers as 45% of executives now view marketers' limited competency in data analysis as a major obstacle to implementing more effective strategies -- second only to inadequate budgets for digital analytics marketing and database management," stated the report's executive summary.

The EIU report's findings show similarities to earlier studies that suggest a disconnect between businesses' interest in big data and their ability to obtain value from it.

For instance, a recent study by IDG Research Services and Kapow Software suggested that businesses see big data projects as potentially beneficial, but that the ROI of said projects is still in doubt.

In the IDG/Kapow survey of more than 200 IT and business leaders at large organizations, more than 85% of respondents agreed that big data can help businesses make "more informed" data-driven decisions. But just 23% of those leaders saw big data projects as a "success" thus far, while 52% of respondents called the projects "somewhat successful."

Marketers' lack of data analysis skills -- and the need to bring in expensive data scientists from outside the organization -- seems to play a major role in executives' tepid attitudes toward big data.

"Big data projects are taking far too long, costing too much and not delivering on anticipated ROI because it's really difficult to pinpoint and surgically extract critical insights without hiring expensive consultants or data scientists in short demand," stated a Kapow Software white paper on the survey findings.

The EIU report explores other digital analytics marketing issues as well, some of which may have impact on big data strategies moving forward. For instance, marketing executives appear to be underestimating their customers' privacy concerns.

About one-third (33%) of consumers say they are "very concerned" about the privacy of their information in companies' marketing databases. However, only 23% of executives say their organization's customers are very concerned about the privacy of this type of information, the EIU report stated. 


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