Although Canadian marketers increasingly see analytics as a crucial tool, unlocking big data is proving to be a big challenge, a new survey suggests.

Sixty-six per cent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) say their organizations use analytics in making key decisions related to marketing, according to the survey. Yet 71 per cent “overwhelmingly believe … that harnessing data analytics is one of the most important challenges they face,” the study concludes.

The survey of over 300 Canadian CMOs was conducted by Deloitte Canada and the Institute of Communications Agencies (ICA). The findings were presented on Tuesday during the FFWD Advertising and Marketing Week conference in Toronto.

One of the key challenges CMOs face in harnessing analytics is a gap in their own skill set, the survey suggests. Fifty-one per cent of CMOs said they “do not have the in-house skills to harness data.”

“(CMOs) do not have the required analytics skills internally and do not fully utilize (outside) agencies for analytics,” Jennifer Lee, a partner and national retail leader at Deloitte Canada, told the conference audience.

CMOs also grapple with another issue – the widening gap between client expectations’ of what digital marketing can accomplish, compared to the reality of what CMOs can actually deliver, said Colleen Albiston, CMO at Deloitte Canada. She told conference attendees that new digital technology is giving CMOs more influence within their organizations than ever before. But it has also sent client expectations through the roof, with clients demanding personalized, omni-channel, real-time marketing insights, she said.

“With that influence comes pressure … based on the mountain of data that CMOs are sitting on,” said Albiston.

Both of her points were reflected in the survey results. Eighty-nine per cent of CMOs said digitization has changed the role and content of marketing; 80 per cent said the expectations of marketing from within organizations has “increased dramatically.”

To tackle their own lack of analytics skills, CMOs “have to think about what is the skill set (they) want to build internally” and also partner more often with outside agencies who can bring analytics knowledge to the table, Albiston said. Lee recommended CMOs hire data scientists, but advised them to thoughtfully consider the question of integrating them into their teams.

To deal with clients’ sky-high digital marketing expectations, CMOs need to take a step back and be as strategic as they can with their big data, Albiston said. If not, they can get swept away by an endless stream of data, she warned.

“I do think there can be too much data,” Albiston said, advising CMOs to keep asking, “What are the things I absolutely need to know (from this data) to make better business decisions?”

Lee also suggested CMOs use data visualization tools to make analytics findings more meaningful for clients in the most apparent, immediate way possible.

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