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Data is taking its rightful place as the king of the hill in retail; it’s the thing that marketers rely on to personalize experiences, launch cross-channel campaigns and drive fast, intelligent business decisions. Without access to actionable data, especially customer data, brands are simply flying blind.

But who owns it? As engagement points between consumers and brands have proliferated, data governance has gotten more complex. Not too long ago, the management of marketing data was far simpler because there was no overlap between channels. Email data stayed with the email team, social media data stayed with the social team and, well, you get the idea.

That’s not the world we live in today. Consumers engage with brands in stores, online, on mobile, on social media, on the phone, via chatbots, and on and on. They expect to have a seamless, consistent experience with brands as they do. In theory, this type of cross-channel experience sounds great, but in practice, how do you pull it off? It all comes down to the data, and that’s why brands need to establish a cross-functional data team that aligns with all stakeholders (campaigns, marketing, etc.) to centralize, analyze and act on their data.

(This topic was the subject of a recent research report by Salesforce and Deloitte Digital, Consumer Experience in the Retail Renaissance.)

Delivering the type of cross-channel experience that customers now expect requires pulling together data from individual, siloed channels to create a unified view of everything that’s going on. Of course, that’s where things get difficult, because it raises the question of who manages that unified data, and who can access it for campaigns? Finding the answers to those questions aren’t easy, and pulling it off requires crossing team and channel silos so that you can use data from one channel to inform actions on another. Going forward, this will be a key bridge-building role for brands that make data governance a top priority.

Data governance is even more challenging when you consider the volume and complexity of data retail marketers now have.

In order to understand why this is so important, we need to look at who is on the data team and what they’re meant to do in today’s digital world.

The roles that make up the ideal data team are by no means straightforward. For instance, we have data engineers (who manage the data infrastructure to collect and synthesize data), data scientists (who manipulate the data to make predictions and other things) and data analysts (who help us understand data by finding insights that we can use to take action).

For most organizations, these distinctions aren’t clear — they simply know that they have mountains of data and need “a data person” to help sort it all out. This recognition is a start, but in order to properly manage the data and use it to make an impact, retailers need a proper data governance team.

At the very least, this data team should include (a) a data engineer who can manage the data pipelines and infrastructure and (b) a data analyst who can find insights in that data.

What Does the Data Team Do?
At the simplest level, the data team needs to aggregate various types of data from multiple sources and make predictions and suggestions based on that data. And handling this aggregation, especially for such a large volume of complex data, requires specialized integration, segmentation and targeting skills typically found in specialized “data team” roles.

Other responsibilities often include:

  • Using data to explain and anticipate business problems

  • Working with cross-functional teams to deliver customer-focused solutions

  • Communicating key data findings to non-technical audiences

  • Organizing data to inform customer segmentation and lifecycle marketing efforts

  • Running predictive models to help determine the best campaigns and messaging

  • Tracking performance of efforts against KPIs

We already live in a cross-channel world, and very soon we’ll live in a channel agnostic world where retailers don’t think about strategies based on channel but rather based on the best way to engage with individual customers, wherever they are.The data exists to make this channel agnostic vision a reality, but we need proper data governance — led by a data team — to bring it to life.

Check out the report from Deloitte and Salesforce, which surveyed more than 500 retailers, to learn how data prioritization has created a new cadre of winners in today’s complicated retail landscape.