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Question the status quo and look for the business impact: Balazs Ordodi on successful strategies for data-driven marketing

Tina Nielsen

Key takeaways

  • Filtering data for quality is crucial to build effective sales strategies 
  • How to be on the front foot when targeting an audience
  • Why data collection is especially sensitive in the healthcare industry
  • How media giants are adding layers of complications for digital marketers
  • Artificial intelligence is already here and companies who don’t test now, will be left behind

From his home office in Switzerland, Balazs Ordodi, the newly appointed global IT Digital Lead for Bayer, recalls how he started his career in marketing, first working with two large agency groups, WPP and Carat. 

“I started at a time when digital was rising up and it became a request from client to start including digital activities, so that was a great experience for me,” he says.

He moved client side when internet security company Kaspersky invited him to join, a move he says everybody who works in marketing on agency side will look for sooner or later. He explains:

“Well, I guess the grass always seems greener on the other side and if you are agency side the work on the client side looks a lot more straightforward than it is – it looks like they brief you on Monday, expect the RFP back by Wednesday and get the result on Friday when they are going home. In the meantime, you in the agency work a lot,” he laughs.

Of course, this perception is soon challenged for anyone who makes the move to client side. Ordodi’s recommendation to anyone who wants to make the same move, should look to join a small company, which will get them more involved. “Go to a start-up or a mid-size company where you will be much closer to the business decisions; you might even be making some of those calls and you’ll be forging vital connections,” he says. 

His role at Kaspersky took him to a different level of digital insight. “It was a great opportunity to reinvent how they were doing marketing,” he says. “To really measure every bit of activity based on ROI, examine the data and decide where we should invest and focus activities.”

It was excellent preparation for his next employer Bayer when they offered him his first role in 2018. He was to be a part of their newly formed Global Center of Excellence team and his brief was to help shape the strategy for media activation, specifically for search and programmatic. This led to him taking on the role as head of programmatic, media and ad tech. 

“My role shifted naturally to work more on the data technology solutions and that eventually evolved to my current role as a digital lead where I act as a bridge between the technology side and the business side,” he explains. 

Question without fear

He says that in meetings he enjoys being the person who says, “I don’t know” and who asks questions. First, because many people might also have questions and don’t want to ask them. “Sometimes around the table you see other people’s faces brightening up because they might not know either,” he says. “I think my expertise and position allow me to be unafraid to ask questions.”

This is an approach he applies to work more generally. In a business area that is constantly evolving, he says, the main challenge is to always question the status quo. “People very often get stuck in this ‘it’s how we used to do it’ mentality – often without any evidence to show if it worked or not.” At a time when it is possible to measure every activity and its impact on the bottom line, it is crucial to look at the right data to make a good decision.

“We have so much data today in marketing, especially in digital, but even offline too – TV viewer data for every second of the show and you have analysis data about how the brand is working and that is just scratching the surface,” he says.

“Find the right one, which is not just helping your narrative but actually really has a business impact,” he says.

So, how to assess what the right data is? Sales data is the easiest and most accessible if it can be linked to the sales impact. “The problem with that is that while you know what you did a year ago, how do you know that will work this year?” he asks. 

A preferred route is partnership agreements with retailers, using coupon codes that enables collection of sales data, which gives sales people data connection directly to the sales. “Those links to sales means they don’t have to justify what they do,” says Ordodi.

Advertising as a helping hand

As a healthcare company, Bayer’s target audience is people “who suffer from an illness or some condition”.

“One of the greatest things about marketing in the pharma business from my point of view, is that if you do your job well and you use all the tools you have in marketing, including personalisation and better targeting, it is possible to help and provide a better consumer experience instead of just selling,” he explains.

In other words, bombarding someone with a headache with ads about cough and cold tablets is unlikely to be the right approach. The smarter way is to provide a solution where the potential customer already is. “If I provide the right solution in the right channel, they will appreciate it,” he says. “That is our approach at Bayer.”

The pharma industry evidently has different quirks that others don’t where data collection and placing ads is more sensitive. “Imagine that you are suffering with chronic issues or stomach problems, you don’t want to share that with colleagues; you don’t want it popping up on your computer screen.”

This challenge means that a company such as Bayer will not go as far as others in aiming to collect that data. As Ordodi says: “We don’t want to break that relationship.”

Being on the front foot is imperative and that means, for example, reacting to predicted weather conditions. A bad weather forecast for the weekend means many people will suffer from coughs and colds on Monday. Similarly, if pollen levels are high, allergy sufferers will need help. 

“I think everyone would agree, not just in healthcare, that it is better to prevent than trying to treat something after the event. Of course, this approach doesn’t work with everything, but it is helpful.”

Gathering data 

And before you even start assessing the quality of the data, you need to get hold of it. Ordodi says it is more challenging with lots of data within walled gardens such as Facebook, Amazon, Google and other technology companies.  

It is a picture that is increasingly complicated with the big companies and the big browsers starting to limit how much data can be collected. Add to this, regulatory changes such as GDPR. “We see more and more control of consumers’ personal data and I do think that approach is correct, but it is also limiting,” he says.

Now some social media platforms are introducing subscriptions for consumers who want to avoid ads, further complicating matters, but Ordodi is not convinced. “I am really looking forward to the figures and to see how many people actually are willing to pay for this,” he says. Which leads to the conversation about consumers’ relationship with advertising generally. Most people, when asked about advertising, will say it bothers them. If properly targeted, however, it becomes useful to them.

“If I want to buy a car and the advertisers pick this up in my activities and an advertisement pops up for a car in the colour I want, at the price I would like, I don’t consider this an ad, I consider it a piece of content,” he says.

Navigating the data available is among the hardest parts of the digital marketing job. 

“It is more complicated now than ever,” says Ordodi. 

The major task for companies, he says, is to harmonise all the different available data sources. It is said that data is the new oil, but he tweaks this slightly to “accurate data is what lifts the value of a company.”

“Any time I open my email I have ten times more data than what I need to make a decision; the filtering of that data – what is relevant, what is not relevant – is the biggest key. That is before even considering misleading or incorrect data,” he says.

The significant task of sorting the good and useful data from the bad and irrelevant might be eased by the advance of artificial intelligence, which has recently gained traction.

Test now to benefit from AI

After ChatGPT took artificial intelligence mainstream this year, there is no longer any getting away from the advance of this technology – variably viewed as a tool or a threat, depending on where you stand. And Ordodi thinks it will soon be hard to avoid at least one mention of AI in sales pitches and presentations, regardless how directly it is linked to the solutions offered.

“But it is without doubt that AI is here; companies are only just starting to understand how to use it and this is the right time to test how best to use it,” he says.

Ordodi sees the future as one where AI can help as a great tool. When we reach the point where AI can help with lots of data collection and sort what is helpful from what isn’t. He also refers to shortening attention spans of people. “If you have a six-page article on a complicated topic, AI might be able to summarise it in a way that means you can digest the facts without reading large documents,” he says.

There is some way to go for AI to be trusted – Ordodi points to the fact that there is still data that is unreliable and unverified. 

“As bad as it sounds, you have to build a relationship with the machine, you have to trust what it tells you is true and not have to double check everything,” he says. 

It is already helping with creative work. “The technology is evolving at high speed and you need to test if it is ready for your marketing activities, in order to not miss out. AI is refined enough already for companies to use it in a meaningful way creatively.”

He predicts that the next couple of years will see some companies come out with case studies showing effective use of AI. “The speed is there and I don’t see it slowing down. Just look at how much it has evolved in the last year and a half,” he concludes.

“In a year or two you’re going to see exponentially increasing AI solutions built in more in every marketing activity.”

Balazs Ordodi is based in Basel, Switzerland and is the Global IT Digital Lead with pharma company Bayer. Before this appointment in September 2023, he was responsible for global data and consumer connection in the business, which he initially joined in 2018 as head of programmatic media and ad tech. 

He held two roles with internet security company Kaspersky, first as EMEA digital marketing manager and then as global digital performance lead. Before moving client side, he worked for two agencies, both in the UK. First with MEC Interaction where he held four roles between 2008 and 2010 and later moving to Carat as regional media specialist before working as the company’s global digital account manager.

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