You can never be too rich or too thin, or so the saying goes. But you can have too much data, according to the results of a survey of marketers. Digital marketers need to take control of their marketing data or the unrelenting flow of Big Data will overwhelm them, the survey says. Despite the grim prognosis, there is hope, said a marketing analyst familiar with the report.

The survey, conducted last fall by InfoGroup Targeting Solutions and Yesmail Interactive, involved more than 700 marketers at the DMA2012 annual conference and Forrester Research’s eBusiness Forum. The report was released earlier this year and was titled, “Data-Rich and Insight-Poor.”

The key takeaway of the report found data analysis wanting: “We found that marketers have made strides in their ability to collect data, but they’re still learning how to analyze it. While many companies [are] effectively executing data-driven campaigns in single channels-particularly digital channels such as email-most haven’t figured out how to apply insights at the individual consumer level across all customer touch points and connect the dots between multiple channels.”

The survey offered these findings, some of which won’t be welcome news to marketers:

  • “Almost half of the respondents said analyzing or applying data will be their biggest data-related challenge in 2013.”
  • “More than a quarter of marketers can’t remember the last time they performed quality control on their customer data.”
  • “Almost 40 percent said they rarely or never customize their messaging by channel based on insights from customer data.”

“Pretty depressing data,” says John Blossom, president and senior analyst at Shore Communications, Inc., a consulting and research firm based in Connecticut. “The data from the recent InfoGroup report suggests that most organizations are still focused on developing, deploying, and supporting very narrow, mass-market approaches to marketing and messaging using the data that’s available.”

The report offered several key lessons for digital marketers for dealing with the onslaught of data.

Data Collection

Not surprisingly, digital channels, including email, social media, and websites, have become the dominant data collection methods for obtaining customer information (80% versus just 8% for direct mail), making data collection easier than ever.

The report says that “marketers have to engage with consumers in the channels where they are most actively sharing personal information, and companies must invest in the tools necessary to capture and store that data across all channels.”

Blossom echoed this conclusion, saying that traditional channels have some challenges. “Most typical marketing flows attached to ad agencies and other traditional channels, still tend to focus on huge mass market segments, in large part because their trades evolved in a time when mass-marketing campaigns were the only effective tools available.”

Data Hygiene

Digital marketers are not regularly cleaning their customer data, which the InfoGroup report says should be done weekly or at least monthly. Despite that, “it is a pervasive problem in the industry to see large companies sitting on years of inactive files,” the report states.

More than half of survey respondents said that they scrubbed their data either quarterly or less frequently, with 26% of those surveyed saying that they didn’t remember the last time that they had cleaned their customer data. The report concluded that marketers have become “data hoarders-collectors who never throw anything out in order to make room for something of more value,” and that the profession makes “decisions based on outdated, duplicate and junk data that could be in low-performing campaigns that cost them customers and revenue.”

Clean data provides many benefits, including increased relevance to customers due to more precise targeting, a decreased chance of being blocked by ISPs, and fewer privacy complaints from customers. 

Data Analysis

“Data collection and storage are becoming much faster and cheaper, which results in a fire hose of data that exceeds our ability to comprehend it at the same speed. This makes an investment in analytics a critical piece of the data puzzle,” the report states.

Luckily, there are readily available tools that can help slow the flow of the fire hose, Blossom says. “Organizations which find themselves to be right on data and poor on insight now have a wealth of data analysis tools to help them make sense of in-house information, social media, and other key sources of market insight.

“Be it customer monitoring and response tools like Lithium Technologies or Clarabridge, management dashboard tools from SAS or many other emerging options, it’s easier than ever to get valuable, real-world insights into customer and market behaviors, preferences and trends and to respond faster and more effectively than ever,” he states.

Hiring is one investment in analytics that 56% of respondents said that they would be doing this year. Blossom says that marketers that are considering adding staff or infrastructure should think about their goals first.

“While the InfoGroup data suggest that organizations are ready to ramp up resources for more prominent online marketing, their goals and tools are still poorly aligned with the abilities of online marketing channels to produce far more subtle and immediate understanding of trends and opportunities in specific markets,” he says. “So as these companies add tools and staff, they need to think beyond their traditional marketing paradigms as well as beyond their existing content technologies.”

Data Application

The report says that almost 40% of respondents “rarely or never use customer data to customize messaging by channel. That’s troubling because custom channel messaging is the most basic level of segmentation-customizing campaigns for individual consumers requires the ability to drill down even further.”

The significance for marketers is that they need to provide a “consistent, relevant customer experience” to target consumers across different channels with information specific to their needs, the ability to learn from each campaign and produce the metrics that will provide the ROI to justify the investment in staff or technology.

Blossom says that despite the massive amount of data available and the need to keep it clean, today’s tools actually make the big chunks of data pretty easy to digest: “The wealth of data analytics available today make it far easier to identify, analyze, target and address specific market segments in ways that will help them to understand how you ‘speak their language’ and can respond to their needs in a more tailored fashion than competitors.”   

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