How to build a solid marketing foundation using a comprehensive data strategy
Being raised with Sunday School every weekend, I remember a popular song we used to sing. It begins with the following lines:
”Don’t build your house on the sandy land, don’t build it too near the shore.
Well, it might be kind of nice, but you’ll have to build it twice,
Oh, you’ll have to build your house once more.”
I’ve never built a house, so I won’t pretend to be an authority on the subject. However, if I were to build a house to last, I probably would follow this advice. A house on the waterfront might sound nice, but lacking a solid foundation will probably make it about as long-lasting as the sand castles I used to build, i.e. just about long enough for the next wave to sweep it away. The next lines of the song present the obvious solution:
”You better build your house upon a rock, make a good foundation on a solid spot.
Oh, the storms may come and go, but the peace of God you will know.”
Right about now you are probably wondering what a Sunday school song has to do with marketing. Alright, it’s a relevant question. But, the answer might actually be more than you’d expect.
Allow me to present my first analogy: Your marketing is a house.
You may choose to build a house with many different rooms, just as you may choose to build your marketing around many different marketing channels.
You may opt for a prefabricated house straight from a catalogue, or maybe you want to draw you own house from scratch, customizing every little detail in it. Similarly, you might build your marketing stack around large, all-in-one platforms or maybe you prefer to select a variety of small niche products.
Time for the next analogy: Your data is the foundation.
The purpose of a foundation is to give structure and strength to whatever is built on top of it, as well as shielding it from changes in the environment where it is built. The quality of your foundation will ultimately determine the endurance of what you build on top of it. The same goes for your marketing ”house”. If the data you use in your marketing is bad, it doesn’t matter how fancy your platforms are, you are sub-optimizing your results.
Furthermore, it’s really difficult to build a foundation for a house after the house is already built. (note: like I’ve stated, I’m no expert on building houses, however, I assume there is a reason why the foundation is always built before the house).
Similarly, the sooner you build your data strategy, the easier it will be to build your Marketing on it. If you wait too long you might find that your choices regarding your marketing has set up restraints and/or requirements in what you can do in your data strategy. In fact, when letting your data strategy come first, it may even help guide you while building your marketing.
Building the Foundation: The Data Strategy
Developing a data strategy of course, is not simple. But, for the sake of this post, I’ll focus on two key elements - Data Quality & Data Security - which if done right, will have a positive impact on your foundation.
If data is a high-value asset to you (which I hope it is, as we’re talking about data-driven marketing here), the quality of your data is what will set you apart from your competition. Therefore, it should be a high priority to you to aim for as high quality as needed. Note that achieving 100% data quality is most probably impossible, if not extremely costly, both money- and time wise.
A pretty good rule of thumb is that your data should be ”fit for its intended use”. This also means that if you’re using the data to base decisions on that will determine the outcome of your business, the higher the quality the better the results. Enough with the obvious. Let’s have a look at a couple of things you can do to improve the quality of your data, starting today.
Data Accuracy & Completeness: If the data you have is not accurate, the decisions you base on it will be equally inaccurate. Make sure you’ve got control over your data collection, so the info you are gathering is actually what you intended to collect. While at it, make sure you have enough data to make it usable. Sometimes, missing data is a minor problem, other times it’s catastrophic.
Data Consistency: Most of us have data in many different places. Integrations between different platforms live by shuffling data back and forth, sometimes creating replicated data at multiple locations. When this happens, it’s easy to lose track of what data was the original source data, and updating the source data will not be reflected in the replicated data. Strive to make sure the data you’re looking at is tightly updated with the true source data.
Data Accessibility: So, data is your most valuable asset, right? Only if you actually start using it that is. Data just sitting in a database won’t impact your business in any meaningful way by itself. Activate it! Make sure you use it to create audiences for your marketing, use it to report and keep track of your business KPIs. Create APIs so it’s easy to get to the data from any platform you might want to use. Also, don’t forget to talk about work work. Let your managers know what data they have access to, and how they should use it.
Ok, I’m aware that data security is a big subject and that there will be things related to data security I’m missing here. So be it. Nevertheless, I want to give you some ideas and suggestions that at least will make your data at least a little bit more secure. And that’s better than nothing, right?
Data Access: Always use company accounts. Don’t allow ”private” accounts (e.g private gmail accounts, rather than company email accounts) to be used. When someone quits, and their company email is revoked, it’s nice to know that all their accesses are also revoked.
Also, use temporary accesses. Just because Steve needed access to that database during that project, it doesn’t mean he needs or should have access for the rest of his life.
Set the right access levels. If all you need is to look at data, you shouldn’t have access to modifying it, or even worse, deleting it. Too often I come across clients where access levels are treated with an ”just set the maximum access level, in case I need it later” approach. Dare to be the pain-in-the-butt person that says ”come back to me when you need higher access.” Your data will thank you for it.
Accountability & Audit: Always use individual accounts. Minimize the use of shared accounts, because all shared accounts are ultimately anonymous, making it difficult - for better or worse - to know who has done what.
May I suggest setting up a recurring event in your calendar to audit your platforms and see if there are people who have access but don’t need it anymore? Seriously, do it. Now. I’ll wait.
Backup: Do I need to spell this one out? I guess so. Back up that data, always. Databases do crash, data becomes unusable sometimes. it happens, but it is also a rather straight forward issue to prevent.
In a data-driven marketing landscape, where not only the platforms rely on data, but you also base business critical decisions on it, it’s fair to say that data is digital gold.
Taking the time and effort to develop a data strategy will create a solid foundation for you to build your marketing on. And whether the next trend in marketing will be AI, ML, CX or MA (feel free to replace any of these with your favorite abbreviation!), rest assured that it will need data to work. And if your data foundation is solid, it will work better. Quality in, quality out.
Whatever choices you make regarding your house, the moral of the song will be true; if you want it to be long-lasting, you better build it upon a solid foundation, or you risk it being swept away with the next wave. I’m looking forward to your feedback and questions!