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Talking Content Marketing – With Michael Foley


Talking Content Marketing welcomes Michael Foley, Senior Director, from EMC Corporation’s Marketing Science Lab.

Think of a Big Data think tank that explores, researches, and applies big data analytics and ideas to initiatives ranging from tracking the progress of the youngest and fastest South Pole explorer to understanding the techniques of the world’s fastest motorcycle racer.

Day-to-day, data scientists in the lab apply EMC big data technology to provide targeting and segmentation for EMC marketing campaigns; and also help customers and partners apply predictive analytics to support their own initiatives, with a focus on marketing.

In this interview, lets look at the way data helps shape our decision making and application, from a content marketing perspective.

Lets go…


Do brands fail to treat people as individuals but a way to segment based on demographics. What can they be doing differently?

I’m not sure that brands consciously fail in this regard, and certainly everyone’s been conditioned to segment using demographics (B2C) and firmographics (B2B) for as far back as I can remember.

Things are much more complex now and the ability to quantify a person extends way beyond demography. Further, it’s changing at such an accelerated rate – some have called it the next renaissance – that all of the traditional ideas of branding and the brand equity roadmap that guru David Aaker created in the pre-Y2K era may have to be recalibrated; because a marketer might want to understand a customer’s biometrics, behavior, thinking, and other things — beyond demographic profiles.

Information streams between people and objects in realtime, and so Big Data, social media, sensors and the Internet of Things all open up tremendous possibilities for us to communicate, understand and predict as marketers – while at the same time creating an environment of virtually perfect information for individuals. Dan Gardner said that “Big Data could know us better than we know ourselves.” This can be really challenging for marketers who are not agile, or want to be able to control perceptions in the traditional way.

I think the challenge for content marketers will be: when you know so much about individuals, how can you scale to create content that is relevant at that level, to support micro-segmentation that is way more precise than demography? So, with the precision of micro-segmentation and hyper-targeting come many challenges.

Then there is the crowd. This thinking comes from the idea of the Wisdom of the Crowds; and some of this transcends an individual – all of this has tremendous implications. How can one methodically take advantage of viral marketing?

Crowdsourcing is a legitimate way to gather information, in the areas of data science and artificial intelligence this leads to ensemble models which can be thousands of “little learners” which all create a customer view that is much more powerful than a single research study or statistical model in helping us understand and communicate with customers.


How can creative thinking and data science work together to help us differentiate?

I think the first thing to realize is that data science is part of the creative process, and the creative process has to be cross-functional.

The days of Mad Men and Don Draper kicking the marketing researcher out of his office are over. Not that intuition and creativity aren’t paramount, but so much more is required these days. This is not a right-brain/left-brain type of construct. For example, our Marketing Science Lab reports to the SVP Digital Marketing and he is very involved with the data scientists day-in and day-out.

It’s an experiential kind of thing, and hard to describe without trivializing the process, but as the creative teams embed data scientists into their work in a multi-disciplinary way, they will see that data scientists can provide not only insight into what customers think and do, but the ability to predict and then influence what will happen – all of this is the kind of fuel that drives brand differentiation.

Beyond the data scientists themselves, there is machine learning and deep learning – and so artificial intelligence will certainly come to play in the areas of brand differentiation and marketers will have to learn how to leverage that. And the data scientists will learn what the creatives need from them through engagement as well.


How can businesses find the bigger story behind their brand?

That is what we are doing at EMC. We want to personalize and show the human connection to something that seems to be as impersonal as data storage.

So, we partner with the Renault Sport F1 racing team, the fastest motorcycle racer John McGuinness, the youngest and fastest South Pole explorer (Parker Liautaud), the producers of Avatar – all of these partnerships result in fabulous, really intense stories about people that are at the extremes of their discipline — the most successful — and reliant on big data for everything they do.


Have we become too reliant on our gut instinct to make decisions ie. significant investment on tactics where people sit in a room brainstorming ideas?

You can quantify customers to an unprecedented degree – but you can’t take human intuition out of the equation. It isn’t an either/or situation.

Data science just closes the intuitive leap you have to make as a marketer, in my view. One has to have both dimensions to be competitive now. It is the combination of people and machines. People have the ability to see patterns, make huge intuitive leaps, and even make mistakes. All of this is critical and while machines can process, improve, and learn from mistakes they are not human … yet 😉


Is measuring content marketing ROI a hard task? What would you suggest to measure performance?

It’s certainly changing from the traditional unique visitors, response, lead funnel, readership, viewership paradigm.

I think a marketer has to have the full view over an extended period of time, look at what the data scientists predict will happen, and then see how one can influence events to improve performance beyond what would have happened without the marketer’s efforts.

How has behaviour and thinking changed? So, I talk about this in my presentation and it becomes an exercise of bringing together as much of the customer’s world as possible to understand impact: social media + “off the grid” behaviour (what you don’t see) + purchases + attitudes + actual product performance relative to expectations (IoT data) to show how content/marketing generates ROI.


What are you looking forward to at this year’s Content Marketing World?

All of it, it is a different world for me, and that means a learning experience.

Thanks to Michael for being part of the Talking Content Marketing project. To find out more from Mike’s side.


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