Data focus can enhance your customer offer

Data Strategy, in conjunction with Acxiom, gathers expert opinion about how brands can best develop a single customer view. By Morag Cuddeford Jones


Data Strategy (DS)/ For many companies, the drive towards a single customer view (SCV) is a long journey through an ever- changing landscape. How would you describe your progress so far?

Gavin Ford (GF): Fat Face is pretty new to the concept. We have lots of data, but we’re not entirely sure what we want to do with it. Right now, we’re looking at how we add extra external data to the information we’ve already gathered to make it really useful to the business. It’s a blank canvas with a lot of opportunities.

Caroline King (CK): We’ve been on this journey for nearly five years and now have a number of silos of information that we can compare and contrast. We’re also looking at maximising what data we’ve got and how we can take it further. If I were to mark our progress on a scale of one to five, I’d say we are about a two and a half.

Mark Lumby (ML): At Oxfam, we’re low down on that scale – probably only at one. We’re just looking at completing our marketing database. We have a lot of transactional data but nothing that examines our supporters’ lifestyles, so now we’re looking into data enhancement.

Catherine Chapman (CC): Our SCV was developed from the marketing database about five years ago. It’s now time we revisited it because a lot of data has been added since.

Claire Armstrong (CA): In financial services you have to have a good resource of data. We’re trying to refine and improve on that, particularly on the attitudinal and behavioural side. We try to limit the personalisation of our communications, but it would be great if we could move towards a more dynamic content and communications strategy using SCV. We’re no more than two on the scale.

Stephen Newberry (SN): We have all our data in one place but the challenge is aggregating all of it in a way that gives us the best understanding of who our customers are. I’d say in terms of the database itself we’d be a four or even a five on the scale but in terms of understanding it, we’re only around a three out of five.

The board signed a rather large cheque to go and invest in a large data warehouse

Andy Day, O2

Adam Partridge (AP): We have information on about 40-60% of our customers but there’s a lot to be fleshed out on our database. We’re just getting to the bottom of who our customer is and going beyond the transactional booking information at National Express. We’re probably at two on the scale of one to five.

Ian Dawson (ID): The target is always moving. If you’d asked me four years ago where the goalposts were, I’d have said they were where we are today. But today I’d say they are still far away. We’re very rich in transactional data and I’d like to see the web customer journey data and how we can bring that richness to enhance our targeting and maintain competitive advantage.

Fiona Sweeney (FS): My observation is that many people are harsh on themselves and consider an SCV to be a technological implementation. I look at it as being a culture. It’s more about how you think about and how you interact with your customer that really defines whether you have an SCV or not.

DS: How easy is it to get buy-in from the top of the business for an SCV?
John Whitehead (JW):
The fundraising team at WaterAid has taken this on and we had a couple of key people at the head of the department who bought into it but it’s taken some time. We’ve got to maximise our engagement with supporters and for that we need an integrated view across the database.


SN: Over the past few years charities have had to go back and look at how they’re spending their money. We really need to make the most of supporters’ money. This has shown the need to invest more in good quality data. Making sure we have an historical SCV is one of the key challenges we are working towards. It helps that our insight and analysis department sits within marketing.

CC: The marketing department ultimately drives the SCV in our case because we’re trying to enhance the database for marketing and analytical purposes. We’ve dabbled in customer data but never looked at it as a major project. I’m trying to get interest from all the different stakeholders in the business, particularly the face-to-face retail channels.

AP: Our managing director is very supportive of developing an understanding of the customer and at the moment marketing is driving the project. But we need to push it outside of marketing and see how we can change channel management, how customers are treated in our agencies or on the phone.

We need to understand why we have loyal customers – is it down to price or service or inertia? That’s the knowledge gap we have to bridge at the moment.

Manjit Sandhu (MS): The first concern for publishers is simply getting the product out, so my department does come somewhat secondary to that. Equally, regional managers are very protective of their data and don’t want customers from Devon being put in the same targeting pot as customers from Scotland. Trinity Mirror has more than 150 local, national and regional publications and it’s hard to get buy-in to an SCV from each when they know and protect their own silos so well.

Andy Day (AD): We probably spent a year trying to get executive level sponsorship. The light went on for the board because customer service is one of the things that underpins our brand and the notion of extending into other markets and not understanding who our consumer was meant having a series of ridiculous conversations with the brand. We could create a genuinely good customer service experience if we had an SCV. Eighteen months ago we had a breakthrough and the board signed a rather large cheque to go and invest in a large data warehouse to cope with the scale of the challenge.

DS: Is this a project where IT and marketing functions have to work together?
We literally took the IT function with us and set it up within marketing. We set up a customer intelligence centre in marketing whose job it was to build the warehouse and work with partners.

We would like to use our SCV to move towards a more dynamic content and communications strategy

Claire Armstrong, Barclays Wealth

ID: For us, it’s all about flexibility and being fleet of foot. If you’re dependent on an IT department that has been given a different set of priorities, it can be very difficult to get access to people when you need them. We have people who are very technical and capable at More Than – they can roll their sleeves up and code if need be. We are masters of our own destiny.

DS: Is an SCV essential to take your organisation to the top of its sector?
We are a business that is constantly evolving. We’re trying to do things better all the time. One of our main aims at Barclays is to become the world’s largest wealth manager. In order to develop that and work alongside our clients, we need to understand more about them. They’re so valuable we don’t want to bombard them with information that isn’t relevant. It’s that partnership that we’re striving to achieve and, ultimately, as a global business group we do want to be in the top tier.

DS: While there’s a lot to be said for drilling down into your own wealth of data, how important is transactional data in fully understanding your customers’ trigger points?

Ian Stewart (IS): There are a lot of conversations going on about loyal customers but there are customers that are still attractive to business even though they may not be spending money with you at this time. You can look at your own internal transactional data until you are blue in the face, but it won’t tell you anything. There are other motivations out there that are causing them to behave in a certain way, such as how the economy has affected discretionary income.

DS: How do you get the business to look at data in a more sophisticated way?
It’s about educating the marketing department that, just because Mr Smith has bought home insurance, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can go and sell him car insurance. Mrs Smith may already have done that separately, so you need the whole household view. We have a reasonable understanding of this and our SCV tells us what has already been sold within the household and what the potential value is across customers and across channels.

DS: Understanding the pressure a household as a whole is under from a recession must be helpful for the charity sector?
I had been expecting to see some attrition in terms of regular donations in the current financial climate but it hasn’t happened yet. In terms of our database, we know that our supporters are philanthropic in general simply by being there, but whether they decide to give us £25 or £25,000 is very much down to their own personal values. The simple fact that they are there doesn’t tell us much about where we sit in their philanthropic priorities. It’s still a mystery to us as to what determines how much an individual decides to donate.

However, we do have a lot of success in persuading people who already give regularly to increase their donations year on year.

SN: We can use our own transactional and behavioural data to increase someone’s regular giving but where it falls down is looking for prospects for a large [donation].

You can’t get something from a transactional database if they haven’t already done it. We’ve got a responsibility to our donors to make sure that we’re not going to ask them for something that is inappropriate.

GF: This is a really interesting point in determining the customer’s attitude to price versus value. When people are cutting money out of their budgets you need to make them feel that the £10 they’re spending with you feels like more.

DS: How do you manage the SCV when you have a diverse customer set?
We’re trying to understand how values change across our customers who use National Express. Is price the driver or is it that we service a popular destination, such as Glastonbury?

FS: And it’s difficult because a lot of those drivers you can’t personally identify simply from their transactions.

AP: We are conducting research to build a bigger picture. We need to understand the different groups in the population, how and why they use us and then we can link that back to the customer and contact them with different, relevant messages. We can’t change the service to suit individual segments but we can communicate appropriately.

ID: For us, driving relationships in insurance is tough. The purchase window is small and the important thing is to provide the right service at the moment of truth such as during a claim. If the claim experience is good, then customer advocacy is assured. However, we only see the claim data, not the link to customer satisfaction.

CK: As well as keeping customers happy and loyal, relevancy has to make sure that our communications get to the recipients and not their junk mail. There is so much information going to these people daily that if we don’t get it totally bang on message, we will be deleted.

DS:What role is social media playing in enhancing your SCV?
Since we gained a Facebook presence with 20,000 fans we have seen our net promoter score [which shows the level of customer satisfaction] go off the scale. We’ve previously had a presence on social media sites because we felt we should, not because we wanted to do anything specific with it. But now we are trying to tie in our Twitter and Twitter updates with survey responses. It is starting to give some really exciting results.

SN: It is a bit of a challenge to marry social media to data. Being a hospital charity we have a number of supporters who feel emotionally very close to the cause and they have some amazing stories in the social space. But trying to close the gap between online and our transactional database is a challenge.

ML: Social media is a challenge, but is an exciting prospect. We’re carrying out surveys at the moment with our supporters and looking at how we can integrate some of the search media. Any new data stream is exciting for an analyst to delve into and set up. I need to look at how that relates to the customer journey and how they engage with is.

AD: At O2, we have a social media monitoring capability and we react on an aggregate level. Customers now expect the company to react to a tweet on an individual level but we’d have to have armies of people to deal with that.

DS: How important is your careful stewardship and use of the SCV once you have it?
When you work for a large company with a lot of customers, everything is a question of scale. There are a million and one opportunities you could go after but you have to look at the most effective and responsible way of using them.

CA: We do take great care. There’s a very thin line between letting customers know that we understand them and being like big brother in our approach. It’s more about understanding the client as an individual – where they are in life, where they live and their requirements. If you go any further than that, you run the risk of becoming too involved.

AD: In a mobile context we know an awful lot about what our customers do and we understand that the volume and power of that data is huge. We have a formal and informal way of dealing with that. Informally, our mantra is that we only use customers’ data for their benefit and that is the lens through which we look at everything. If our customer is dialling for pizza every Friday night and we can provide them with discount pizza vouchers from a partner then that is of value to them.

More formally, we have an Information Council made up of a cross-directorate panel of senior managers who agree on our company policy for customer data management. We recognise that customer data is the crown jewels of the business. How secure it is and what we use it for demonstrates a degree of maturity in our business.

David Reed
Data Strategy Section editor

Andy Day O2 Head of CRM

Caroline King IOP Publishing Marketing manager

Gavin Ford Fat Face Data and analytic manager

John Whitehead WaterAid Support planning and insight manager

Manjit Sandhu Trinity Mirror Database manager

Catherine Chapman BSkyB Data strategy manager

Ian Stewart Acxiom Consumer insight specialist

Ian Dawson More Than Data services manager

Adam Partridge National Express CRM analyst

Stephen Newberry Great Ormond Street Insight/analytics manager

Claire Armstrong Barclays Wealth, Marketing manager

Fiona Sweeney Acxiomm, Industry strategist

Mark Lumby Oxfam, Analysis team leader

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here