Has the data revolution realised its potential?

Brands understand the power of the data revolution but internal silos and new data laws are hindering its effectiveness, leading marketers at our Experian-sponsored roundtable event to streamline their approach.

Data revolutionData powers the brand, but inefficient data management is a huge frustration for modern marketers. At a recent Marketing Week roundtable event sponsored by Experian, entitled ‘Is the way we use data in digital marketing past its sell-by date?’, there was passionate debate on how to scale up the use of data to improve customer relationships in a responsible way.

Brands know they must achieve a healthy value exchange and encourage people to share their personal information, but there are common challenges. At most organisations, data is held in silos within different departments, leaving marketers exasperated by internal politics when they try to obtain data to run successful campaigns. It is often unclear who is responsible for different databases and there is a lack of goodwill around sharing them.   

READ MORE: Tanya Joseph: New data laws are a chance to reset customer relationships

University of Warwick’s head of marketing Charlotte Ridley said: “There needs to be an understanding from the top of an organisation that the marketing team requires access to different data to deliver business success.”

Her view was echoed by Autoglym’s head of marketing Anna Lilwall, who said the leadership team must have a clear understanding of the role that marketing and data play in driving business strategy. “It is a complex area but ways must be found to bring together fragmented data,” she argued.

For marketers trying to gather information from within a global business, siloed data can be even more frustrating. Sue Stephenson, head of digital product marketing at Westfield, which has offices in the UK, Australia, the US and Italy, said the procedure can be infuriating. “Although there might be good intentions internally to help, it can take a long time to get what you want. You can end up taking a step back because of the politics.”

Frustrations from technology

Ticketmaster – the ticket sales and distribution company – has a central data team for its international (non-US) businesses, to try to smooth the process. CRM manager Lucy Hill said the tools and platforms used in different markets are generally linked, which means valuable knowledge is shared quickly between offices around the world.

The issue of siloed data has been a marketing industry conundrum for years. The problem is often highlighted when brands try to integrate legacy systems or purchase new platforms to meet specific needs, for example to improve their CRM strategy. In many cases, the promises made by the vendors to solve marketers’ problems do not match the reality.

“We bought a data management platform (DMP) three years ago and thought it would do everything,” said Lara Izlan, director of commercial platforms and operations at Auto Trader UK. “We soon discovered it could not and that we needed a portfolio approach using a DMP, Google Analytics and partnerships with suppliers such as Experian.”

Matt Stockbridge, growth analytics manager at Mondelēz International, says leaders within any business, as well as their external agencies can be too easily wowed by vendor claims about what technology can do regarding data. “But once installed the tech doesn’t always deliver locally, regionally or internationally what the marketing team needs,” he said.

The dilemma is that organisations need strong security and privacy controls in place, but as marketers we need data to do our job.

Philip Driver, Canon

Wherever data sits within an organisation any irritations around accessing it can be eased if marketers are clear about what they want.

Rupert Bedell, CMO at Unum UK and former head of marketing for business and commercial at Royal Bank of Scotland, said marketers must know what data they need, what they will do with it and when they need it by. “Thinking in these bite-size chunks can help to solve complex and cultural issues around data.”

Organisations must also recruit the right skills, explained New Look’s group head of customer loyalty Ryan Davies. “Achieving true scale using data can be difficult, so you need to hire and train people across the business that have the right mindset when understanding the importance of data and its potential to help the business,” he explained.

Personalisation remains the aim for many brands, which is why data should have such a high value within any business. ITV’s director of marketing and experience for online Steve Forde is eager to obtain a single data-driven view of every individual viewer, and this requires a specific approach. He said implicit personalisation (based on a range of data including transactional history and website navigation habits), rather than explicit (user preferences, personal profile and settings), works best in the TV world and retail when deciding the content and offer for individuals.

READ MORE: Wetherspoons should be applauded for starting from scratch on data

A focus on implicit personalisation could also be one way to avoid annoying people who receive recommendations based on assumed and often wrong information about their personal interests. There was also a view around the table that brands should avoid personalisation altogether if they cannot do it well and their efforts fail to drive the customer experience.

Scale back personal data

University of Warwick’s Ridley also bemoaned how consumers are becoming weary of how “needy” technology has become, requiring people to constantly engage with apps and give reviews, for example.

The marketers also debated the implications of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and whether it will help or hinder brands’ CRM and, importantly, their data security when it comes into force in May 2018.

READ MORE: How Cancer Research UK is preparing for GDPR

Canon’s head of ecommerce EMEA, Philip Driver, explained that a level of fear exists within his and many other organisations around security and the potential negative effect a serious data breach could have on the business. He said his bosses remember the difficulties that Sony suffered in 2014 when North Korean hackers infiltrated its computers.

“The dilemma is that organisations need strong security and privacy controls in place, but as marketers we need data to do our job,” said Driver. “Digital allows you to be more transparent and GDPR has prompted us to trim the number of CRM databases. It will help us to talk more directly to those customers that want to hear from us.”

Unum’s Bedell agreed that GDPR presents brands with an opportunity to delight consumers. “It will encourage marketers to talk to people when they need something and not simply contact them about something they might want,” he explained. “Rather than pushing products using flaky data, we can handle data in a smart way to create magic moments when people really require help.”

He cited the example of when he left his phone on the London Underground and was informed about it after data revealed his device has been making unusual repeat journeys in a short space of time.

We need to step up a level around transparency because areas such as programmatic can be dangerous for brands.

Romain Bertrand, eHarmony

There were also some concerns expressed around GDPR, however, including proposals that could mean brands have to review the length of time they keep personal data.

Ticketmaster’s Hill said this could prove frustrating because many music artists tour only every few years, which means their fans are contacted infrequently. “We do get complaints if fans have not been told that a tour is happening and then they miss what are one-off events,” she said.

Experian’s pre-sales and strategic development director Alastair Bulger argued that GDPR is more about good data governance than concerns over consent. “It does raise issues around how data is used strategically,” he said. “Hopefully, it will make leaders within any business more aware of the importance of data and how it can and should be used.”

GDPR should also improve transparency around how brands and their agencies exploit data. Romain Bertrand, managing director at eHarmony UK, suggested there is already more data accountability with digital but more can be done. “We need to step up a level around transparency because areas such as programmatic can be dangerous for brands.”

All the participants at the roundtable agreed that if data is used properly and responsibly, brands and consumers will benefit. The challenge is ensuring data management is effective enough to scale its use and that brands invest in the right technology to obtain the insight they need to boost long-term customer relationships.