Low data literacy is plaguing marketing teams’ performance

Updated: May 22

Low data literacy isn’t a gap – it’s a gaping hole in our industry

With all of the talk and hype in the industry around marketing effectiveness, data driven marketing, personalisation and connected customer experiences - we as an industry have a very big job to do to improve the level of data literacy within marketing teams.

In 2021, Arktic Fox teamed up with MichaelPage to produce the Marketing State of Play 2021 report. The report, which explored an array of topics found that the level of data literacy within marketing teams is frighteningly low and is no doubt having a material impact on marketing team performance.


What is data literacy?

According to Gartner data literacy is defined as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.

This all boils down to a simple question, “Do you speak data?”


A closer look at the data literacy gap within Australian marketing teams

Findings from the Marketing State of Play 2021 report revealed that only one in three marketing leaders felt that data literacy was strong within their department.

When leaders were asked about the biggest skill and knowledge gaps within their departments, data and analytics topped the list as the biggest skills gap within marketing departments today (46%). This was closely followed by measuring performance & outcomes (37%).




And when asked about their top priorities in the data & analytics space, three quarters stated embedding a data driven culture was one of their key priorities.

Whilst many marketers will point to a host of reasons that impact their ability to effectively leverage data which includes; no single view of customer, an inability to access the data and the rest, the truth is that even if data was at their disposal, they would lack the skills and expertise to effectively utilise it.

Data literacy isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone – for some, effectively leveraging and interpreting data is a learned skill and knowledge is only built overtime when there is a genuine willingness to lean in.



So just how did we get there as an industry?

There is no single factor that has bought us here – but it is clear that we as an industry lack the data skills and expertise appropriate for today’s market. Some of the most common reasons for a lack of skill and expertise include;

1) It is seen as the role of an analyst – Many marketers still actively believe it is the role of an analyst or data scientist to manage, interpret and derive insights from data. And whilst these specialists are vital, data needs to be part of everyone’s job – not that of a specialist few.


2) Marketing’s role within the organisation – Historically the role of marketing within many organisations (not all) has been to support and enable growth rather than drive and lead it. With a shift towards customer centricity, marketing teams are increasingly being charged with the growth mandate which has created a much stronger link to revenue and performance outcomes. But it takes time for skills and expertise to catch up.


3) Lack of investment – Data and analytics hasn’t always been seen as a core function of the marketing team. In smaller teams that are resource constrained often there hasn’t been a dedicated specialist and even in larger teams the appropriate investment hasn’t been made in data and analytics. This has meant that agency partners and other providers have been relied upon to provide reporting, insight and broader strategy which has failed to support the build of in-house capability and knowledge.


4) It isn’t the glamourous part of marketing – Many professionals within the industry gravitate towards the more exciting elements of marketing – which is what drew them to the industry in the first place. Whilst we personally believe data is sexy – getting marketers to lean in isn’t an easy exercise.


5) It’s complex and confusing – The sheer volume of data, metrics, systems and channels has made it difficult for the novice to make sense of everything they have at their disposal. This makes data confronting which causes marketers to lean out.


6) Lack of focus – Whilst many functions are well intentioned, when faced with a sea of priorities many marketing functions de-prioritise focus or energy on effectively leveraging data and insight.



Building data literacy


Building data literacy isn’t something that changes overnight but with a targeted program you can begin to shift the knowledge, expertise and confidence required to more effectively utilise data and drive performance. But where do you start?


Identify the fluent and native speakers;

Look at whom within your team or wider organisation has good fluency and understanding of data and analytics and give consideration to the role they can play to drive and improve literacy.


Make it part of everyone’s role; Data is everywhere and is now a core part of marketing. As a result, all team members have a role to play in effectively leveraging, visualising, interpreting and communicating data. This means it needs to become the domain of all marketers not just of a specialist or team.


Create an environment which makes data accessible; Data and insight can be technical and therefore we need to find ways to make data as a concept, more accessible. Creating a common language amongst the team helps, as does collective training and learning experiences which build knowledge overtime.


Start; In the world of data we often find clients have a myriad of reasons why they can’t leverage their data – “we can’t until………”. Our advice is always to start with what you can do – leverage the systems you have or the data you have rather than focus on what you don’t have and the same advice applies to building data literacy. The important thing is to start, rather than find reasons to kick the can down the road and hope that the problem will solve itself.


The Marketing State of Play report explores an array of other topics including key challenges facing Australian marketers, key skill gaps and capabilities and many others.

To gain a copy of the report click here;


We help marketing teams build expertise in data – find out more about our Digital marketing & Data Masterclass here.