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A Strategic Approach to Addressing Data Overload

As marketers, can we have too much of a good thing?  When digital marketing came on the scene, it seemed like a godsend. Finally, we would have data to support our marketing decisions. We started implementing marketing tools only to find many of these tools provided incomplete or surface-level data: vanity metrics. We still lacked the data to tell a complete story, despite the promises of attribution tracking, cookies, and other sophisticated technology. As more and more marketing tools came on the scene, the data produced by these tools only added to the noise. This sheer volume of data regularly stymies rather than aids in the development of actionable insights. In this post, we’ll delve into the common challenges, root causes, and potential solutions to effectively harness the power of customer data for marketing.

The Challenges: Drowning in Data

Marketers have data pouring in from dozens of systems: social media, website analytics, CRM systems, you name it. Sales has their data, marketing has theirs, customer service has another set. The volume and variety can be overwhelming, making it tough to connect the disparate systems in order to pinpoint what really matters. A Capgemini Research Institute CMO survey found that only 38% of marketers have the necessary customer segment and persona data in the right format for making effective marketing decisions.

The quality of the data in these systems can vary, with outdated and duplicate emails, inaccurate information submitted by individuals, and information from legacy systems in different formats. Furthermore, the integration of data often resides outside of marketing (and thus, outside of marketing systems), under the purview of IT organizations, leaving marketing data siloed. Marketers stand in line with their data requests, competing for attention from stretched data integration teams.

Marketers lucky enough to have a strong, unified marketing data infrastructure still face challenges. With an overwhelming amount of data, marketers may struggle to prioritize and analyze it effectively, leading to decision paralysis. In addition, marketers must be careful about the use of customer data, respecting the bounds of privacy while driving toward insights.

Root Causes: Why We’re Struggling

So, why is this happening? For starters, many organizations are struggling with data as a whole, not just marketing data. Organizations are trying to figure out their overall data strategies, giving individuals across the organization access to the right amount of data to make informed decisions, while keeping the data secure. Most organizations don’t have the right tech tools to handle large volumes of data efficiently. And even if we have the tools, there’s often a gap in skills. Not every marketer is a data scientist, after all.

Poor data governance is another culprit. When our data management is all over the place, it’s hard to make sense of anything. Plus, there’s this tendency to focus on short-term wins rather than building a long-term data strategy. We’re sometimes too caught up in immediate results to think about the big picture

How many of us have been asked to provide performance data with fuzzy metrics?  Being the creative souls that we are, we create great looking presentations and spin a good story, all while eroding our credibility. Others in the organization see the mountain of data marketing produces and assume that it translates into concrete answers. This just isn’t the case. Marketers must educate the organization on the limitations of marketing data. 

Potential Solutions: Navigating the Data Overwhelm

While solving these issues can feel overwhelming, marketers can take some actionable steps toward solving the data overwhelm.

Alignment around Metric Set

Marketers would benefit from developing a common metric set that has buy-in from their peers, whether those peers are fellow team members or members of the C-Suite. Peers must see the value in the metrics being gathered and understand the baseline quality and  limits of the data. Delivering an agreed-upon set of data in a consistent manner helps to build a story over time and credibility within marketing.  The metrics need to capture both short-term and long-term ROI, along with key context. This table from BCG suggests a set of metrics to consider: 

Ensure Marketing has a Seat at the Data Table

Measuring organizational performance is a cross-functional initiative and marketing needs a seat at the table. This is especially critical if marketing hasn’t historically been part of the conversation or data strategy lives in another function. Strong CMO-CFO relationships can unlock financial improvements of 20 – 40%. Cross-functionality also allows for joint prioritization of data initiatives, better-informed decision-making around access, and a more holistic view of the customer.   

Integrate Data into Marketing Processes

Automation of marketing data into key processes helps to lighten the load of data gathering, cleansing, and analysis. Determine which dashboards can be automatically generated. Train individual marketers on automating data feeds, or hire this skillset into the organization. Foster an environment where data-driven decisions are valued. Integrate data into your regular conversations and meetings in order to facilitate informed decision-making. 

How Modern Marketing Can Help

Hard skills like data analysis, data cleansing, AI and Machine learning can help address data quality and integration issues. Modern marketing techniques help with the softer issues like collaboration and gaining alignment. In traditional environments, collaboration often looks like listening to the loudest voice in the room. Modern collaboration approaches focus on hearing every voice in the room. Check out these approaches by Liberating Structures to unlock the wisdom in the room. Gain alignment and commitment by using techniques like the Fist of Five to determine the level of buy-in in the room. 

Establishing on-going, cross-functional teams – even at the leadership level – can help keep data issues from being siloed. Give these teams a cadence to meet, and provide synchronization points, where multiple teams can align. By introducing cadence and synchronization, you provide predictable places and times for alignment to happen, keeping your data strategy on track.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the abundance of customer data presents both a challenge and an opportunity for marketers. By addressing the core issues of data overload, quality, integration, and analysis paralysis, organizations can leverage data to drive meaningful marketing strategies. The key lies in getting alignment around a key set of metrics, making sure marketing has a seat at the data table and integrating data into key marketing processes. Introducing modern marketing techniques helps teams to get and stay aligned. By doing so, marketers can transform this ocean of data into a stream of invaluable insights, leading to more effective marketing.