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Data literacy in the world of marketing

James Delves, Head of PR and Engagement, The Chartered Institute of Marketing


Learn how understanding data is pivotal in understanding the needs of the customer.

In the modern age of information, there are many examples of how using data correctly helps businesses, from improving customer service to launching personalised marketing campaigns that help organisations truly offer special products. Airlines, for instance, will now track customer data from check-in, through the flight, to baggage claim and even through other connecting flights.

Rohit Deshpande, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, has studied Singapore Airlines for over 10 years. The airline recently worked with Accenture to develop an app that can track customer data. Discussing the results from the app Rohit stated: “Let’s say you go from Sydney to Singapore to change flights from Singapore to London. You decide when you’re going to Singapore that instead of drinking your normal gin and tonic, you’re going to ask for a vodka and tonic. They will record that, and when you reboard in Singapore to go on to London, the flight attendant will ask if you will continue with vodka and tonic or go back to gin and tonic. This might seem intrusive, but their feeling is that people want to know that they’re cared for. They want to be recognised with not just customer service but personalised customer service.”

The long since developed hunger for data, combined with the presence of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and digital technologies is changing the workplace. In every industry worldwide there has been an explosion in the data available for decision making – marketing is at the very centre of that. In fact, many would argue that being able to understand data and how it reveals the needs of the customer, is now critical to success in business.

What’s clearer than ever is that, for marketing to be truly successful, marketers need to put the customer at the heart of everything, from the initial product or service design right through to delivery and after purchase support.  This means that having a clear understanding of customer data at each critical point is a necessity.

Data is now so important that it is often referred to ‘as the new oil’ or ‘the universal language of this fourth industrial revolution’. Whatever you want to call it, the modern marketer needs to be able to ask questions of machines and use data to build knowledge, make decisions and communicate its meaning with board members or stakeholders. The ability to translate data into useable information that can drive and articulate more meaningful campaigns to audiences is a key skill for modern marketers, but how many businesses are mining data for its full effect?

Launching the Data Literacy Project

To address the issue, CIM has partnered with data analytic leaders Qlik®Cognizant, ExperianPluralsight and Data to the People to create the Data Literacy Project, which is committed to:

  • Inspiring major organizations globally to make data literacy an imperative;
  • Creating the most accessible and comprehensive global data literacy educational resource ecosystem;
  • Empowering educational institutions globally to place data literacy into the mainstream curriculum.

 The project will work with private and public sector organisations, governments and educational institutions to help address the issue of data literacy.

 Understandably, one of the first actions of the group was to measure the effect data literacy has on businesses. To do this, the group created the Data Literacy Index, which ranked companies against Corporate Data Literacy scores allowing literacy levels and corporate performance to be measured.

The findings were startling.

The Data Literacy Index discovered:

  • Workforce data literacy has a proven relationship with corporate performance. Organisations ranked in the top third of the Data Literacy Index are associated with three to five percent greater enterprise value (market capitalisation)
  • Based on the average organisation size of this study ($10.7b enterprise value), enterprises that have higher corporate data literacy scores can have $320-$534 million in higher enterprise value
  • Added benefits include improved corporate data literacy positively impacting other measures of corporate performance including gross margin, Return-on-Assets, Return-on-Equity and Return-on-Sales

The global view

While the positive relationship between Corporate Data Literacy and corporate performance is consistent across every region and industry the group analysed, the breakdown provided a clear benchmark for business leaders and marketers alike.

  • Europe holds the highest Data Literacy score globally, with the UK, Germany and France among the most mature nations for corporate Data Literacy
  • This reflects a greater recognition that European business decision makers have for the value of data. 72 percent affirm that it is “very important”, compared with just 60 percent in Asia and 52 percent in the US. It also appears to positively impact the proportion of decisions that are made using data and encouragement for employees to become comfortable with data
  • The Data Literacy scores for the US and the Asia Pacific regions were slightly lower, but were not statistically different from each other
  • Singapore performed exceptionally for its region and is the most data literate nation globally
  • The US is experiencing a different situation, with nearly half of business leaders reporting that at least “quite a few” changes have been made to their companies’ use of data – the highest of all regions. However, organizational changes are not matched by investment. US business leaders report lowest levels of both data literacy training (30%) and only 16% report that their companies “significantly encourage” employees to become more comfortable with data.


Research from Qlik, a member of the Data Literacy Project also revealed that just 17% of businesses are encouraging employees to become more confident with data, with only 34% offering any kind of data literacy training.  What’s more, just 36% of companies said they would pay higher salaries for people with data skills – showing a clear disparity between the requirements of the market and the investment that organisations are prepared to give.

Benchmarking your digital skills

Marketing directors were shown to have an insufficient working knowledge of the essential skills to be able to effectively oversee digital marketing campaigns. On average, Marketing Directors had lower understanding of data analytics, PPC, SEO and Ecommerce than junior executives with only 1-2 years of marketing experience.

Whilst marketing directors surpassed their teams in general marketing and digital strategy their lack of practical digital skills seems to confirm a growing gap between senior management and junior executives in digital knowledge.  This is a cause for concern in an industry in which digital channels are a growing, some would say pivotal, part of the marketing mix and widespread across most industries.

  • PPC: Directors scored only 29% in the test of their knowledge of PPC, compared with executives (34%), managers (31%) and of department heads (39%).
  • Ecommerce: Directors scored only 26% on Ecommerce compared with executives (37%), managers (41%) and department heads (42%).
  • Data and analytics: Marketing directors scored only 32% on a test of data and analytics skills compared with 33% by executives, 35% by managers and 42% by department heads.

It’s clearer than ever that, when data literacy is high and digital marketing is delivered professionally, it can secure a competitive edge. However, the time has come for Marketing directors to take responsibility for upskilling themselves. If they are to drive strategic campaigns and bring through the next generation of marketers, it is essential that they understand the full suite of marketing tools at their disposal.

We have been talking about the challenges of adapting to digital for many years and it is surprising that digital experience across the industry is so low, however it is positive that marketers are looking to do something about it.

Visit the Data Literacy website for the latest trends or to take part in one of CIM’s digital training courses and qualifications. Please visit here and join over 400 marketers CIM has upskilled in digital disciplines over the last twelve months.