As a data-driven industry, marketing is heavily dependent upon complete, valid and accurate data to guide decisions and resources. As today’s consumers interact with brands through a variety of different touch points, the type of data being received is always changing. This makes it more important than ever for marketers to manage their customer data and maintain its integrity, validity and accuracy.

In this article we discuss four ways to successfully manage your marketing data so you have a platform for making accurate and informed decisions for your business going forwards.

1. Choose your critical data

The marketing world is awash with all sorts of customer data, and marketers love to collect it. But is the data you’re collecting actually relevant to what the marketers want to achieve? When you’re asking for data, it’s important to be mindful as to whether or not you’re actually going to use it. If you don’t need it to define customer segments, then forget about it. Instead, only focus on collecting the information that can actually lead to actionable insights.

You should also keep in mind where in the user journey the customer is before deciding what data you harvest. For example, if your first point of contact is a form on your website, do you really need the customer’s name, email, phone, country, company name, number of staff, annual turnover and product they’re interested in right away? Or will their name and email do for now and you can progressively collect the rest at a later date?

When a customer gets to a contact point, they’re interested and engaged in your service. You don’t want to put them off by asking them fill out a four page form. Instead, get the bare minimum information and contact them as soon as possible while they’re still interested. Doing this can also help to increase the number of form completions. A study by Blivakker in Norway found that removing unnecessary fields in a form increases the number of registrations so remove these wherever possible.

2. Avoid data silos

With such a variety of systems connecting consumers and brands, its more important than ever for these touch points to form a cohesive and consistent brand experience. Having siloed data is the enemy of this.

Even for smaller companies, it’s easy to end up with siloed data. Different departments will be holding onto different data, marketing will have information about all potential customers whereas finance will know who is actually buying your products, for example. Different systems may also be handling different sets of data, such as shipping, billing and customer service records. Having data silos like this removes the ability for brands to collect accurate and complete data and make informed decisions about their customers. A seamless customer journey is impossible when data isn’t shared internally between departments.

This isn’t just limited to the data collected online. The more traditional customer-facing roles, like call centre staff, have access to an enormous amount of data based on real-life conversations with customers. Collecting this information can lead to much more informed insights compared to the feedback you get from online surveys. For company decision makers to make the best choices about what their customers are really looking for, the entire marketing team, both online and offline, need to pool their insight and avoid data siloes wherever possible.

3. Implement an ongoing data management strategy

Once you’ve identified and started to collect your critical data and removed your data silos, it’s time to implement a data management process. When you’ve got a number of different sources of data coming in from many different departments, it’s easy for gaps, errors and inconsistencies to happen. If these errors are left unchecked, it can lead to customers receiving marketing materials that don’t suit their needs. Sending potential customers inaccurate or inappropriate material is a sure fire way to turn customers off your brand.

Having a data management process, therefore, is a vital part of ensuring you get the most accurate results from your customer data. Indeed, Bill Tennant, VP of Sales at ZAP describes data management as ”the fundamental bedrock that sits alongside, and ensures you get the most efficient and accurate analysis”.

Manually performing this process can be incredibly time-consuming and a significant drain on resource. The most effective way to ensure your data remains clean, consistent and complete is to use a data management tool. Data Management tools, when used properly, are incredibly powerful and can help you to save hundreds of hours in unnecessary labour time. Using an effective data management tool will help you to carry out a range of tasks automatically, including:

It’s common for different departments within a company to use different systems for collecting and storing data. Sales, for example, may use a CRM system, HR could be using a SaaS HRM tool whereas finance use Excel spreadsheets. Having a data management tool will allow all of this information to be pulled into one complete data source, ready for preparation.

Once you’ve unified your data, it will need to be cleansed and standardised to ensure consistency and avoid any duplications. A data management tool should be able to identify if the record for Jim Smith at 9 Oakfield Road, Warwickshire is the same or different to Jim Smith, 9 Oakfield Rd, Warwickshire or Jimmy Smith, 9 Oakfield Road, Warks. Consolidating this information would remove that risk that Mr Smith receives three identical marketing materials. Having a data management tool collect, unify and cleanse your data will allow you to use your chosen BI tool, whether that be Power BI, Qlik, Tableau or another Self-service BI tool, to analyse your data set. This will give you a much greater level of insight into customer behaviour than if you had been using many inconsistent data sources.

4. Have a data governance process in place

Another benefit of using a data management solution is that it will help to improve your data governance. Too many organisations do not put in the proper safeguards to prevent their data becoming corrupted. This can lead to a reduction in their ability to effectively communicate and engage their customers. Up-selling or cross-selling opportunities can be missed and customer retention can be affected by a lack of good data governance.

The security of your customer’s data is also of paramount importance. Due to a growing number of hacks and data breaches over the last few years it’s more important than ever to have your customer data backed up to an external, offline drive.

If you end up losing your customers’ information, they will rapidly lose faith in you. Make sure you are doing everything you can retain that trust and let your customers know the lengths you’re going to protect their information.

Data is the lifeblood of a marketing team and you take it for granted at your peril. But the value of your data is only equal to its quality and accuracy. Having a data management strategy in place will ensure you’re able to control and utilise that data effectively to get the best insights for your company.