The first BMA breakfast seminar of 2015, “Dancing with Big Data,” kicked off at the Microsoft Innovation Center in downtown Chicago. Allison Watson, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of U.S. marketing and operations; Jim Carey, adjunct lecturer for Northwestern University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program; and Mike Dwyer, director of talent acquisition at NowSecure, showed attendees how big data and technology have changed the marketing profession and how marketing will continue to evolve in the future.

One of the big takeaways from the morning was that marketers won’t be able to realize the promises offered by the barrage of new technologies without proper planning and strategy. For example, as companies try to make sense of the mass of data they have available, many are jumping into technology purchases only to learn that they don’t fit in with their larger infrastructure.

Allison shared some compelling stories of how she and her team at Microsoft are putting data and technology to work with smart planning and strategy:

  1. Automating the Marketing Process
    Most marketers are aware by now of the challenges and opportunities offered by marketing automation. Getting marketing automation right is imperative for every organization as the buyer is increasingly in charge of their journey, moving deep into the buying process long before contacting a seller. In fact, a buyer will complete 75% of the buying cycle before they engage a seller — if they engage sales at all.*Getting your message to buyers as they go through this journey can be difficult, especially when the data you need to understand your buyers and communicate effectively lives in multiple systems with multiple owners. At Microsoft, they’ve addressed this issue by bringing together multiple departments including marketing, sales and IT around core issues such as:

    Offering the buyer choices to guide their journey. This ensures that they’ve thought out the buyer’s next steps. “If the buyer answers yes or no, then what happens next?”
    Understanding where the buyer needs to go and providing ways for them to get there. One of the key questions, Allison says, is “How do we get the buyer to do something different?”

  2. Deepening Customer Engagement with Social
    Social media provides companies with a rich source of real-time information and is, of course, an increasingly important touch point throughout the buyer’s entire journey. That’s why social listening and engagement matter for brands. Allison shared an example of how to leverage micro-content to engage in a real-time brand dialogue. A member of the band 5 Seconds of Summer tweeted that he “missed his Xbox” on Christmas Eve. Within an hour, the Microsoft social team responded with this Tweet.

    This doesn’t mean that effective social content is always reactive. Sometimes proactive messages are the best way to engage with the front end of the funnel. Allison offered up this Vine post created for the Internet Explorer 11 release as an example.

    Whether the content is proactive or reactive, what matters is that your company is listening and is ready to participate in the conversation.

  3. Changing the Workplace
    A while back, the Microsoft IT department started sending out reports with data on how much paper each person in the organization was using. Allison was shocked to learn that she used more paper than anyone else in the in the organization. She was killing a lot of trees! Allison changed her approach to distributing written communications, leveraging online tools to create plans that her team can easily access and implement instead of putting ideas onto more piles of paper. Not only is she now one of the low-end paper users in the organization, but she’s also been able to get her team working more collaboratively. It’s a great, practical example of using data to understand and optimize how we work.

The conversation about data and analytics will continue with next month’s BMA luncheon: “Analytics that Woo the C-Suite,” with a presentation by Don Gushurst from Molex and Mike Raimondi from SiriusDecisions.

How have data and technology changed how you work and how you communicate? Share your stories below.

*Forrester Research