Data, data and more data. It’s everywhere. Sourced from a range of customer databases and touch points. Embedded in daily operations from customer relationship management, email and web analytics. Then there’s third party data, with information driven from multiple platforms.
The question is, says Acceleration’s Richard Mullins, not that there is data available, but what organisations do with it. “The organisations that will excel in the years to come will be those that master the discipline of gathering accurate and relevant data from all these sources and using it to drive their customer acquisition and retention strategies,” he says.
“This means that marketers need to focus on two key areas, understanding of the data available and then the development of a clear roadmap to maximise the data in terms of initiatives that take into account the data needed to implement strategy and campaigns as well as the technology and tools they need to deliver against the strategies,” Mullins says.
He believes data-driven strategies have three major streams: Customer data, originating in the digital world. They leave data wherever they go. Demographics, what they buy, what websites they use, their search behaviour. Then there’s marketing strategy. Once marketers know what information they can potentially access about their customers, the next step is to clarify the goals of their marketing strategies and which data will be useful in attaining them. And finally, understanding the customer journey to conversion and the ways that this can be influenced through content and marketing strategies.
Mullins says most marketers have a lot of groundwork to do before they can use data in this manner. “They need to put in place data collection strategies and infrastructure, customer segmentation strategies, the ability to integrate the data from multiple sources and the tools needed to automate processes. This involves a lot of detailed strategy, commitment and investment, but the benefits are well worth it. And for clients that embrace the opportunity, they have the opportunity to own the space”.
We asked him how South Africa’s marketing and media agencies are doing in terms of embracing data.
Where is SA at in terms of data mining, in an advertising and marketing sense?
We are getting there, but slowly. Many South African companies are looking to understand data better, but they don’t yet have the tools and technology in place to gather and analyse it in an efficient manner.
What skills do agencies need in order to maximise use of data? Should they be increasing capacity to deal with the demands of data?
Analytics skills are top of the list. These skills exist among the direct marketing guys, but they need to be repurposed for the world of digital data. Agencies need to be looking at increasing their capacity – but for it to be worth their while to do so, they need to be able to monetise data skills. Many agencies fall into the trap of giving data skills away as a value-add – which is not sustainable.
What are the costs involved in an agency becoming data-proficient? Technology? Software? What are the requirements? Infrastructure?
We are seeing the clients buy the technology and tools to gather and analyse data, then expecting the agencies to run it for them. Technical skills around databases, reporting and analytics are, for that reason, the major investment agencies need to make to play in this world.
Can you give an example of how you would devise a data-driven strategy for a client?
We’d start off with something relatively simple – measuring exposure to conversion across search and display to actual conversion, for example. This would involve integrating search, ad-serving and analytics tools to harvest insights from the data across search and display.
Are there privacy issues here? Do consumers have to give permission for their information to be used?
When you’re mining data that allows you to personally identify a consumer, you should alert him or her to how you are collecting and using data. But for the most part, we are talking about collecting anonymous data to segment customers and target them with more relevant and interesting messaging.
What channels do you use to mine consumer data?
All of the digital channels – search, display, the corporate website, email, and so on. The challenge is to consolidate all the data they produce in a more meaningful manner.
What is the future for an agency who chooses NOT to invest in data collection?
The key skill is about managing rather than collecting data. Agencies that do not have the skills to help their clients leverage data in a meaningful manner will struggle to help them execute campaigns that drive ROI. They will battle to be competitive in a market where effective use of data is key to successful marketing.
Are there specialists who collect data and can drill down to a specific client’s needs?
There are various aggregators who collect and resell data they collect, but thankfully, not many of them in South Africa. In time, data will be traded like a commodity and companies really need to think about how they will safeguard this valuable asset.
What kind of data is available at present, and what will be available in the next few years?
At the moment, we have good access to behavioural data that allows us to track what customers are doing online and make inferences about their needs. In time, we will be able to blend this with deeper and more detailed demographic data for even more relevant targeting and more accurate segmentation.
How do you measure the ‘customer journey’ you mention? How do you identify that ‘roadmap’?
The starting point is where they engage with the client – milestones along the way will track their journey to conversion. The roadmap is about creating a path for the customer from engagement to conversion and retention, using data to inform the digital marketing strategy.
Richard Mullins is a director at Acceleration.