If you suddenly arrive via a time machine from — say 2010 — into a modern discussion of marketing strategy, it might jump out to you that the focal point of the discussion has shifted from the “Big Idea” to “Big Data.” Marketing discussions in 2010 would have, in many cases, spent time uncovering the big idea to instantly connect with your target audience. And now, big data is the focal point in most modern marketing strategy conversations. And while data has informed marketing strategy and insights for decades, data itself — often at the individual customer level — is now seen as the driving force of marketing.
Why is data the driving force of marketing?
Data is now the driving force in marketing because marketers race to keep up with customers’ ever-increasing expectations for a personalized experience. Research shows that customers make quick judgments about brands based on the experiences they have across all touchpoints. Companies need data to make those experiences personalized and as close to what a customer expects as possible.
Yet, this data transformation has not been simple for many brands. This can be as true for startups as it is for well-established companies with their decades of successful marketing programs behind them. And it may not be a staffing issue, equally challenging for organizations with hundreds of marketing pros as it is for a two-person team.
However, there’s a crawl->walk->run framework that can help marketers wrap their heads around the digital data transformation task at hand.
Crawl -> Inventory your data
The amount and variety of data that organizations have access to have never been more plentiful or varied. Understanding what you have and what it means is a huge first step for many marketers. Some questions to ask as you inventory data include:
- Is there audience data about responses to the latest email campaign?
- Is there performance data on the audience of this recent email campaign?
- Is there recent purchase data about this email campaign audience?
- Is there web analytics data about recent site visits by this email campaign audience?
The answer for many marketers to many of these questions is often: maybe.
Working together with cross-functional teams to understand where your data is, how it’s collected, and by what team, is a critical step for many marketers.
The digital nature of today’s customer engagement has flooded organizations with data to the point where one of the most valuable things a brand can do is an inventory of its data assets.
Walk -> Unify your data
Once you have a sense of the data you have access to, the next process many marketers embark on is trying to find a way to unify it. That means understanding:
- That a specific customer opened your email, then browsed your website, and then created a shopping cart with several items.
- That a specific customer may have also abandoned their cart.
- Days later, after they viewed a digital ad that was part of your “abandon cart” retargeting campaign, they were led back to the cart and finished the transaction.
While this seems like a straightforward journey, getting to the point where you have unified the data involved in managing this journey to a single customer — or even collecting the data created during it — is not a simple proposition.
There are technical challenges involved in integrating the systems that may or may not be ready to collaborate. Examining current systems through the lens of your data unification goal is a critical step for many organizations. A few questions you may want to ask include:
- Am I working towards resolving customer identity across systems where data lives? Can I identify the same customer who visits my website as the same one who opened an email and made a purchase last week?
- Is my marketing technology optimized for individual channel performance, or does it use data across systems to optimize for complete customer experience? Have I built a system that is designed to drive more email opens instead of more holistic customer experiences?
- Are holistic data sets driving the customer experience at every point of engagement, including non-marketing touchpoints like service or commerce? Am I able to feed data across systems in near real-time?
There are also challenges to aligning teams around a data unification strategy. For many teams, that means responding to their customers’ new expectations requires that everyone embrace a new era of holistic customer engagement and de-prioritize traditional channel-focused marketing strategies. These channel marketing strategies can often treat the customer differently across touchpoints, which customers have less tolerance for. Get together with your team and map out a plan that everyone can get behind that helps you migrate away from a pure channel focus to a more customer-focused approach.
Run -> Engage and optimize
The final piece of the puzzle is using the data assets you have amassed to enrich the customer experience.
The goal for many marketing organizations is to get to the point where you know the experience a customer seeks, then making the path to that experience as pleasant, personalized, and frictionless as possible. Your unified data assets will drive this effort. This data, which is running in the background and governing each customer interaction, will feed systems of engagement that are built to create a unified customer experience. For example, knowing a customer has an open service ticket probably means it’s not a great time to engage them with a marketing message. By integrating service and marketing data, you can ensure this doesn’t happen.
And the reality is this process is never completely done. Your data shouldn’t only drive engagement. It should also provide valuable insights into your target customer. There’s always an opportunity to use data analysis and AI to test and learn how to optimize your marketing outcomes. For example, maybe you learn that a good percentage of your best customers are avid adventure travelers. This insight can provide a roadmap for how to deepen customer relationships through a more complete understanding of your customer. This information can drive, not just marketing strategy, but also the product or business strategy. Perhaps you can now start testing travel-oriented messages or creative in campaigns, or even partner with a travel brand on special promotions.
Start where you are
We live in an era of constant changes and disruption. We as marketing professionals and organizations can become quickly overwhelmed with the shifting business landscape. That’s why taking stock of your digital and data transformation goals to understand where you are in your journey is a critical step to take now. Because getting to where you want to go often means understanding where you are and starting from there.
To learn more about how to get started on your digital transformation, head to Trailhead.