industry thoughts from Clarteza

13 March
Mag Retelewski

From Gray to Clear: Too much data, not enough time

We read a lot of press about the information overload and time-pressed nature of consumer lives.  They are inundated with information from more sources, on more screens, more of the time.  The average consumer is exposed to thousands of advertisements per day, smartphones keep them from ever turning off and tuning out, and they live in a society in which there is often simply not enough hours in the day.  As the consumer environment has changed, marketers have adapted by investing more funds in the clutter, to ensure their brands are seen across all screens, across all formats, and across more hours of the day.  Taking a closer look, however, and we see that marketers are facing the same time crunches and information overloads as consumers, but are trapped inside of outdated processes and business structures that don’t allow them to truly capitalize on nor react to the new consumer-centric environment.

Gray: “I am overloaded by information”

Marketers, advertisers, brand managers and market researchers today find themselves inundated by data streams within which they are convinced lie game-changing consumer insights that must be found in order to stay competitive in the market.  Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Foursquare, website analytics, mobile phone analytics, geospatial data, and other sources are all added to the traditional mix of survey data, retail POS data, market data, focus groups, and shopper insights  Marketers are overloaded with data sets, but marketing departments have not increased or re-aligned the resources to handle the growth in data flows.

Clear: I don’t have enough of the right information

The trouble with the exponential growth in consumer data is not the quantity of it, but rather the difficulty in pinpointing which information is of the most value to the company.  Marketers and analysts feel pressured to mine through reams of data in order to ensure that every dot is connected and every insight is unearthed.  However, endless PowerPoint decks of ‘insights’ are only as useful as their relevance to the company’s overall brand and marketing strategy.  In order to cope with the new world order, marketing and research departments need to be increasingly clearer on the overall goals of the company as they relate to brands, products and consumers.  By focusing on the ‘ends’, marketers can then better evaluate how information can be leveraged as the ‘means’.

Furthermore, because there is so much data to mine in order to uncover the new underlying ‘consumer truths’ which could lead to your in market competitive edge, going through all of it can take forever. Therefore, there is an increasing need for cross-departmental collaboration as well as outer-company partnerships (new or existing) that are deeper and stronger. This is not to say you simply need ‘more people’.  What you need is richer partnerships within and outside your organization to help you. And we all know that synergies and collaboration can bring wonders: When you get results from an outside company, it’s exactly what you need and more that you hoped for. When you need support to push your idea through internally – you have partners within your organization to champion your ideas and provide you with some inside knowledge you hoped to get.

All this requires a very open-minded attitude. Showing to an outside company a very transparent and honest side of your issue, may make you feel vulnerable, but will in fact save you. Internally, dealing with micro-political strategies is often difficult so by building internal partnerships they can become less daunting. Being afraid of these steps, will likely continue to make you feel stretched and overwhelmed. After all, navigating through information overload is no picnic.

Gray:I don’t have enough time”

Not only are marketers overwhelmed by data, but they are also overwhelmed by time constraints.  Brand managers today can spend up to 80% of their time in meetings, rather than getting their jobs done.  The role of a brand manager, and of marketers, used to be focused on integrating insights and learnings and coordinating the strategies and activities of each part of the organization involved in various consumer touch-points.  However, as the volume of touch-points grows, brand managers are losing the opportunity to create value in their organizations, instead running from meeting to meeting and running, just to stay in place.

Clear: I don’t have the right environment

Time constraint only exacerbates the issues of information overload, and prevents companies from acting nimbly and quickly to consumer trends and marketplace changes.  Major CPG firms have responded to changes in the global marketplace by adding new positions, people, layers of management, reporting lines and divisions to meet the needs of a market that is increasingly both global and local, online and offline.  Companies go back and forth between pursuing centralized, global structures for consistency and efficiency and decentralized, narrower structures to maintain proximity to consumers.  The result is often a hybrid of departments and people that are connected, but not interconnected.  Matrix reporting structures and C-suite calls for greater integration and coordination go unrealized as marketers and brand managers are buried under outdated structures and hierarchies that result in more meetings, rather than more productivity.


Time limitations and information overload is a result of many factors: the impact of technological solutions on our lives, increased social media engagement, user generated content, the changing consumer marketing environment, and last but not least the failure of established companies to respond with a change to their own internal environments. This has been addressed by adding more niche positions to deal with specific marketing elements (e.g. shopper insights), social media marketing, etc) and with more pressure on marketers in existing positions to digest more information in the same amount of time. The result however isn’t as tangible as one may have thought because the issue really is, the lack of the right mindset.

While the additional layers are designed to increase consumer centricity and increase the value of insights and marketing effectiveness, in many cases, they fail to achieve either, as the structural updates continue to be ‘band-aid’ solutions on top of the traditional organizational structure.  Organizations continue to operate in silos – by geography, brand, product, function – and often there do not exist effective roles to facilitate the gathering, analysis and sharing of marketing and consumer information and insights.

While significant changes in overall corporate structure to deal with the modern world of marketing are on the horizon, these changes are a long-term solution.  The riddle of how to organize and unlock value from brand and marketing managers in the new consumer marketing paradigm is a complex one, and one that will not be solved easily. The fact is, most big companies have been in existence for decades or even centuries, so making a change will not happen overnight. Not to mention the sheer basic human element of the equation: resistance to change.

Therefore to find a solution that may work in near term is to build the right relationships within and outside your organization. They can ease the burden on the existing marketing teams and in fact produce better results. Finding the right partners to focus on the ‘means’ can free up your time to focus on the ‘ends’. More importantly, it will also foster a consistent link across departments, and through “history”, by reducing the loss of information that takes place when marketing and brand managers rotate into new positions when they embark on a “brand new” journey.