Data Must Flow, But Not All of Them

Like any resource like water, data may be locked in wrong places or in inadequate forms. We hear about all kinds of doomsday scenarios related to the water supply in Africa, and it is because of uneven distribution of water thanks to drastic climate change and border disputes.

data flow and Marketing channelsThree quarters of this planet’s surface is covered with water. Yet, human collectives have to work constantly to maintain a steady supply of fresh water. When one area is flooded, another region may be going through some serious drought. It is about distribution of resources, not about the sheer amount of them.

Data management is the same way. We are clearly living in the age of abundant data, but many decision-makers complain that there are not enough “useful” data or insights. Why is that?

Like any resource like water, data may be locked in wrong places or in inadequate forms. We hear about all kinds of doomsday scenarios related to the water supply in Africa, and it is because of uneven distribution of water thanks to drastic climate change and border disputes. Conversely, California is running out of its water sources, even as the state is sitting right next to a huge pond called the Pacific Ocean. Water, in that case, is in a wrong form for the end-users there.

Data must flow through organizations like water; and to be useful, they must be in consumable formats. I have been emphasizing the importance of the data refinement process throughout this series (refer to “Cheat Sheet: Is Your Database Marketing Ready?” and “It’s All about Ranking”). In the data business, too much emphasis has been put on data collection platforms and toolsets that enable user interface, but not enough on the middle part where data are aligned, cleaned and reformatted though analytics. Most of the trouble, unfortunately, happens due to inadequate data, not because of storage platforms and reporting tools.

This month, nonetheless, let’s talk about the distribution of data. It doesn’t matter how clean and organized the data sources are, if they are locked in silos. Ironically, that is how this term “360-degree customer view” became popular, as most datasets are indeed channel- or division-centric, not customer-centric.

It is not so difficult to get to that consensus in any meeting. Yeah sure, let’s put all the data together in one place. Then, if we just open the flood gates and lead all of the data to a central location, will all the data issues go away? Can we just call that new data pond a “marketing database”? (Refer to “Marketing and IT; Cats and Dogs.”)

The short answer is “No way, no sir.” I have seen too many instances where IT and marketing try to move the river of data and fail miserably, thanks to the sheer size of such construction work. Maybe they should have thought about reducing the amount of data before constructing a monumental canal of data? Like in life, moving time is the best time to throw things away.

IT managers instinctively try to avoid any infrastructure failure, along with countless questions that would rise out of dumping “all” of the data on top of marketers’ laps. And for the sake of the users who can’t really plow through every bit of data anyway, we’ve got to be smarter about moving the data around.

The first thing that data players must consider is the purpose of the data project. Depending on the goal, the list of “must-haves” changes drastically.

So, let’s make an example out of the aforementioned “360-degree customer view” (or “single customer view”). What is the purpose of building such a thing? It is to stay relevant with the target customers. How do we go about doing that? Just collect anything and everything about them? If we are to “predict” their future behavior, or to estimate their propensities in order to pamper them through every channel that we get to use, one may think that we have to know absolutely everything about the customers.

Do You Live Up to Your Brand?

As California suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history, it was recently reported that the chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), was among some of the worst offenders in personal water consumption—yet he recently launched an advertising blitz to persuade 19 million people to save water.

As California suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history, it was recently reported that the chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), was among the worst offenders in personal water consumption—yet he recently launched an advertising blitz to persuade 19 million people to save water.

When confronted with the evidence, offenders offered excuses ranging from “I may have unintentionally over watered,” to “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I can reduce my water rate.”

Forget all the hard work we marketers do to try and help companies like MWD build a positive perception of their brand among their target audiences. Those efforts are literally flushed down the drain by the ignorance of their senior management.

Edward Leaman, branding consulting for companies like California Closets, notes that, “Brands are extremely complex and have a central, organizing principle and core purpose that is resolute … brand values guide decision-making.”

For MWD, those core brand values (aside from the obvious mission of providing high quality water in an environmentally and economically responsible way) include some ethical ones, like striving to “incorporate the mission of Metropolitan in their daily work life.”

But brand blunders aren’t just limited to water officials; sadly, there are a host of other examples everywhere you turn.

Insurance companies hog the airwaves with promises of discounts and superior “customer care.” For State Farm, it’s unfortunate they didn’t articulate the importance of that brand value to their all their agents, as a recent experience left a colleague steaming after they discovered they were not adequately insured after a minor auto accident—evidently due to the agent’s inadequate review of a policy that was being transferred from another carrier.

Of course one less-than-ideal experience may not represent the most accurate KPI of their entire agent network, but the marketing team should be distraught to learn that its hard work on customer acquisition is negated by an agent’s laziness.

So whether you’re Starbucks looking to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time, or you’re the CDC seeking to protect America from health, safety and security threats, the process of building a brand experience model and a system that can deliver the brand promise at an extraordinary level is mission critical.

And if you work for a public agency like MWD, and your state is experiencing a drought, you’d best cut back on your water usage and lead by example, because your water bills are public record.

To put a spin on author H. Jackson Brown, Jr’s quote, your brand is always reflected in what you do—even if you think no one is looking.