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What’s A Marketing Data Strategy & Do You Need One?

by Simon Spyer on May 15, 2014 4:42:00 PM

For all the hype (and subsequent backlash) around Big Data, the practical applications and role of data - big, small and anything in between - as a critical marketing enabler have been overlooked.

A marketing data strategy is an important link to your overall marketing strategy but is often a wooly concept and one that doesn’t gain traction.

However, it shouldn’t be difficult to define and implement and will maximise your chances of delivering your marketing objectives.

Read on to understand what a data strategy really is, why you must have one and the simple steps that you can take to get one in place.

What's a marketing data strategy & do you need one?

So what is a data strategy?

Your marketing strategy is how you are going to deliver your marketing vision and objectives.

And your marketing data strategy is essentially the same but data-led: it’s how you are going to use data to enable your marketing strategy.

The objective is to deliver the right data, at the right time, to the right people so that they can implement, measure and optimise your marketing strategy. For marketers this should encompass customer understanding, delivering personal communications, campaign management and measuring ROI.

Strategy is a much misused word.

This Harvard Business School video by Roger Martin, the now retired Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Canada, brilliantly and succinctly explains that ‘strategy’ boils down to two things: where you will play and how you will win there.

A data strategy does exactly this, just focussed on your data and how it enables your marketing strategy.

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What does this really mean?

Your should answer these questions:

1. What do we want to measure & understand?

It’s going to be tough to measure and understand everything. If your marketing strategy is focussed then so your data strategy should be too.

Are your marketing efforts focussed on particular customer segments or communication channels? 

2. And what actions will we take as a result?

This isn’t an academic exercise. As we said above, the aim of a data strategy is to deliver the right data, at the right time, to the right people so that they can implement, measure and optimise your marketing strategy. The focus is on action. If knowing something is interesting but not actionable then de-prioritise it.

3. How will we measure it?

What are the KPIs that will enable you to track every action that you are taking and evaluate if you are delivering your business plan? You need to think carefully about the measures that you put in place - whether they are lead or lag indicators and whether they are 'sanity' metrics.

4. Who will measure and who will implement?

The focus is on action not information for information's sake. Think about who the different consumers of your data are and the specific actions that they need to be equipped to take. Then think about the data and/or measures that they will need.

5. What data do we need to do this?

Think only about the data that is critical, where it resides and how you create standard definitions around this.

This will help to concentrate on and data integration or data capture that is required. If you do answer these questions, then you have delivered Rotman’s two strategic parameters: where you will play and how you will win.

‘Data’ is often a highly political subject within big organisations with silo’d ownership and sources.

By really focussing on the where and how, you can avoid unnecessary debate and only pursue the big hitters that your marketing strategy needs.


What are the common challenges?

Hopefully everything is sounding quite straightforward. There are a few pitfalls to watch out for.

Data quality. Be careful to math your aspirations with reality. Data is the fuel of marketing and you have an issue if the quality is patchy or you have 'multiple versions of the truth'. If this is the case then addressing data quality should be part of your strategy (and come early in your implementation plan).

Data access. As a marketer, you may well not ' 'own' the data sets that you need to support your strategy. Involve the owners of the data that you think you need early in the process and get them actively involved.

Buy-in. As above. Think about building the business case for your marketing plan. If you have written it properly and data is a key enabler then you should have the buy-in that you need.

Linking targets to actions and designing for disparate users. This can be tough if using data is a relatively new endeavour. Build some simple user stories and prioritise accordingly.

Delivering at pace. Don't disappear into a black hole and take too long to build your data strategy. Be pragmatic and iterative and get the basics in place.


So do you really need one?

Yes, it’s essential.

It’s very unlikely that your data isn’t a key enabler of your marketing strategy.

With the explosion of customer touch-points, communication channels and the fact that everyone is in the marketing department now, data is the connective tissue of customer experience and business value.

And it sits squarely at the heart of what marketing is. As Peter Drucker said: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

Your data strategy is the where and how you deliver on this.  


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This post was written by Simon Spyer

Co-founder & Insight Partner at Conduit, professional insight-monger, dad, lover of all sport and Spurs.

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