The Death of the Traditional Data Planner

When I started my data career 11 years ago, the industry was a very different place. The traditional data planner’s role tended to focus on targeting recommendations, list buying, data processing briefs and practically reciting the Data Protection Act. Indeed, with many data planners coming from a list broking or ownership background, there was a strong focus on using cold data. Today, however, the traditional skills of yesteryear simply don’t cut it. So what’s changed?

When I started my data career 11 years ago, the industry was a very different place. The traditional data planner’s role tended to focus on targeting recommendations, list buying, data processing briefs and practically reciting the Data Protection Act. Indeed, with many data planners coming from a list broking or ownership background, there was a strong focus on using cold data. Today, however, the traditional skills of yesteryear simply don’t cut it. So what’s changed?

First of all, marketing demands have. Gone are the days when acquisition was the primary focus. Instead today’s clients are much more focused on retention, and how to intelligently use customer data to predict future activity and increase their value to the organisation.

Clients and agencies are also demanding more from their data teams – they need someone who can do more than simply buy cold lists. They demand a new generation of data planner, one who embraces the customer, understands databases, the power behind them, and can be “hands on” with data. Essentially, they need an all-round data expert who can design, deliver and measure a customer centric strategy. Oh, and can still speak in plain English, leaving the techie-babble behind. 

Two of the biggest drivers of this change have been market saturation and technology. Companies faced with multiple competitors have to fight harder to differentiate their offering and keep their customers satisfied, as price alone may not win the customers’ loyalty longer term. 

The scale of consumers’ data footprints compared to when I started is staggering and has largely grown from technical advances in the digital space. There’s now a wealth of data collected, including those tracking customers’ online journeys, information uploaded by consumers to social networks such as Twitter, Facebook et al, as well as user-driven content on websites such as customer reviews. 

Customers are also a key factor in this change – they want to be spoken to in ways which are relevant to them or they are very quick to complain. Therefore, you’ve got to be able to use all the data available to make your communications more targeted, as knowing customers’ postcodes and purchase history is no longer sufficient. You need to know how your customers interact with you, what works well and what you can do in order to drive better engagement and improve marketing ROI.

So, the role of today’s data planner is much broader. We’re able to fulfil the traditional roles, as well as being more comfortable manipulating data, getting involved in the technical solutions to challenges, as well as understanding the customers’ journeys to strive for efficient and effective marketing spend.

Staring into my crystal ball, what do the next ten years hold for the humble data planner? Well, possibly the biggest challenge we face is the proliferation of the data footprint. Channels like social media offer marketers a huge volume of potentially rich data. However, it is yet to be established how we will effectively incorporate it, or indeed whether it actually has any longer-term value to customer communications.

Data planners will have to become much more aware of how these disparate data sources can be integrated to support client needs. Often a client will have an amazing idea of what they want to do with their customer communications, or a hypotheses to be tested analytically, yet won’t have the resource or specialist knowledge to implement it. So they’ll look to their data planners for the answers. It’s here, in this new multi-channel data consultancy role, where our future will lie.

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