Data is key to all your marketing efforts. Whether it is segmentation, personalization, lead scoring, lead routing, or marketing analysis, if you don't have clean and consistent data, your efforts will be built on the shakiest of foundations. However, when thinking about your marketing automation efforts, data management can often be an afterthought.
However, some minimal upfront efforts to understand and improve the quality of your data can greatly improve your effectiveness as a marketer.
First, you need to understand your current database. There may be a significant amount of data in your database, but unless it is data you can work with, it will not be adding value to your organization. Some simple analysis should give you a good sense of your current state:
Some marketing automation platforms are able to perform this kind of analysis, but there is a lot of variation in the industry, so ask the tough questions if you are considering a marketing automation investment as this analysis will be key to your success.
With your own marketing database quality understood, you then need to begin understanding your sources of data to understand what will make your data challenges worsen if not controlled. Marketing data comes from many different sources, each of which has its unique opportunities and challenges.
Given that you, as a marketer, are dealing with a variety of data sources, many of which are out of your control, and many of which are operating 24x7, keeping the data clean and consistent can be a significant challenge. The best way to approach this is to build a "contact washing machine" that standardizes and normalizes your data. Each time data is touched, whether from a web form, a list upload, or from your CRM system, it should flow to the contact washing machine.
Again, this is an area to ask tough questions in if you are looking at making an investment in lead management software as it makes a significant difference to your success. Look for contact washing machines that are a single, centralized point of data cleansing, and can handle standardizing and deduping data fields from industry to title to revenue. The best option is to have a pre-built structure out of the box, that you can then modify to meet the exact requirements of your business.
Data and the User Experience
In thinking about data, there can be a temptation to burden your audience of prospects with the data requirements of your marketing database. This is never a good idea. Many studies have shown that the more fields you add to your web forms, the more likely you are to see users drop off and not fill them out. Similarly, the more you restrict the input options that you provide to your audience (such as only allowing drop-down select lists for an individual's job title), the more frustrated your audience will become.
The best option is to approach the challenge in two ways. Progressive profiling can be used to ask for a minimal amount of data at each interaction, never ask the same question twice, but continually add to a modular profile. This allows you to minimize the number of fields being asked per web form, and maximize the conversion rate. For the data itself, given the user frustration added by constraining their options, and the fact that many sources of data are beyond your control anyway, it is often better to allow free-form data while managing its quality via a contact washing machine once it enters your marketing database.
Data as a Foundation for Great Marketing
Today's best marketers are building their creative campaigns, precise segmentation, accurate lead scoring, and relevant personalization on a base of great data quality. In fact, when top CMOs talked about their marketing dashboards, the focus on quality data was key to each of their successes. Whether you have made a marketing automation investment, and are looking to maximize the return you get from it, or are considering a marketing automation investment and want to know the right questions to ask, data should be front and center. It's the foundation upon which everything else in marketing rests.
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