Some people will tell you that the future of marketing is all about data. Big data. Small data. Fresh data. Social data. Data. Data. Data.

I think they are wrong. To be clear, I love data. I have been a passionate, data-driven marketer for most of my career. Our company just launched a 300-person global data practice. But it is NOT the whole story.

Do you know what you get if you focus just on data? You get spreadsheets and dashboards. And one thing I know from over 25 years in this business: no spreadsheet or dashboard actually moved a customer or moved market share. Data is very important. It is just not enough.

Another whole school of marketing says that the future of marketing equals content. Video content. Social content. Deep content. Real-time content. Programmatic content. Content. Content. Content. Content is King. It is ALL about content.

I believe that they are wrong, too. We are collectively spending so much energy inventing new, faster ways to create and distribute content. But if that’s all we do, do you know what we produce? Landfill. Tons and tons of irrelevant waste.

Does your company produce content landfill? Is the content getting better or worse?

So, let me propose a different formula for the future of marketing. To me, marketing that actually moves customers and market share at scale is a function of three things –

Data + Creativity + Courage—in almost equal measure.

Let me demonstrate this formula in action with three case studies from courageous brands.

British Airways

Like virtually every airline in the world, British Airways (BA) has a profit problem. It began a mission to improve profit margins by over $1 billion. One of the best ways to do that was to find routes that were profitable, except in time periods of low utilization – profitable flights with empty seats. One of the times we took on was the November/December time period, when flights from BA’s hub in London Heathrow experienced a seasonal dip. Lots of flights. Too many empty seats.

A young team in our London office took on the brief to increase bookings on flights in and out of London. Digital billboards in key London locations featured creative that encouraged passersby to look up and spot the aircraft flying overhead. A message on the board pointed out the flight’s city of origin.

The execution, which featured adorable children on the digital boards pointing at planes overhead, masked a technologically complex back end. It involved mounting an antenna on the roof of a building near each board. The antenna picked up data from the transponders of British Airways planes within 200 kilometers and fed that information into an application that identified the flights. The application then sent the information to a server that contained the information about the plane’s destination or origin. A “trigger zone” acted as a trip wire to determine when a plane should instigate a message, and cloud altitude data determined if the plane could actually be seen.

To me, this is a great example of the new marketing formula at work.

The whole project started by analyzing data from 1,400 flight routes to find the flights and hubs that had the most profit potential. It then leveraged data from flight schedules, cloud beacons and GPS. It even scanned competitive booking sites to see whether to promote the BA flight’s frequency of service or price point. It could create dynamic messaging based on data.

It embraced all kinds of creativity and I have to wonder if people would’ve fallen in love with this billboard without the charming youngster who points to the plane?

The result is that now British Airways has an ongoing strategy to promote high-profit, low-utilization flights globally.

Ibm Watson

You may have heard about IBM Watson.

Watson was in fact a very boring new product – some complex algorithmic software coupled with some super-high-speed server hardware.

But it was brought to life with an idea – to pit man vs. machine in an epic contest that showed Watson’s incredible ability to solve complex problems using ambiguous data. The demo that IBM created was for the Jeopardy! contest – Watson would compete against former Jeopardy! winners like Ken Jennings to win big money for charity.

A very boring new product – but it was brought to life with an idea

And it worked. First, IBM got good value for its paid Jeopardy! sponsorship. The three-night Jeopardy!-Watson show achieved an audience of 34.5 million people.

But it didn’t stop there. Because the story was so interesting, people shared it. Leno. Jon Stewart. PBS Nova. In total, Watson-Jeopardy! generated an astonishing 1.3 billion earned media impressions.

And it didn’t stop there, either. Before the show aired, we worked with IBM to put in place a complete end-to-end lead generation program to accompany the sponsorship. Events, downloadable whitepapers, trigger-driven email streams, and more.

So, what IBM ended up with was a sponsorship that paid for itself with a big audience, but also $50 million worth of earned PR value and over $260 million of validated sales leads.

What’s even more interesting is where Watson is going next. Among other things, Watson is now in the food business. You may have seen him at SXSW (South By Southwest) recently. He had a food truck showing off some interesting data-inspired recipes.


Today, Watson is being applied to nutrition, healthcare, analytics and increasingly to marketing itself. Soon, you will have a little of Watson in your company, too.

So the lesson of Watson is, once again, that it’s not just about the data or the technology. It’s about how it comes to life with an IDEA and an end-to-end program, and how it takes marketing courage to propel it into the marketplace.

Babolat – The Connected Tennis Racket

Babolat is a traditional and very successful European maker of high-performance tennis rackets. Our Paris office worked with them to help transform their business model and their relationship with their customers with the creation of Babolat Play.

Tennis players have longed for the ability to track their performance and provide real-time information to help them improve their game. Babolat Play provides that ability. The sensor-packed racket collects its abundance of performance data on a player’s game, which is then transmitted for analysis to a smartphone or tablet running the Babolat Play app over Bluetooth or via USB. Players can then review their performance history, upload, share and compare stats with other Play Pure Drive users, and challenge friends or colleagues to get a higher global ranking in the Babolat community.

By creating the world’s first connected tennis racket, Babolat earned a whole new data-driven relationship with their customers. The value of Babolat extended beyond the purchase into the entire learning and performance experience.

The rackets sold out in the U.S. market and the brand is closer to its customers in every way.

So, whether you are leading a large or small company, think of how you can bring together Data + Creativity + Courage into a powerful marketing combination for your customers.

What do you think?

Brian Fetherstonhaugh

About the Author

Brian Fetherstonhaugh

Brian has a unique vantage point on how brands are built, how corporate cultures are created, and what happens as the world goes digital. Today he leads OgilvyOne Worldwide, the customer engagement arm of Ogilvy & Mather, and is a frequent lecturer at distinguished institutions including Yale, Harvard, MIT Sloan School, Columbia, and McGill.