Putting Data to Use

The value of data does not depend on size or shape of them. It really depends on how useful data are for decision-making. Some data geeks may not agree with me, but they are generally not the ones who fund the maintenance of spit-spot clean data in a warehouse or in a cloud.

Lead a horse to waterThe value of data does not depend on size or shape of them. It really depends on how useful data are for decision-making. Some data geeks may not agree with me, but they are generally not the ones who fund the maintenance of spit-spot clean data in a warehouse or in a cloud.

From the business perspective, no one would invest an obscene amount of money for someone’s hobby. Sorry for being obvious, but data must be used by everyday decision-makers for them to have any value.

I have shared ways to evaluate various types of data in this series (refer to “Not All Databases Are Created Equal,” where I explained nine evaluation criteria), and even that article, written for businesspeople, can be considered too technical. If I may really simplify it, data is worthless if no one is using it.

Data and information are modern-day currency; piling them up in a safe does not increase their value. Even bigshots like CIOs, CDOs or CTOs should eventually answer to CEOs and CFOs regarding the return on investment. Without exception, such value is measured in dollars, pounds, Euros or Yuans, never in terabytes, megabits per second, instructions per second or any other techy measurements. What incremental revenue or extra savings did all those data and analytics activities create? Or, an even shorter question in a typical boardroom would be “what have the data done for the business lately?”

Like any field that requires some levels of expertise to get things done, there are all kinds of organizations when it comes to data usage. Some are absolutely clueless — even nowadays — and some are equipped with cutting-edge techniques and support systems. But even the ones that brag about terabytes of data flowing through their so-called “state of the art” (another cliché that I hate) systems often admit that data utilization is not on-par with the state of data themselves.

Unfortunately, no amount of investment on data platforms and toolsets can force users to change the way they make decisions. They have to “feel” that using data is easy and beneficial to them. That is why most job descriptions for CDOs include “evangelization” of data and analytics throughout the organization. And often, that is the most difficult part of their job. Another good old cliché would be “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Really?

I completely disagree with that statement. First, decisions-makers are not horses, and secondly, we can help them use the data by putting them into bite-size packages. And let’s not even call those packages names that reflect employed processes. When we consume any other product, how often do we care about the process? It’s not just that we don’t want to know what is in the hot dog, but the same is true of even high-tech products, such as smartphones. We just want them to work, don’t we? Sure, some enthusiasts may want to understand everything about their beloved gadgets, but most people could care less about all of the hardships that the designers and manufacturers have gone through.

In fact, I tell fellow analysts to spare all of the details, assumptions and chagrins when they talk to their clients and colleagues about any analysis. Get to the point fast. Tell them major implications and next steps, in the form of multiple choices, if necessary. Have the detailed answers in your back pocket, but share them only when requested. Explain the benefits of model scores without uttering words like “regression” or “decision tree.”

What Does a Data Marketer Look Like?

The currency of nearly all marketing today is data. Ten years ago, we might have said much the same of digital marketing, and all the email, display, social, search, and mobile that’s came forward from it.

The currency of nearly all marketing today is data.

Ten years ago, we might have said much the same of digital marketing, and all the email, display, social, search, and mobile that’s came forward from it.

Twenty years ago, we could have said the same of database marketing and customer relationship management.

And wind back—measurability and accountability, the hallmarks of direct marketing—always have relied on data. We may have called it lists back in the day—but data are what lists have become. The inherent value of data is to know the shared attributes among the data elements and to use that knowledge.

Without a doubt, the “marketing of data” has evolved and transformed as much as marketing itself. Every day in our world, it’s not enough to have contact details on people, or any number of the hundreds of demographic, psychographic, contextual, social and behavioral overlays that may be available, we also need analytics power.

Recent research from The Winterberry Group underscores this point: data is now an $11 billion business in America, and that includes analytics services revenue. I recall an unofficial guestimate of a $2 billion data market back in the early 1990s, when that meant a North American directory of 30,000 plus response and compiled lists available for rental and exchanges.

Next month, the Data Innovators Group will host its annual Data Innovator of the Year Award dinner in New York. This year’s honoree is Auren Hoffman, CEO of LiveRamp (now owned by Acxiom), who says his mission “to connect data to every marketing application.” And so it shall be… Soon.

But who is going to all make it work? Let’s welcome the data marketer and the data scientists and strategists they employ.

Still, too many brands keep customer data in siloes. And while responsibly using offline data with online data is fast coming down the pike, marketing organizations need people in place who can help clients navigate the brave new world of data management platforms, data quality strategies, programmatic media exchanges, big data and small data, and all the algorithms that drive this important “stuff” often in real time. A list sale exists largely no more. Instead data is a pathway to opportunity, a challenge overcome, by way of a data-to-insights-to-strategy recommendation, and a discipline for testing and data quality that leads brands (and their agencies and data marketer partners) to succeed.

It’s more difficult than ever to be a successful data marketer, but our field is producing the partners that businesses, brands and chief marketing officers need. Now if we could just go find a few.

Thank you to the Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association for enabling my participation at its recent “Meet the Masters” event. Ryan Lake (Lake Group Media), Mark Rickard (Rickard Squared) and Rob Sanchez (Merit Direct) are three CEOs of data marketing organizations who have a few suggestions on where we can all go to look.

Is It Time for a True Goodbye?

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

This morning we woke up to our first snow in the foothills of the Rockies. Even though it was only a light sprinkling—like powdered sugar on our lawn—it seemed entirely way too soon. We were not ready to say a goodbye to summer. We assumed we had a couple more weeks to enjoy patio dinners, the window boxes in full bloom and the hummingbirds on the feeders. We had to readjust.

Later in the day, I read this from Jeffrey McDaniel: “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” I appreciated this advance lesson about winter … it helped me set my favorite season aside and anticipate the cozy fires in the woodstove, cross-country skiing and holiday family gatherings.

Many of my clients are multichannel retailers who introduce hundreds of new products in a season. Very few of these new rollouts become brand rockstars (as I call their bestsellers); many more end up in the middle of the performance pack and the rest trickle towards the bottom. This is a repeat pattern. I believe there is as much value in the bottom learnings as there are in the top-of-chart learnings. The conversations about the bestsellers are just more fun.

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

But, here’s the thing: Unplanned lessons are the exact opposite of lesson plans … those neat and tidy curriculum plans teachers try to follow until the students show up and things go awry. We often learn more from things that don’t quite go the way we hoped than things that do. If we dare to review our actions.

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Radio Flyer Learns from a Crash,” Thomas Schlegel, VP for product development at Radio Flyer shared his thoughts on a product launch that was halted. After months of development and lots of production time and dollars, Schlegel scrapped it. “It didn’t live up to Radio Flyer standard,” he said. According to the article, “his boss, Robert Pasin, CEO, told Schlegel failure was OK as long as the company learned from it. Pasin now holds a regular breakfast for new employees at which he impresses upon them the idea that failure is inevitable if you want to innovate and valuable if you can learn from it. And after every project ends—whether the project has been shipped or been killed—Radio Flyer is developing what Schlegel describes as an ‘autopsy without blame,’ in which everyone involved in the development of a product discusses four questions: What went well on the project? What didn’t go well on the project? What did we learn? And, what are we going to do next?”

Author James Joyce gives us a new perspective on unplanned lessons: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Bravo to Radio Flyer. They made discoveries and acted on their volitional errors!

So, I switched gears in my client meeting and described to these Type A risk-averse professionals how another client actually embraces failures—publicly and light-heartedly. This company even had more than 300,000 customers take a tour of its flops: Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. It’s a real live collection of 31 ice cream mistakes and missteps over the years memorialized for all to see.

Ellen Kresky, Creative Director for Ben & Jerry’s shares this: “One of my favorite things about Ben & Jerry’s is that we’re not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings or failures to consumers. Take our Flavor Graveyard for example. We use it on our website, and you can actually go visit real tombstones at our Waterbury tour. The Flavor Graveyard features limericks to eulogize our flavor bombs. We even sell Flavor Graveyard t shirts. A few years ago we had a contest to bring consumers’ favorite flavor back from the dead for a limited time in scoop shops. A lot of us were secretly hoping that a flavor with a low gross margin would win so that consumers would benefit in more ways than one. And our wish came true. For me, this is an example of contrarian brand management. Projects like this help continue to build consumer love and trust, and manage to do that in an un-contrived way that stays true to our roots.”

I know it used to be a common practice for many multichannelers to take the time to have strategic post-mortem conversations evaluating a season’s results by sales channels (retail, on-line and catalog) and by customer segments. Product visual boards would be created and the nuances of what worked and what didn’t would be discussed along with promotional strategies and competitive tactics and offerings. In today’s attention deficit business culture where every one is chasing the next new thing, I’m afraid these important cross-departmental meetings have morphed into line item reports read individually and acted upon in silos. The subtle underlying threads of what didn’t work do not get fully analyzed and the real failure of this short cut practice is that similar mistakes get made again (and possibly again).

I am a proponent of serious, slow talk (like the Slow Food, Slow Travel and Slow Christmas movements!) post mortems where true learning and insights can occur. I have both led and participated in these with my clients and they work and are worth it. Stop and think time. Concentrated focus on the previous season’s happenings both for your brand and your customers’ experience with your brand. Free flow of information. Open agenda. Robust conversations. Potential surprise endings.

So, have you dared to slow down and look back with your brand team? Why not take time to better understand and collaboratively converse about your brand faux paus openly and then, and only then, bid them a true goodbye!

Verbify! Verbify! Verbify!

What’s your brand verb? Yes, you read that right … verb. Each and every day great brands are energized by verbs. Google searches. Nike inspires. Disney entertains. J.Jill uncomplicates. Apple creates. IKEA improves. LinkedIn networks. Chipotle nourishes. These verbs harness and direct all the brand activities for these organizations both internally and externally. Jim Collins writes that “Greatness is not a product of circumstance. Greatness is a function of conscious choice and discipline.” Great brands purposefully and powerfully live by their brand verbs. Their greatness lies in this deliberate verb action-orientation day in and day out.

What’s your brand verb? Yes, you read that right … verb. Each and every day great brands are energized by verbs. Google searches. Nike inspires. Disney entertains. J.Jill uncomplicates. Apple creates. IKEA improves. LinkedIn networks. Chipotle nourishes. These verbs harness and direct all the brand activities for these organizations both internally and externally. Jim Collins writes that “Greatness is not a product of circumstance. Greatness is a function of conscious choice and discipline.” Great brands purposefully and powerfully live by their brand verbs. Their greatness lies in this deliberate verb action-orientation day in and day out.

We tend to spend a lot of brand energy on adjectives trying to best our competitors: smarter, better, faster, thinner, bigger, smaller, cheaper. I like a lot of these “ER” words and find them helpful in product development tinkering. There is indeed a place for them in our business planning. But “ER” words are at best incremental improvements on existing solutions. They are not words of vision. Verbs are where the real action is!

Try this simple but powerful exercise I call verbifying: Grab three stacks of different colored sticky notes and give one of each color to each of your key leaders. On the first color, ask each brand leader what one verb best describes what your brand does for your customers. Take a look at all those responses. Is there unity among your leadership team about what drives your brand’s purpose? About what matters most to your customers? If there are disconnects, what conversation is necessary to bring alignment internally? If your leaders are not on the same page, then your brand energy is being diluted.

Next, pass out another colored sticky note and write down three of your top-selling products or services. What verb defines each of those products or services? Brands are created by these tangible customer-facing touchpoints and experiences. What do these “spokesproducts” do for your customers? Are the verbs that describe these products and services connected to your main brand verb? Why or why not? In my new book, “ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators,” I share examples from across a multitude of industries and customer segments of products that support their brands through this powerful verb connection. Might your brand be sending a flurry of mixed messages into today’s attention-deficient world? If warranted, how can you better synchronize all your brand touchpoints to support your mission-minded brand verb?

And lastly, ask each of your brand ambassadors to note the verb that best describes their contribution to your brand on the final sticky note. Jim Collins advocates being sure organizations have “all the right people in the right seats on the bus.” As their leader, do you know what verbs each of your key contributors bring to your brand creation? Are they Innovators? Dreamers? Doers? Revolutionaries? Analyzers? Thinkers? Tinkerers? What does your brand require of its people? What might be missing? Do you have the right mix of leaders on board to fully and purposefully live out your brand verb?

Nike inspires athletes of all shapes and sizes (and the company lovingly declares that if you have a body you are an athlete!) to find their greatness. I encourage you to do the same. Find your brand’s greatness by taking a few moments to verbify your brand, your products/services and your people.

Hey, Lawmaker: Marketing Moves Today’s Commerce, and Data Moves Today’s Marketing

Members of Congress, and even the White House, seem to forget or ignore that their very own campaigns depended on the flow of information about citizens and individuals and population segments to inform their campaigns. Their respective elections prove that data and marketing in concert are very effective, especially for incumbents. Yet listen to a few among our leaders, and you’d think data-driven marketing is a consumer privacy problem begging for a government solution

I’ll start this blog off with a disclosure: I’m a member of the Direct Marketing Association, serve and have served on various DMA committees, and I count the Digital Advertising Alliance and other data-driven marketing firms among my clients. In short, my livelihood depends on data-driven marketing.

Members of Congress, and even the White House, in good measure, seem to forget or ignore that their very own elections to office depended on the flow of information about citizens and individuals and population segments to inform their campaigns. Their respective elections prove that data and marketing in concert are very effective, especially for incumbents.

Yet listen to a few among our leaders, and you’d think data-driven marketing is a consumer privacy problem begging for a government solution. How they (some of them) ignore 40+ years of self-regulation success in data-driven marketing; U.S. leadership in information technology and its data-driven marketing application (they are not coincidental); and the economic powerhouse of jobs, sales and tax revenue that is created by data exchange for marketing purposes.

Research Proves Our Case … Again
In November, DMA and its Data-Driven Marketing Institute announced “The Value of Data” Study (opens as a pdf), which documented the economic impact: The data-driven marketing economy added $156 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy that fueled more than 675,000 jobs in 2012 alone. (Importantly, the study also provides state-by-state economic impact.) The full study is available here.

This past week, DAA announced results of its own commissioned research which focused on the value of digital advertising derived from data exchange—and its comparison to general ads online. The study reported that availability of cookies to facilitate information transfer increases the average impression price paid by advertisers by 60 percent to 200 percent. Additionally, ads for which cookie-related information was available sold for three-to-seven times higher than ads without cookies. Thus, the invisible hand of the market, once again, proves data’s value. The full study is available at http://www.aboutads.info/resource/fullvalueinfostudy.pdf.

We’ve Got Work to Do … with our Lawmakers
Yet President Barack Obama and Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ed Markey (D-MA) might have Americans believe that National Security Agency surveillance of U.S. citizens, data breaches at retailers and other organizations, and data exchange to drive marketing is one big roll-up of the same issue.

We know they are not. Spying by government on its own citizens is an important civil liberty issue, and while I’m not a fan of Snowden hiding out, NSA revelations deserve a full debate on its own merits and threats. Data security extends far beyond marketing—and marketers and many lawmakers agree that we need one national data protection and breach notification standard (and not 50+1). Data-driven marketing is not a problem at all, but instead a huge boon to U.S. marketing success that depends on continued innovation and fair use of information principles, which deserves government support (or at least government staying out of the way).

Importing restrictive laws and regimes on data flows for marketing has the potential to ruin American commerce by killing relevance. At a time when consumers are becoming more skeptical of brands, the intelligent use of information to converse with consumers with resonance is a requirement of marketing smart today. Dumb marketing wastes resources, annoys consumers and frankly places us at a disadvantage globally. While culture around regions of the world is unique, I believe our sector-specific approach to privacy regulation based on consumer harm potential (credit, health, financial) is superior to omnibus privacy law (all personal data is the same) and has served our economy well. How terrible to find we have our own lawmakers who seem to fail to grasp the evidence. You can believe DMA, DAA and other advertising organizations are working hard to show policymakers the great value we create in the marketing profession.

Politicians sense moods … and read polling. In my next blog post, I’ll look at some of the perception challenges we face with consumers. Clearly, as much as consumers “consume,” marketing is not all that popular with some of them either. We have work to do with consumers, too.

6 Ways to Use Email Partnerships to Increase Sales

Email marketing campaigns are typically limited to the people who subscribed to the company’s messages. Partnering with non-competitive organizations increases exposure to offers and helps grow your email address database faster. Finding potential partners is easier than one might think. The need to provide fresh content on a regular basis opens the door for partnership development. The key to doing it well is to find organizations that cater to people who match your customer demographics. Conduct extensive research before reaching out to potential partners.

Email marketing campaigns are typically limited to the people who subscribed to the company’s messages. Partnering with non-competitive organizations increases exposure to offers and helps grow your email address database faster. Finding potential partners is easier than one might think. The need to provide fresh content on a regular basis opens the door for partnership development. The key to doing it well is to find organizations that cater to people who match your customer demographics. Conduct extensive research before reaching out to potential partners.

When considering opportunities, clearly define your objectives, know what you have to offer, start small, and build from successful experiences. Choosing partners that have similar corporate values contributes to the trust level. Recipients who trust your partner tend to automatically trust your company and vice versa.

Google Offers
Google’s promotions are designed to work with Google Plus Local. It uses email and an android app to deliver messages to the people who have joined the program. The app delivers messages to subscribers when they are close to the location of participating companies and when chosen offers are nearing expiration.

Partnering with Offers is free at this time. There are minimal requirements for participation: Your business must have a physical location in the United States that serves customers, it must be verified using Google Places for Business, and the product line must be eligible. This partnership is easy to set up and cost effective.

Pinterest
The rich pins option for Pinterest has a new feature that sends emails to users when items they have pinned go on sale. The emails include good imagery and a simple marketing message that reads “Good news! Today your [item] pin from [company] is [discount]% less.” The message is followed with a “See Pin” call to action button and “Happy Pinning!”

Using rich pins is limited to movies, recipes, products and articles at this time. The products category is the only one that includes pricing making it eligible for the sale email notifications. Participation is free, but it requires oEmbed or semantic markup on your website for information collection purposes.

Non-Profits
Helping others is good for business. Non-profits have supporters that may not be familiar with your company. You have customers that may not be familiar with specific non-profits. Partnering with these organizations increases awareness of their cause and your company.

When partnering with non-profits, create multichannel messages that benefit all participants. One approach is offering a discount coupon when someone donates a minimum amount to the non-profit. Make it appealing to supporters by offering savings greater than the amount donated. Your objective is to gain new customers that will stay with your company. Monitoring the activity of newly acquired customers after the initial purchase validates the partnership. If you are acquiring hit & run shoppers, a different non-profit may be a better choice.

Publications
Keeping up in a high demand for original content arena is challenging. Partnering with publications, online and off, works well for companies that offer informational products. Create mini-guides from your larger offerings that can be given to readers.

Choose partners with content that matches your products well. Offering to host the distribution of the mini-guides gives you the opportunity to capture email addresses. (Test with and without gating to see which works best.)

Educational Organizations
Companies offering products that appeal to students or parents can partner with campuses to increase exposure and capture new customers. Credit card companies have this process down to a science. Learn from their processes so you can appeal to the people participating.

Choose to partner with campuses that offer degrees in the fields that match your product line. For example, if your company sells teacher supplies, choose a campus that teaches education. Giveaways, sweepstakes, and contests work well for students. Design them to appeal to the students and open the door for a long-term relationship.

Non-Competitive Businesses
No company offers everything people need to live their life. Test partnering with companies that offer complementary products. This introduces your company to people who are highly targeted. In return, your participation provides reciprocal information.

Monitor all messaging to insure that your partner’s communications are consistent with yours. Create an agreement that includes limits and the ability to verify accuracy in the information exchange. Choose partners carefully because you don’t want to provide your customer information to a potential competitor.

3 Things You Can Do Now to Make an ‘Earthly’ Difference

Readers of my blog know my distaste for financial service companies, utilities and other brands that admonish me in my mailbox to switch to digital statements “to help save the environment,” “save trees,” “pay it green” and other marketing hyperbole with absolutely no scientific backing. I’m waiting for three things

Readers of my blog know my distaste for financial service companies, utilities and other brands that admonish me in my mailbox to switch to digital statements “to help save the environment,” “save trees,” “pay it green” and other marketing hyperbole with absolutely no scientific backing.

I’m waiting for three things.

First, I’d love some examples—and you may post them in the comments section—of brands that are more honest and forthcoming about why they want their customers to switch to digital. It saves the organizations behind these brands money—money that either gets returned to the customer in lower prices or better service (right?), or (more likely) goes to the bottom line to improve margins. (Sorry if I’m too cynical here; it must be the prolonged winter-like weather.)

Second, I look forward to the Federal Trade Commission presenting an enforcement action that helps to educate businesses (and consumers) that the “print vs. digital” positioning of “being green” is misleading, if not deceptive or untruthful. Such a case would underscore the latest version (2012) of the FTC Green Guides and its substantiation requirement for any and all environmental marketing claims.

Third, I look forward to an independent apples-to-apples, cross-channel, life-cycle analysis of your “average” mail and digital communication in the United States. It may yet happen, but until then, we are left with helpful, but limited, research on paper, print, mail and electronics life-cycle inventories and analyses. Each of them have their own sets of assumptions, scopes and qualifications.

We don’t need the third event to happen, however, to take some helpful action on the mail side of the equation … right now. Here are three steps to consider:

  1. Educate yourself and follow the DMA “Green 15.” These 15 principles and practices apply to data hygiene and management, mail design and production, paper procurement, packaging and fulfillment, and recycling collection. I understand from contacts that a “digital” version may be in the works! Stay tuned.
  2. Label mail, catalogs, inserts and paper packaging to encourage recycling collection. That “junk mail” moniker is so yesterday. Discarded mail—after the consumer has used it—should be recycled. Close to two-thirds of municipalities in the United States now offer local recycling options for “mixed paper”—a threshold that FTC allows for recycling collection labels and “recyclable” claims. By using the DMA’s “Recycle Please” logo, mail marketers can help consumers increase awareness and participate in these programs without hurting response. Visit www.recycleplease.org for more information, and to download the latest version of the logo (which is available to DMA-member agencies, brands and organizations only).
  3. Use the FTC Green Guides—2012 version anew—to guide any environmental claims you may make.
  4. Extra Credit! Enter the 2013 DMA International ECHO Awards competition and its Green Marketing Award. The campaign does not need to be about an environmental product or cause—it only needs to demonstrate adherence to the DMA Green 15 in business action! The DMA Green 15 and Green ECHO are not about Earth Day and environmentalism—they’re about everyday marketing planning and decision-making that show efficiency and effectiveness in marketing: strategy, creative and response. The deadline is May 3—and agencies and brands may enter here: http://dma-echo.org/enter.jsp.

Now, if I only knew the carbon footprint of my blog. Hopefully, some of the information conveyed here will help mitigate the impact!

How Big Is Your Vision?

Way back in the Internet dark ages of January 1996, Bill Gates wrote about and coined the phrase “Content Is King.” He was talking of course, about Web content and the need for people and organizations hoping to monetize the Internet to consistently produce fresh and relevant topics in order to gain the interest and loyalty of viewers, just as television had been doing, radio before that and print media the longest of all. His assertion that “over time, someone will figure out how to get revenue” from Internet advertising is frighteningly similar to today’s gurus predicting much the same in regard to social media marketing. Just as back then—when companies and marketers struggled with deciding whether a Web presence was needed—today there are still major corporations only testing the social media waters, even if only half-heartedly, to keep pace with competitors.

Way back in the Internet dark ages of January 1996, Bill Gates wrote about and coined the phrase “Content Is King.” He was talking of course, about Web content and the need for people and organizations hoping to monetize the Internet to consistently produce fresh and relevant topics in order to gain the interest and loyalty of viewers, just as television had been doing, radio before that and print media the longest of all. His assertion that “over time, someone will figure out how to get revenue” from Internet advertising is frighteningly similar to today’s gurus predicting much the same in regard to social media marketing. Just as back then—when companies and marketers struggled with deciding whether a Web presence was needed—today there are still major corporations only testing the social media waters, even if only half-heartedly, to keep pace with competitors.

For me, however, two lines in the Gates vision statement take on a slightly different connotation than his thoughts on content: “The definition of ‘content’ becomes very wide” and “Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling.”

I read those two lines and what immediately strikes me is the overwhelming amount of data being generated during these last 17 years and how it is being captured, nurtured and put to work in areas such as Lead Generation, Brand, Affinity, Cross-Channel and Retention marketing. If at all.

IBM has an infographic regarding the flood of Big Data they use in demonstrating how their Netezza device handles integration for several major marketing organizations. This shows how, with connectivity, speed and bandwidth issues having become nearly eradicated during just the last two to three years, the amount of collectible, actionable data has exploded.

Unfortunately, the amount of irrelevant and useless data being collected is even greater than the actionable data, and being able to simply store that much data, let alone begin to organize and digest it all, is a major concern for most organizations. Before even thinking about the incorporation of Big Data initiatives, there should be an organizational review of quality for the existing information held in the collective datamarts that feed the central repository used for decision-making. Long before Big Data, the issue of Bad Data must be addressed.

Whether you are a B-to-B or B-to-C marketing entity, the creep of inaccurate data is constant across every customer and prospect contact you currently maintain. Experian-QAS has a stark reality “Cost of Bad Data” infographic showing the millions of dollars lost each year as a direct result of inaccurate and incomplete contact information. Complacency and budgetary shortcuts speed the process even more. Whether it is via an in-house effort or using third-party tools and vendors to perform ongoing hygiene, the vitality of your contact strategy is not sustainable without regular maintenance.

Once secure in the clarity and accuracy of your core data, you can move on to the integration plan for all of the additional goodies sprouting up from the Big Data seeds being sewn across every outbound and inbound marketing channel being utilized. But again, more planning and decision-making is critical before just jumping in and trying to grab every nugget. Perhaps the Fortune 50- to 500-level corporations might have the resources to take this on in one massive project, but I doubt that many small, mid or even larger brands can just dump everything into a pot and begin using the information gleaned into a successful series of campaigns. In a SAS/Harvard Business Review whitepaper I read recently; “What Executives Don’t Understand About Big Data,” this quote stood out to me:

“What works best is not a C-suite commitment to ‘bigger data,’ ambitious algorithms or sophisticated analytics. A commitment to a desired business outcome is the critical success factor. The reason my London executives evinced little enthusiasm for 100 times more customer data was that they couldn’t envision or align it with a desirable business outcome. Would offering 1,000 times or 10,000 times more data be more persuasive? Hardly.”

Having the foresight to develop phased approaches for data incorporation based on both short- and long-term ROI is the most realistic approach. Using results from the interim stages provides the ability to thoroughly test and analyze and measure value, keeping the project moving forward steadily while minimizing roadblocks to the longer-term goals.

My initial recommendation for the process would be along the lines of:

  1. C-Suite leadership establish the long-term goals for organizational success and with other Senior Management develop the phases to follow based on data, budget and resource availability to be assigned through each phase.
  2. Set the expectations and build the benefits case of the project across the entire company, communicating these goals in order to coordinate the gathering and availability of resources needed from whatever silo in which they reside.
  3. Design the KPIs that will be required in determining accuracy of marketing integration of the insights being introduced during each phase.
  4. Test and Measure every step of each phase for completeness and success before moving on to the next.
  5. Build simple and multivariate test panels into marketing campaign segmentation to analyze what new data elements truly provide sustainable lift in response.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Take Command of Marketing Data Governance—Because We Have To

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern. I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it).

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern.

I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it). An infographic that captures some of this research is now posted at Mason Zimbler, a Harte-Hanks Company, which created the visual presentation.

Alongside this current fascination and business trend, perhaps it’s not surprising that members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, also are posing questions at the marketing business as to how we collect, buy/sell, rent and exchange data about consumers online and offline, and if there is adequate notice and choice in the process. In the rush to capitalize on Big Data, we need to ensure that we’re collecting and using marketing data for marketing purposes only, and doing so in a manner that is respectful of fair information practices principles and ultimately serves the end-customer, be it consumer or business individual or enterprise. [See Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA: http://markey.house.gov/content/letters-major-data-brokers.]

All too often, privacy adherence is considered a legal matter, or an information technology matter—but I maintain that while these two business areas are important in respecting consumer privacy, it is marketers who have the most to gain (and lose) by smart (or insensitive) information practices. Data is our currency, and we must treat data (our customers as data subjects) as our primary asset to protect. Our method of marketing is in the balance. One or two major privacy mishaps can spoil it for everyone.

Of course, marketing data governance is far more than privacy compliance. Data quality, data integrity, data security, data integration, data validation and data flows within an enterprise all, too, are part of marketing data’s customer intelligence equation. It is in this spirit that the Direct Marketing Association recently introduced its newest certification program for professionals: “The Institute for Marketing Data Governance and Certification,” taught by marketing veteran Peg Kuman, who is vice chair at Relevate Group. The three-day course, which has launched on a two-year, multiple-city tour, is indispensable in understanding how multiple channels, multiple data sources and platforms, customer expectations and business objectives combine to command better understanding, tools and processes for data handling for smart integrated marketing. Forthcoming course dates and registrations are available here: http://www.dmaeducation.org/dm-essentials/marketing_data_governance.php

For three days last month in New York, approximately two dozen professionals from large and small enterprises, both commercial and nonprofit, attended the first seminar. I, too, attended. There were representatives from marketing, public relations, analytics, legal, IT and fundraising, representing brands, agencies and service providers. This group was engaged—providing examples, asking questions and reporting experiences as the curriculum moved along. (For those who don’t know Peg—a former client of mine—she is quite the facilitator.)

Alongside a workbook, I took home some great handouts, too:

  • A sample security policy; a sample information security vulnerability assessment;
  • A security due diligence questionnaire;
  • A sample vendor risk management program vendor questionnaire;
  • The latest copy of the DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice (recently updated with new email append guidelines, by the way) and a bevy of news articles that captures the media’s and public policymakers’ current attention on consumer data in America.

The meat of the course tackled, among other topics:

  • Categorizing data and assigning priority and sensitivity (personally identifiable information, sensitive data and other categories);
  • Mapping data flows and interactions with customers; enhancing data with appended information, and ensuring its use for marketing only;
  • Having a data quality strategy as part of a data strategy;
  • Calculating return on data investment;
  • The emergence of digital, mobile and social data platforms, and how these present both structured and unstructured data collection and insight analysis challenges;
  • Assigning data “ownership”;
  • Calculating and assigning risk regarding security;
  • Monitoring security, investigating potential incidents of a breach, and handling a response to a breach were it to occur (using recent breach response examples of LinkedIn and Epsilon); as well as
  • Laws, ethics and best practices for all of these areas.

One of my concerns is the importation of European-style privacy protection in America, and current fascination with such protections by U.S. regulators and elected officials. That is worth another blog post in itself, but I can assure you that we need to educate politicians about the superiority of self and peer regulation where no consumer harm exists.

Thank you, DMA. Marketing data does not harm. It only creates consumer choice, commerce, jobs and (tax) revenue—and pays for the Internet and other media, too—and it is ridiculous to even entertain government-knows-better regulation of such information through a potential omnibus law in America, or other notions such as a government-mandated “privacy by design” requirement in marketing innovations. (On the other hand, I’m more than happy to see laws pass that protect Americans from potential government abuse of private sector marketing data—Big Brother should not be getting access to marketing data for non-marketing purposes, unless there is a demonstrable greater public good, where subpoenas are served and heard.) Privacy by design is smart business, but only when left to the innovators, not the policymakers.

Which brings me to close—and if you’re still reading this, I congratulate myself for not chasing you away. Big Data (which can incorporate far more than marketing data) goes hand-in-hand with marketing data governance. Whether a Big Data user or not, we all use marketing data everyday as our currency. Protect it. Respect it. Serve it. Govern it. So we can use it.