Getting it and just not getting it

Is the fundamental divide between companies who are succeeding in the current market and those who are struggling as simple as “getting” data? On the evidence of two days of presentations and discussions at the Financial Services Customer Data Summit last month, it would seem as if that intangible sense of having the right culture is critical. Like meeting somebody new, the chemistry is either there or it is not.

And just like personal relationships, the corporate culture can be lit up by the arrival of the right person. Listen to Simon Kaffel, Sky’s data and analysis director, talk about what happened to his workload when former chief executive James Murdoch started talking about “customer”. That kind of top-down buy-in to the concept of data is what every practitioner dreams about getting in their own organisations, but many struggle to achieve.

Often it is left to directors of individual functions to try and evangelise about the value of investing in the data asset. CRM directors have been doing this for at least a decade, realising that the high cost infrastructure they have been given only yields value if it is populated with the right customer information.

Marketing has a patchier history on the subject of data. For many marketing directors, the lure of the new – from email to social networks to Twitter – far outweighs the benefits of the existing, in the form of customer and prospect data. Getting to grips with information assets also requires a level of attention to detail that many dislike.

There is also the sense that working with data is not as creative as formulating brand positioning and messages. That is despite the substantial evidence that insights from customer data can lead to genuine breakthroughs in business performance and profitability. Just ask Tesco how important the Clubcard is to its bottom line.

To be a marketing director who gets data, you do not have to be a data expert, of course. The most dynamic companies are those where marketing is closely aligned with the data (and CRM) functions, understanding eachother’s competencies and drawing strength from a close working relationship.

Some brands, like O2 and More Th>n, have got that spark – and are seeing the benefits in their bottom line as a result. Others have yet to find it. And as in a relationship, if you do not have the right chemistry, you won’t be getting it.

Data is a brand’s best friendI was recently lucky enough to take part in a lively debate for the Marketing Society to discuss the challenging topic of whether marketers should be free to use any data that we wish. For me, at the heart of this debate is the need to understand that the marketer and the consumer are part of a very important and precious relationship, one that should be nurtured and not abused.

At More Th>n, we’ve built a successful business on the strength of our data-driven marketing. In one year alone, we grew our phone sales by 18 per cent with a 10 per cent reduction in cost per sale. We’ve seen powerfully how using data intelligently – like a pet’s name or birthday – can yield spectacular results.

Using relevant and timely data rooted in solid customer insight can help not only to deliver great results, but also to build a solid relationship over time which works to ensure future brand and business effectiveness. For me, those businesses who will succeed in the future are those understanding how precious this relationship is, working tirelessly to use what data they have to protect and develop this over time.

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