The new marketing mantra says, “Know your consumer and use this knowledge for good”. Sounds easy, but there is a trick. We all understand that shoppers are getting smarter and increasingly less predictable - they use multiple channels throughout their shopping journey; they get information about the product from different sources; they may never even visit your shop in reality before making a purchase. You may never even see your real customers face-to-face. Therefore, getting that “consumer data” has never been more challenging.

Your customers expect you to know who they are, what keeps them up at night, what time they have breakfast at, and which brand of soda they prefer. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration here, but it’s true that consumers expect timely and relevant messages from marketers, otherwise they tag that ad, email or newsletter as “spam” and get rid of it without a single drop of remorse. And if they dump you once, don’t even hope they will give you a second chance later. So, one conclusion to be made here: without a 360-degree view of your audience and precise analytics based on insights gathered both online and offline, don’t even try to bother those people with your ads.

For this reason, using data to shape a marketing campaign is not just a passing trend. Data-driven marketing is simply how it’s gonna be from now on, just get used to it. It’s been an agreement among marketers worldwide that data not only matters but is considered to be the most precious asset of any organization, regardless of the industry or sector.

Pitfalls and blessings of data-driven marketing

It seems that most marketers have a love-hate relationship with data because it’s not merely the dizzying increase in the volume of data, but also the confusion about how to analyze it properly and how to put it into action.

Companies are receiving different types of information about their consumers at soaring rates, but the volume is not the only issue. Marketers have to tame customer data and analyze it rapidly to create personally tailored marketing messages for the best possible customer experience. Another challenge is the number of channels. It may be possible that a customer hits 10 or more touchpoints before converting. A Distinguished engineer and Sr. Director at Google, Sagnik Nandy pointed

"it’s challenging to be in control of your data universe because there’s so much happening. There are millions of pieces of data floating around"

and he was right. Combining all that information, following a consumer and adding value to each step is difficult, if not unattainable at all.

Even if the customer journey was mapped and an attribution model was appointed, there is still a lack of data quality and completeness. Sometimes online conversions and purchases come through partner channels, such as digital networks and exchanges, which do not disclose attribution data to their members. It may be possible that a marketing team has all of the views and click data at its disposal; it may still be unclear which advertising platform brings the most profit to the business. Finally, marketers are freaking out when it comes to collecting offline data, which is more pain than gain.

It is worth mentioning that some organizations still suffer from the “information silos” when a database of one department is not integrated or incompatible with data of the other department across the organization. This leads to a lack of a unified view of the information, which prevents a company from making accurate decisions. Meanwhile, other corporations lack senior management involvement when it comes to exploiting the right data and uncovering insights.

How to make data work for you, not against you

Even though data may give quite a headache, marketers still realize that it’s a necessary evil. If treated right, data can become your best friend, but if neglected - your worst enemy. Here are the top-notch industry ideas for an effective data-driven marketing strategy:

1. Accept that data is always right, not your gut feeling

It may be painfully obvious, but since you’re spending so much time gathering that valuable data, be careful not to throw it into the trash accidentally just because somebody else has a different opinion. Marketing is evolving fast, and someone might think he knows how things work, even if data suggests otherwise. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the “highest-paid person's opinion”, and it means that people tend to listen to the opinion of those who have a higher position in a company. It is crucial that every person in the office, from top to bottom, understands the power of data and starts making decisions based on hard numbers and facts, rather than making assumptions or reading the crystal ball. Send a clear message to the staff that no decision has to be made unless they are backed up with data.

2. Create a data-driven corporate culture

To become a truly data-driven organization, data must be shared among business units and departments and be managed consistently. For this reason, make sure your business adopted a strategic approach to data organization-wide. Imagine just for a second that you need to create a targeted sales list. So you go to a sales department and ask for customer information, then you go to the product department to get data from them, then you compare it…it may take months! Furthermore, departments are not always willing to share information and you may wait for even more approval. If all departments operate as though they are on their own, there is no wonder why data become trapped within silos. A good data integration system would allow the marketing department to view information from multiple sources in a unified fashion.

Customer data integration (CDI) gathers all data from disparate systems in various business units within an organization and assembles it in a single point, making it easily accessible. CDI allows an organization to gain deep customer insights and maintain customer data in real-time. When you get your data in one place, it will be easier to merge it, standardize, transform and cleanse it, enhancing the effectiveness of business processes, reducing the risk and improving data privacy.

3. Store data in one place

For most companies, original data is treated as a top-secret and used exclusively to drive business decisions inside one or two departments whereas others are kept in the dark. Data has to become more transparent and available for the team. Make sure everyone has access to the database and that they understand how to get insights from it. One way is to use an open data platform, which will allow using big data tools and integrate old data with the new. Open data platforms may give business space for collaboration and an opportunity to share data with the whole organization.

However, be cautious not to turn that “data lake” into “data swamp”, before pouring all data into one system, analyze your business needs and choose a problem where data could provide a tangible benefit. Invest in those cases first and then gradually, with the help of IT, move towards gaining mature analytical competency and complete data integration.

4. Obtain a 360-degree view

If you rely solely on first-party data or the information you have collected about your audience, it won’t get you too far. First-party data is still considered to be the most valuable because of its quality and safety.

First-party data includes information you have in your CRM, social data, subscription data, data from actions demonstrated across your website and so on. This type of data is indispensable, but to obtain the 360-degree view, you’d better use a third-party data and a second-party data as well.

Third-party data is typically generated on other platforms and aggregated from other websites, as it does not come from a direct relationship with consumers. This type of data enables deeper analytics of first-party data; appending these two allows building better consumer profiling and improves targeting for campaigns.

Second-party data is a relatively new member of the family, which is basically the first-party data that you can get directly from the source. Exchange is always happening between trusted partners who are willing to share their customer data, making it beneficial for both parties. Therefore, there is no need to lock your data only for internal use, it may bring you more benefit if it is in circulation. The bottom line is the more data sources you have, the clearer picture you obtain.

5. Do something with your data!

Ok, so you’ve been collecting gigabytes of information, from multiple sources, processing it day and night, organizing it into a single unified system…and now what? What shall you do with all that? As a data-driven marketer, your intuition tells you that it’s not just enough to gather data and report on it, it has to be put in use somehow.

When you get tons of data on who your consumers are, what their interests are, what websites they visit, how much they spend on your webpage, the best thing you can do with this seemingly unrelated data is to offer a more personalized touch. How? For example, predict what customers would need before they ask for it. Recommended music on SoundCloud or Spotify is all good examples of offering something that a customer might like based on his music preferences and audio history.

One more thing you can do with your data - is to use it for improving customer relationships. By extracting data-rich info, the company’s representative may react quickly and solve the problem more efficiently. For example, Pizza Hut knows that its customers are always concerned about pizza delivery time and delays due to traffic or weather conditions. Based on this insight, Pizza Hut implemented a GPS location tracking available across desktop, tablet, and mobile so consumers can find out how close their pizza is and estimate the time of arrival.

Finally, don’t be afraid to share your data with consumers! People absolutely love it. Because people are more and more concerned about how their personal data is being used by companies, data-driven content might become a great way to help companies build transparency and trust with consumers. Once people get hooked on their personal data, they would start using the product even more and be willing to share additional information with you.

Big data is not the goal, but the method

With big data companies, you can get a better understanding of their customers, provide a better service for them and improve customer retention. However, it’s not enough to collect consumer data and pile it up. Only with big data analytics, using various metrics, measuring immeasurable, companies can get most out of the raw data. Big data is only valuable if it is processed and interpreted. Big data is a tool, and you are choosing the goal.

Written by
Irina Kovalenko, CMO of SmartyAds
February 2018