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Using data in marketing innovation

Data is useful for defining what you know and finding the gaps. Innovation processes are useful for creating solutions to respond to problems in a partially known future. To use a phrase coined by Mark Ritson, "bothism" is required. Your innovation will be more robust if you incorporate data where it can be helpful, but go too far and you will stifle the creativity and courage required to properly commit to an innovative idea.

A reminder of the innovation journey with The Six 'I's®

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Innovating is a journey where an idea travels through six distinct phases. Each phase needs different ways of thinking and a different set of skills. Like any journey, an idea can get lost, meet a dead end, or have to turn around and retrace its steps - but overall it needs to go through each phase to move from being just a creative idea to becoming a successful innovation.

  1. IDENTIFY with the mindset of CURIOSITY to spot opportunities by understanding trends and customer needs.
  2. IGNITE with the mindset of CREATIVITY by creating novel solutions.
  3. INVESTIGATE with the mindset of CRITICAL thinking, by developing propositions, prototyping and testing.
  4. INVEST with the mindset of COURAGE by creating business models and plans for investment.
  5. IMPLEMENT with the mindset of COMMITMENT by bringing an idea to life and creating value.
  6. IMPROVE with the mindset of being CLEVER by optimizing an idea into another area of opportunity.

Each person has a unique way of innovating, that is high on some ‘I’s and low on others. If you are an IGNITER you like change and diversity and enjoy connecting ideas to create new ways of thinking, you also thrive in an environment that allows this to happen. This is different to an IMPLEMENTER who wants to see action and traction with what they are working on, is more practical in their outlook, and focuses on what is achievable. We need both skillsets to make innovation happen. What is important is that each person’s strengths are aligned around a common PURPOSE so that they can harness diversity towards an aligned objective. Like in a relay race.

If your frame of reference is Design Thinking, then you can think of Design Thinking as the process covered in the first three 'I's - IDENTIFY (Seek Inspiration), IGNITE (Ideation), and INVESTIGATE (Prototyping & Testing).

Innovate within marketing


This is where you focus the innovation process on a marketing PURPOSE to innovate around. You need to revisit the PURPOSE throughout the innovation journey of your idea, and use it to filter out ideas that may be good, but may not be useful. Your marketing problem could be operational, for example, removing a bottleneck in a marketing process, such as getting client meeting information into the CRM and properly analysed. Your marketing problem could be creative, for example, developing a concept and creative assets for an effective guerilla marketing campaign.

People and culture

Understand who on your marketing team is good at each phase of the innovation journey. Make sure everyone knows who is good at what so that they can be empowered to come together as teams.

In order to include data in the innovation journey, make sure you know who on your marketing team is good at processing and responding to data. They will likely be high on IDENTIFY, INVESTIGATE, or IMPROVE skills - the INVESTIGATE skillset is particularly valuable for data-driven critical thinking. Bring these people into the journey in the right way to add robustness to your novel idea.

Places you can use data effectively

There are documents needed throughout a robust innovation journey, that are greatly enhanced by the use of data. As much as possible, data should be presented as data visualisations to make sure that decision-makers can process the complexity more easily.

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Diagram: By the author - the innovation journey represented as a circular process with relevant data-driven documents highlighted at each phase.


Data: Trends research, competitor positioning, SWOT analyses, brand perception map, persona data, data about the opportunities emerging, customer empathy maps, surveys, interviews - qualitative and quantitative data.

These data should be incorporated into trend reports, competitor research reports, data visualisations, personas, and insights reports. See my article on building a data-driven persona to understand more.

If you work in a strategic organisation, they may have already developed these types of documents and gathered this type of information. You can take the opportunity to feed any additional data you have gathered back to the strategy team.

*Note: This is a phase that most organisations do not spend enough time in. It sets you up for success throughout the process.


Data: from IDENTIFY. Getting the right people involved is the key here, rather than data.

Keep critical thinking out of this section - let the creatives do their job and realise a tangible concept that responds to the problem identified. They need to build up a positive and playful "yes and..." environment where there is and accepting space for ideas to be expressed, no matter how terrible - why? because a bad idea can seed a winning idea. The ideas will be evaluated thoroughly in the next phase of the journey, don't fret. Good creative agencies excel in this part of the journey, so if you want to work with one, make sure you have a well-written creative brief.

You will need to enter information about your ideas into some type of idea template, so that it can be assessed effectively.


Data: Qualitative data from business managers and project managers, lessons learnt from previous innovation projects, customer feedback, testing information on different tools.

These should be used to inform selection criteria for ideas, and testing reports for each idea that is prototyped.

*Note: this is where many innovation processes (such as Design Thinking) tend to stop - this can result in an "ideas graveyard", a common innovation bottleneck where prototyped ideas never get resource backing and are therefore not implemented at scale. By including data from people high on INVEST and IMPLEMENT skillsets when identifying trends, developing your selection criteria, and choosing your testing metrics, you can get more ideas past the graveyard.


Data: Financial data, business model data.

These financial data should be put into data visualisations and incorporated into a cost/benefit analysis for each idea to support business leaders in their decision making about which ideas to bet on. You may also develop a business case and project charter, using information from IDENTIFY too, working with your project manager.


Data: Work performance data such as time taken and actual cost to date, risk data, lessons learnt.

Project management data includes data like earned value calculations and work performance trends to make sure that the project will be completed on time. Also, risk heatmaps and risk reports are especially useful in innovation because there are so many unknowns and having an array of contingency plans thought through and resourced will keep you on track. A lessons learnt register at the end will inform the implementation of subsequent marketing innovation projects.


Data: KPI data, customer feedback, project manager lessons learnt register.

At the outset, you will have decided on success metrics that will help you decide if your solution is working. For a creative campaign, it may be the number of Sales Qualified Leads or Total Customer Acquisition Cost. For an operational innovation, it may be throughput statistics, quality statistics, or revenue collected. You will want to consolidate the relevant metrics, feedback, and lessons learnt into a project report.

Key takeaways

  • Good data fuels the innovation process, but make sure it does not overwhelm it.
  • Link the innovation journey to the marketing function via the PURPOSE.
  • Understand and use the innovation skills within your marketing team to strategically build a culture of innovation through each and every project.
  • People with INVESTIGATE, IDENTIFY, and IMPROVE skillsets generally have good data detective mindsets - so encourage those people in your marketing team if you want to be more data-driven.
  • It is important to put the data into visualisation so that decision-makers can access the insights easily.
  • Make sure that you use people high on INVEST and IMPLEMENT skillsets earlier in the process, in specific ways, to make sure they know what's coming down the pipeline and that you have resources to implement.


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Turner, N. (2018). Yes, You Can Innovate.

Project Management Institute (2017). The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Sixth Edition.

Flourish.Studio (data visualisation resource)