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I recently watched the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack”. This film looks at the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica (CA), and how they used personal data from Facebook with dramatic effect. I’ve spoken to a few people about it, with very mixed reactions.

Some are incredibly worried that their data is “captured” and being used to manipulate them. Others think that the guys at CA were great marketers. 

I’m with the latter, and here’s why: 

I think working out who to target, how to target them, and using all the data you have to make your campaigns more accurate is what we as marketers and salespeople try and do everyday.

Let’s unpack this a bit more in relation to The Great Hack.

Here are my 5 key takeouts:

1. The strategies data uncovers are the closest to what clients want today

Our clients expect us know exactly what to say to turn a specific group of prospects into paying customers.

The strategists that put this together, use all their experience and marketing knowledge to get as close to this as possible; but the strategies they develop are still based on thousands of little assumptions.

The algorithms that CA deployed reduced the number of assumptions dramatically and could target the right messages with great accuracy as a result.

Ultimately, every company I have ever worked with wants exactly what CA offers — although they might not admit it.

2. Make sure you communicate your values to attract the right clients

The big mistake that CA made was the customers they chose. 

Had an organization that was trying to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the oceans come to CA, hired them to stop millions of people using plastic, and then succeeded, they would have been labelled innovative, and positioned as a hero! Well, that’s if you value nature.

In times of distress, agencies sometimes take on clients that don’t align with their values. But your values and beliefs should be publically available, so as to attract clients and employees who align with your organisational culture and beliefs.

3. If there was a formula to guarantee a business plan, everyone would be successful

Let’s say I have a new business idea, and I go off and create the product, which I need to sell 10 of to make a profit. If I had a guaranteed sales and marketing strategy, I could simply take this to the bank, get the loan, and execute it. Rinse and repeat!

But it’s not that simple. Well, at least not yet. 

Creating a business, scaling a business, go to market with a product or service — it’s all based on well-educated assumptions. And there is no guarantee that sales or marketing will work.

My suggestion is to go with an agency that is digital and data-driven, and stick with them so that they can make strategies and pivots based on insights from actual data.

4. When using paid media, if you have lookalike audiences turned on, how are you different to CA?

In the last 12 to 24 months, almost all media owners have added a feature called “look-a-like” audiences. 

Here’s how it works: 

As a brand, you spend on media. Marketers then help you close the loop by gathering information on which users become customers. This data is then used by an algorithm to find other users who look like the ones that became customers, and serve them the ads.

If you’re spending on media, it would be stupid to not do this.

5. Clients that stick around for the long-term get better results

Having run an agency for over 7 years, it’s become clear that clients who stay for the long-term get better results. Here’s why: The team working with the brand learn more about how potential customers respond to different messaging and targeting. As a result, the strategies they develop are based on fewer and fewer assumptions over time.

Clients who restrict creativity, and who fire an agency as soon as there’s a downswing in leads, may win in the short term. But as they switch from agency to agency, and go with tried-and-tested “boring” creative, they aren’t feeding any new insights that could result in massive upswings. 


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