Organizations of all types and sizes are under increasing pressure and scrutiny to locate and make best use of as much data as they can to inform decisions of all kinds. From initial discovery and exploratory topics specific to customer or patient optimization paths, internal and external data can illuminate many issues for marketers and communicators at all levels. But what does that really look like? What kinds of data should teams consider, and what can it do to improve their advantage?

Most marketers (well over half of surveyed B2B and B2C respondents) think in terms of traditional sources when they think ‘data’ – online analytics, email data, survey or CRM data*. However, we at W2O have worked with a wide variety of clients and platforms to identify unique sources of input that are quite revealing, especially when looking at unstructured data that can provide hints at language or a decision process we can’t see in another way. Sometimes the best insights come from the most unexpected touchpoints.

With over 75K installs of forum management software and massive group forums like Reddit, even Facebook, and specialty groups like Cancer Survivors Network or Stack Overflow, it’s easy to see why forums seem like such a rich target for us to try to understand. However, contextualizing this unstructured, freeform language into more structured data that we can use and understand can be a real challenge. Integrating this data so we can align it with other, more structured data can make it even more useful as we think about how to craft KPIs and firm reporting, too. eMarketer reported that nearly 60% of B2B Marketing and Sales professionals in the US consider actionable analytics and reporting functions very important when selecting a marketing vendor. This is where smarter tools can come into play as we look to understand how customers or patients speak in real life – to each other, about their situation, and with a trust because they know that everyone else in that forum is there for the same reason.

At W2O, we rely a lot on making inferences from on how people talk in this way – “I have lung cancer” instead of, “I am a small cell cancer patient” – and creating labeled groupings from there. We can use these language insights to help clients understand their patients/customers better and relate to how they use language in a natural way. “It’s helping us build a more complete patient lexicon that not only helps us relate to patients better, but also lets us improve and expedite future research – when we know what we are looking for, it’s much easier to find,” says Kevin Johnson, W2O President of Marketeching. Johnson shared that while we spend a lot of time with trained Linguists combing through and analyzing written copy, we are also working to eliminate entries that are clearly off-topic with automated Data Sciences tools. These insights also help frame messaging in a way that is truly audience-first, since we are able to speak their language.

While many marketers and comms pros think we need a large sample set to make our data worth investigating, W2O teams have found a different result when evaluating specialty audiences. The best data for deep insights often comes from the most detailed and specific data that lets you see your audience clearly, and that often comes where they are speaking to like-minded peers. Johnson shared, “For us, it’s often Facebook or advocacy groups – those people that understand themselves best. Even with a sometimes-smaller group, it’s more accurate, and we can build to volume over time”. Statistical relevance is key.

Internal data like online or app analytics, or purchase and transactional data can be extremely valuable in this regard, too, since it shows you the actual behavior of your customer. However, connecting that end-point behavior back to intent can be very difficult, especially if you are in a B2B or complex environment. Regardless, every small indicator can provide a clue to what your audiences are thinking and how they will respond to your changes. Even in siloed organizations, every clue will help you assemble a little more of your audience picture so you can continue to drive toward your own advantage.

As Brad Feinberg, Senior Director: Media & Consumer Engagement, MillerCoors put it at our recent W2O SXSW events,”it can be a challenge to get data from the silos inside your organization, but when you make it happen, it’s completely worth it.”