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Become a Data Management Master

Like many content agencies, we at D Custom occasionally get so wrapped up in our clients that we can forget to worry about our own marketing goals. Remember that old adage, “Doctor, heal thyself”? It’s kind of like that. “Marketer, market thyself!”

In that pursuit, we’ve spent the past few weeks conducting a high-level analysis of one of the most key elements of any D Custom digital marketing campaign — data management.

Related: Digital transformation has changed the way your customers enter the buying cycle. Stay informed to stay in touch.

 We’ve been asking ourselves questions such as:

  • How do we collect customer data, like email addresses and demographic information?
  • How do we store it in a way that’s both safe and manageable?
  • How do we use that data to optimize our marketing efforts and reach the end conversion our business needs?

Melissa Chowning and I have been tandem-tackling questions like these for a long time. We conducted a self-interview of sorts to give some insight into our process.

Where’s the best place to start when you’re auditing a new (or existing!) client’s data management process?

MC: It really depends on the client’s level of sophistication in the data management and marketing world. But a good first step for any client is to evaluate what tools they are using to collect data currently and if they are using a DMP (that’s a data management platform). A few tools we recommend for marketers:

The presence (or lack thereof) of a centralized DMP will tell you a lot about your client’s maturity in the data management process.

What are some common mistakes you’ve seen in the world of data management or data-driven marketing?

TS: The biggest mistake I frequently see is the most obvious one — failure to collect and retain data in the first place. That’s a much more widespread issue than many marketers realize. Many companies, regardless of vertical, do one of two things: 

  1. Disagree internally on what data to collect and how they should do it
  2. Lag behind industry best practices

(Note to readers: If either of these sounds like your company, don’t be ashamed to admit it. The first step is recognizing the problem.)

Still more companies have started collecting data, but simply aren’t using it — and that’s usually because they don’t have someone in-house who can put together a comprehensive, data-informed marketing strategy. There’s no shame in that; it’s why agencies are in business. Teams like ours specialize in taking reams of data — email addresses, buyer history, content consumption patterns — and putting together actionable demographic, firmographic, and psychographic models to build a strategy from. A quick breakdown:

  • Demographics: Data segments built off hard points like income, geographic location, gender, etc.
  • Firmographics: The B2B version of demographics, including points like total revenue, employee population, etc.
  • Psychographics: Data segments built off consumer attitudes, opinions, and viewpoints

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once those three primary data models are in place, it’s time to extrapolate purchase history (what your customers have bought from you before), promotion history (what you’ve offered and how audiences have responded to it), and customer referrals and ratings. Think about how informed your marketing strategy can be with knowledge like that. 

Mixing and matching that complex data can uncover key consumption patterns and previously underutilized target demographics. Collecting data is a huge first step — and when it comes to your customer’s arsenal of first-party data (that’s data a business collects directly from its customer), this will often be through email. 

How does email enable you to own your customer relationship?

TS: Email addresses, in many ways, have become the lifeline for brand marketing. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise: The majority of America is on a daily email consumption cycle, and the cost to deliver messaging to an email audience is significantly more cost-efficient than traditional direct print mailings. Those same email accounts can also be matched to social media accounts, giving marketers a chance for multiple touchpoints within one campaign.

But email addresses, while crucial to most digital marketing efforts, are just a small slice of the pie. Demographic and psychographic data can be highly impactful on marketing strategy because they can help you construct the all-important buyer persona. That’s your specialty, Melissa.

MC: You know how much I drink the email marketing Kool-Aid. Email absolutely has to be a part of any digital marketing strategy. Nothing is more valuable than a direct connection with your customer or audience. Email marketing allows you to own that relationship and the terms on which you can communicate. 

Social media is an incredibly effective marketing tool, but at the end of the day, Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat own the relationship with your followers. They set the terms and the price of communication. If Facebook goes away (or your customer becomes disengaged with the platform), so does your audience.

Bringing this back to the topic of data management, email also offers the chance to collect a lot of data about your audience. Through your email communications, you can see:

  • How engaged an individual is with your brand (Are they opening every email? Or barely showing signs of life?)
  • What type of content intrigues them — which can lead you to some assumptions on their stage in the buying cycle or tell you how to most effectively attract their attention in the future
  • Some of the basic information that an IP address or email extension will tell you

Still, actually parsing your data in a way that pushes your ROI takes a certain amount of sophistication, and I see plenty of companies that are intimidated to try. 

Can you think of any recent success stories in this field to help put the anxious mind at ease?

MC: On a broad scale — and certainly some examples everyone can relate to — yes. Why do you love Netflix so much? Aside from the fact that it provides convenient, on-demand content, it also knows you. It suggests shows you probably actually want to watch. That’s data-driven marketing. Amazon makes our lives incredibly easy with fast delivery and a variety of product options, but it also gets to know you and suggests products you may like. That’s data-driven marketing. And we’ve all heard the (true) story of the furious father that went to his local Target store after his high school daughter received a flyer in the mail congratulating her on being pregnant and offering her a discount on baby products. Spoiler alert: She actually was pregnant. That’s data-driven (albeit a little creepy) marketing.

And before you say, “OK, OK — that’s Netflix, Amazon, and Target; I can’t possibly be expected to perform on that level” — yes, you can. Your customer doesn’t factor in your marketing budgets or your company size when they deduce their level of satisfaction in doing business with you. The “Amazonification” of customer experience affects all of us. Your customer is getting accustomed to the level of service and the experience that the sophisticated, data-driven companies are providing. You have to keep up.

Seventy-four percent of online consumers say they get frustrated with websites when content, offers, ads, promotions, etc., appear to have nothing to do with their interests. Don’t let that be your customer. And you definitely don’t want to incite fury on Twitter when your “one-size-fits-all” communication strategy turns into a marketing fail that upsets portions of your audience and becomes a PR nightmare.

TS: That’s obviously something that everyone wants to avoid. And one of the best ways to keep your brand from looking a fool is to collect and store your data correctly.

What are the keys to properly storing data? 

TS: First things first: Make sure your data collection interface is secure. Are you gathering email addresses or credit card information through your website? Make sure you’re operating with an https certificate, which essentially encrypts all information exchanged between a user’s browser and your site. This is best practice for all websites these days, but especially if you’re trying to exchange personal or sensitive data.

Protect yourself, too — use a captcha to help screen out bot/spam submissions on your collection forms, or else your data could be hopelessly littered with gibberish entries.

Storage of consumer data is just as important. If your company utilizes a CRM or marketing automation tool (like HubSpot, Salesforce, or Marketo), that’s where all your data should funnel to — those are safe platforms that take data protection seriously. Don’t just list email addresses and consumer behaviors on an Excel document on your server. And regardless of where your data lives, use randomized password protocols (and change them often) for access.

Data security is arguably one of the most important pieces of the digital marketing landscape — if you have questions or concerns about it, bring in an agency or consultant to help you plan. 

Any last thoughts?

MC: This is something all organizations must embrace. There isn’t a company on the planet that doesn’t need a direct connection and effective communication strategy with their customers and leads.

Don’t be afraid to start small. A savvy email service provider like HubSpot can certainly operate as your primary DMP, especially now that it’s not limited to housing only contacts for whom you have an email address.

Jump in, and of course, don’t be afraid to ask the experts for help when you need it. That’s what we’re here for.

There’s more insight where that came from. Check out our blog or follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram

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