Taming big data to make it work harder


“We have to appeal on a personal level.” We hear this with increasing frequency from today’s modern marketer, who is placing customer centricity and personalisation at the heart of their programmes in a time-poor, competition-heavy, digital environment.

In response to these demands, marketing software developers have handed marketers the keys, creating tools and solutions that generate a wealth of data waiting to be tapped into. But how do you know which piece of the data puzzle is the most relevant in specific scenarios? How do you know what types of data would work best across different channels?

The era of big data has been upon us for some time, and there’s no doubt that digital tools have opened up massive opportunities for marketers to understand the drivers behind audience engagement, behaviour and transactions regardless of the channel. But the challenge for marketers today lies in the ability to work out how to be more strategic with the information they collect and access.

Before tackling the potentially intimidating big data challenge, we must consider and assess the types of data we have at our fingertips and how to use that information to best effect:

1. Create your data sets

In order to navigate the big data battlefield, brands should first think about the data they have available and how it can inform their marketing strategy. The easiest way to break this down is by dividing data sets into three categories:

  • First-party data: This is your data collected from the actions or behaviours of visitors to your website combined with data in your customer relationship management (CRM) systems, social media data, subscription data, or multi-channel data gleaned from mobile sites or apps.
  • Second-party data: This is someone else’s first-party data that you can use to help achieve your marketing goals. For example, you can form a mutually beneficial relationship with another company whereby you each share your respective first-party data.
  • Third-party data: This data is consolidated from websites and social media platforms other than your own. Third-party data helps marketers reach a wider audience, and when used in conjunction with a campaign, can help marketers reach more diverse and targeted audience groups.

By analysing and evaluating what kind of customer information is most important – first, second or third party - marketers can identify which data pools will best inform their campaigns. For example, third-party social data might be useful if you need to conduct market research just before a product or service launch.

Whereas first-party data will be crucial when sending customers targeted Christmas emails with gift recommendations or sales purchases based on previous browsing behaviour and purchase history. Whatever data you decide to use, once armed with this information brands can then formulate targeted strategies that will resonate with different audiences.

2. Set goals with a data audit

Before you do anything with that data, it is important that you define your marketing goals through a data audit. This will ascertain if company data is fit for purpose and should look at all marketing channels, including the website, CRM, transactional, business intelligence, mobile sites and applications, email and social media.

As the old adage goes ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ If you have poor quality data, but you haven’t conducted an audit to discover this, then your output – i.e. your marketing campaign and the ROI it achieves – will suffer.

At the start of your data audit, and to maximise the value of the data gleaned about your audiences, define the goals of your initiative from the get go. For example, if a motor company is looking to optimise the website experience for visitors, they could offer up more meaningful segmentation by tailoring the landing page for specific customers based on their profiles – such as promoting saloon cars to families with two or more children and a mid-level salary.

Defining goals in this way means brands can assess the valuable data which will impact on the organisation’s performance and profits.

3. Be honest with where you are in the data realm

So you have created your data sets, set some goals, and conducted a data audit. What next? Be honest with what stage you are at. Simply put, you will not be able to progress to the next stage – putting your data into action – without going through a process of tweaking and finessing.

Do not be afraid of a ‘data cleanse’ if your data isn’t accurate. You will only get out what you put in. If your databases are segregated, integration is crucial. You might have quality data, but if it sits in siloes, then you will not be able to glean a single view of your customer and marketing decisions will be piecemeal rather than fully informed.

If your data is good and linked, then think about taking things one step further and turn your data into meaningful marketing actions to improve performance.

To tame the beast that is big data, marketers need to be strategic and considered in their approach rather than leap in head first. When customers expect brands to understand their interests and preferences, data is crucial for brands to speak to these individuals at a personal level. But the data must be clean, of high quality and integrated before it can provide any real impact to a marketing campaign.

Building personalised relationships does not rely solely on the amount of data captured, but rather how carefully chosen information is harnessed and used. The most successful companies will not be those who collect the most data, but rather the ones who collect the right data and use it most effectively.

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