Get a 360 Degree View
By Lisa Yorgey Lester
When consumers make a purchase from your Web site or retail store, they are shopping your brand, not your channel. Indeed, close to 80 percent of consumers shop physical stores, online and catalogs interchangeably, according to a March 2005 report released by Adjoined Research.
So, you want to be able to recognize customers across your channels and report on those interactions. Imagine a customer's frustration when she purchases an item from your catalog and isn't able to exchange it at your local retail store.
By integrating disparate data silos into a single repository, you can achieve a single view of your customers that cuts across channels and business lines and is key to reducing costs, increasing revenue, and managing risk in today's privacy-conscious climate.
A data integration project requires a hefty investment of company resources. So before embarking on a mission to marry disparate data sources, make sure there is a good business reason for integrating your data in the first place, advises Bill Stoughton, business intelligence group leader at Merkle. "There must be a strong reason for what you'd do better or differently. You need to identify specific tactics that support your overall strategy and how integration supports that."
Because a data integration program cuts across operational and organizational silos, creating a complete view of your customer often involves changing the corporate culture. For example, if you measure profitability by line of business, it makes it difficult to share customer data across an organization, points out Scott McClary, a retail industry consultant at Acxiom.
If you're not internally structured to share the customer, it becomes apparent to the end user. For this reason, says McClary, "someone at a higher level needs to take ownership of the customer. If this is a marketing project, it should be at least a chief marketing officer or a senior vice president of marketing."
Additionally, you may want to consider appointing a program manager or an operating committee early on
in the process to deal with roadblocks, develop strategy and coordinate phases, suggests Stoughton.
Whether you decide to handle integration internally or externally, there will be a good deal of collaboration between all parties involved. Everyone who will have access or provide data needs to take part in the planning process, including IT, customer service, e-commerce, marketing and billing.
Once you've assembled the team to lead your data-integration project, agree on the desired result and work backwards to build a comprehensive step-by-step plan. "Understand what the end state might look like and figure out how to achieve that in steps. You want to create a structured and phased approach so you can adjust to what amounts to a moving target," says Stoughton.
"Significant changes in infrastructure typically take time, and by the time they are implemented it is likely that some aspects of the requirements have changed. That's why phased approaches work so well—because they allow a somewhat modular approach to building capabilities, with built-in points in time where you can step back and ensure alignment with current business needs," he explains.
Assess Your Data Needs
With your plan in hand, you now want to identify and define what data you need to drive your marketing communications strategy.
"Map out every touchpoint where consumers interact with your brand and begin to inventory the data collected at every point of action. It also is equally important to map out the data you plan to use in your outbound communications at the various touchpoints," recommends Michele Fitzpatrick, chief marketing officer, Harte-Hanks. These points may include information communicated or collected at the point of sale, via in-store displays, contests and signage, during customer service calls and more. "Then, figure out which ones you will use to generate a 360-degree view of your customers," she adds.
As a multichannel marketer, you have multiple points of interaction with customers, which means you also have numerous data sources. How do you determine what data needs to be integrated to get a holistic view of your customers?
A good way to start is to identify and define what data you need from a marketing communications standpoint, points out Tom Young, executive vice president, database marketing services, Knowledgebase Marketing. What data do you require to drive your communications strategy? For example, if you are doing campaign management, you know you'll need to add campaign history data.
According to Stoughton, for each data element, you need to ask: "Does it have a predictive or descriptive value or satisfy a business rule? If not, you should challenge the value of bringing the data into the environment."
As you review the data you have, you also need to ask what data you've missed or what information would be effective when collected and where can you get it, points out McClary. This information potentially could come from point-of-sale data capture, your Web site or call center, or even a third-party data source.
You also need to anticipate future marketing needs. Data integration is "not just about getting data together in one place and getting it clean," says Fitzpatrick. For example, she explains that a marketer selling homeowner insurance may determine that its best prospects have a flower box or garden on their property. Reason stands that someone who obviously cares about the look of his or her home is less likely to be a bad risk. So, the marketer may decide to rent lists of home-owners who buy gardening supplies via mail order.
"The key is to make deliberate and overt decisions about what is valuable to the marcom process—not just all data within three years or 24 months," says Young. If you have too much data, he explains, you will unnecessarily use development time and resources. In addition, if the database isn't understandable or user-friendly, it won't be used effectively.
Data integration also isn't a finite process. As you collect and use the information, your database will grow. Young recommends you plan to handle response and campaign data for a good three to five years.
Above all, when integrating your data into a central repository, make sure you have permission to use the information you have for all other marketing efforts, not just for the promotion from which it was obtained, notes Fitzpatrick. This permission, she adds, needs to be governed at the record level.
Focus on Quality
When integrating data sources, McClary recommends you do an analysis of each customer touchpoint that includes how data is collected, how accurate and fresh it is, and how it's constructed. During this analysis, you may find some data sources are refreshed or more accurate than others. If age and gender data are needed, for example, you need to determine if that field is fully populated and, if so, what is the quality of this information.
You also may find that some data are available from more than one source. If you collect data online, at a retail point of sale and via a customer service center, you will have name and address data, and possibly other data, in all three databases.
At this point you'll need to define business rules that determine what data take priority if they are available from more than one source. For example, do you keep an address recorded during a recent call center activity or from an NCOA change?
Moving forward, you need to have a discipline regarding data collection that is consistent across all channels. For example, says Fitzpatrick, if age is an important data element, collect a customer's date of birth rather than asking for an age range, and do so across all channels. Not only does this assure data consistency, but it also ensures your age data doesn't become outdated.
Consistent data collection also allows you to use this information across all channels, explains Fitzpatrick, who notes that being able to collect all of a customer's information into one record is key to the success of any data-integration effort. Data hygiene, says Fitzpatrick, "is the price of admission. It's not optional."