When it Comes to Data, Focus on the Fundamentals


Data is powerful.  When used correctly, it has the power to transform a business. But to use data to your best advantage, you must build a strong foundation.

“When something is new, we want to go big,” Adam Gitlin, Global Managing Director for Annalect’s Data Group, told the crowd at Neustar’s recent Interactive Insights Summit in Carlsbad, CA. “And what’s newer and bigger right now than data? It’s our shiny new toy.”

Excitement causes many marketers to do the opposite of what it takes to drive a successful long-term data strategy.  They rush in without a clear plan and without a grasp of the basics.

“We’re all excited to use data, to race at 100 mph. But if we skip some key steps we find ourselves stuck in second gear burning out our engines and in a place that isn’t sustainable for the long term.”

So how do you accelerate beyond second gear? Focus on the fundamentals and build a strong foundation.  While there are a variety of areas deserving of focus, many marketers can benefit from taking a hard look at Platform and Data Consistency; Data Policy, Privacy and Usage; and Identity Management.

Platform and Data Consistency

It can be tempting to test everything, on every platform, and see what happens. In fact, running tests is a common approach towards building a business case; however, if not careful, running a series of small tests could introduce longer-term problems. Marketers may end up allocating time and energy (and perhaps budget) to such engagements and end up with several successful strategies that aren’t working together toward a bigger picture.

As a result, marketers will have spent substantial time working across data partners, negotiating contracts, reviewing privacy policies and risk, classifying data, and executing data ingest. As Gitlin explained, “you aren’t getting the most out of your partnerships, and you’ve burnt a lot of fuel getting there in the process.” It pays to be selective and figure out the right approach for your organization.

Data Policy, Privacy and Usage

When it comes to policy, privacy and usage, risk is the key word, and it isn’t just the purview of the Legal and IT departments anymore. But, many marketers still apply a narrow, campaign focused definition of risk and should broaden their perspective.

Customers are increasingly aware of potential problems with data collection. Nearly half described themselves as “extremely concerned” during a January 2014 Associated Press-Gfk poll on data security.

The lack of understanding of regulatory and legislative requirements could expose any organization and its partners to a vulnerable situation.  And while “risk” may often conjure ideas of contracts, legislation, and privacy issues, there is another form of risk that is rarely discussed: data quality.  With all of the new sources of data available to marketers today, there is rarely a conversation around how accurate or precise a data source is.  The conversation is lacking because there are typically limited or no standards around how to validate specific metrics.

Policies and standards can help protect marketers from these risks. “That is what is going to protect you from hurting yourself and your customers,” said Gitlin.

As marketers make bigger and bigger decisions based on data, high standards and clear policies are of critical importance. Marketers should work with their Legal and IT departments to better understand issues surrounding consumer privacy, as well as regulatory and legislative requirements. They should also start thinking about how they consider data to be of sufficient quality to make decisions.

Identity Management

Just as the devices we all use everyday have multiplied, consumer touch points have expanded exponentially over the past decade. As a result, cookies are increasingly insufficient for tracking and targeting of digital campaigns.

As marketers, we need to think beyond the cookie and focus on more sources of data—postal address, phone number, device ID, email address and more. They’ll help us get a more complete, accurate picture of exactly who is on the other end of the device and what that picture looks like across channels.  This is critical for marketers because understanding performance is near impossible when you don’t know whom a campaign has reached across devices.

How can all this help marketers going forward? A strong foundation will have you ready to push the gas pedal and accelerate properly when it’s time to innovate.

“Getting the basics right doesn’t prevent you from being innovative—in fact, it will help you,” said Gitlin.


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