Data marketing: optimise what you’re already collecting before asking for more

This guest post is by James Forbes, head of digital and marketing at InfoReady, a marketing and business intelligence consultancy.

People in marketing are constantly being told how valuable customer data is, and how much of a competitive advantage it can provide an organisation. Less is said about just where to get this data from, so when marketers plan a campaign using customer analytics, very often they will start to devise elaborate schemes to entice customers to provide them with more data. This can be an unnecessary, if not counter-productive behaviour for an organisation.

It seems such a simple thing to overlook, but collecting more data from more sources for the sake of it, or collecting data that you unknowingly already have captured within the organisation, is a waste of time and resources. Often the most useful sources of data are sitting right under a marketers’ nose. Rather than collecting additional data, marketers would benefit from exploiting the value in the data they already have and generating valuable insights through analytics to drive engagement.

Transactional data is the most simple and obvious source of good quality data for your organisation, and it’s the most powerful when done right. In the online space, Amazon has made an art form out of harvesting clickstream data to generate insights around customer behaviour. What Amazon’s users are clicking on and buying (or not buying) provides Amazon with its most powerful weapon; the information it needs to populate its ‘recommended for you’ section that personalises the shopping experience based on the preferences of each individual.

For offline businesses, loyalty programs are typically a rich source of data although often painfully underused. Consider how Starbucks integrates its loyalty program with other data collecting initiatives; customers earn ‘stars’ not just for purchases but for participating in the Starbucks brand in other ways, such as completing incentivised actions and participating in product promotions. As customers earn more stars they move into ‘green’ and ‘gold’ premium clubs that offer them greater rewards in return. This rewards program benefits the customer, encourages them to use Starbucks more often, and provides the coffee house with a richer understanding of each individual customer to aid personalisation of communications to further drive loyalty.

In these two examples the organisations are using data that every business collects as a matter of course. There’s no elaborate program to collect ‘big’ data, it’s simply the case that these organisations not just capture the story on how customers interact with their brand but use it better than anyone else. They can then generate meaningful insights through analytics that can feed back to benefit the customer and, in turn, improve its brand experience over its rivals.

There are other great sources of data that will naturally flow into the organisation. Behavioural data captured from your owned digital media – websites, apps, mobile and email communications. Then there’s data captured via your social media properties which can provide a wealth of information on who your customers are and what they’re saying about your business, and why. Even data collected via you contact centre in relation to customer interactions can provide valuable insights. Often this data is collected automatically by an organisation, often unknowingly, and then stored somewhere that’s either difficult to find, or in a silo where only one business unit can access it. In other words, lots of great data comes into the organisation and it’s never integrated and harnessed via an analytics program to generate valuable customer insights.

Bringing this data together in a way that allows you to generate deeper insights on your customers without actually asking for more data from them is the more efficient way to go on data gathering quests, and it has the added benefit of not giving the customer cause to be concerned over why you are collecting this and whether you’re using it responsibly.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of Google, Facebook, Apple and others to harvest as much customer data as possible, there’s increasing concern among customers that organisations are collecting too much personal data. A 2011 survey from a US-based market research firm, Harris Interactive and TRUSTe, found that 52% of consumers believe advertisers are obtaining and using personal information without consent, and then sharing it with other advertisers without the customer’s approval.

Data collection has become a sticking point that not every customer is going to respond well to, and so, when you’re on an analytics journey and have good customer data already collected, you’re simply shooting yourself in the foot to ask for more data rather than focus on generating insights from what you already do have.

There’s every chance that you already have enough data in your organisation to use it to great effect within the business. You’re just not utilising it as well as you should be. Invariably, regardless of the kind of organisation, the ones using their data effectively are the ones using it to identify and then solve customer problems, improving their experience when interacting with your brand the next time.

James Forbes is head of digital and marketing at InfoReady, a marketing and business intelligence consultancy.