In our series of articles titled INsider Questions, we have sought some of the industry’s top figureheads to see what they think advertisers should be asking performance marketers to eke more out of their campaigns. Mike Sands, chief executive officer at Signal, has provided what he feels are the key questions advertisers should be asking about their data. 

Are you collecting all the data you can?

At this point, nearly all marketers have some understanding of how Big Data is changing their world. But according to a recent report by the CMO Club and Visual IQ, 85 percent of marketers say they are hampered by inadequate access to data. In most cases, marketers are already gathering some data. But few are gathering data in each and every channel, including mobile, email, social, video, and call centers.  You need to equip all customer touch points with the ability to collect data. If you do not do that, you will miss valuable signals that tell you what your customers like, dislike, need, and how they behave. Really, that is probably the most important question you can ask yourself—is your organisation collecting all the data it can? If you are not, you need to make that your number one priority.

Can you put all of your cross channel data together into a single picture?

One of the big promises of Big Data is that it will give you the big picture of your organisation’s marketing. While that is certainly true, it is also a tad misleading in the sense that it implies that all you have to do is collect data to get the big picture. You have to do more. Because once you are collecting the data you need, you face the next big challenge—integrating that data across channels. Fundamentally, this is both an organisational and a technology challenge.  To solve it you need to breakdown your data silos and connect offline data with online data. You need to be able to combine what you know from mobile with what you know from social and search. And you certainly need to make sure that your own data integrates seamlessly with whatever third-party data you use. That is how you achieve the sought-after single picture, but it is also how you make sure that you are creating meaningful customer experiences that reflect a true understanding of your customers, not just an inferred or educated guess.

Are you able to execute in real time?

Let us assume that your organisation gets an A for data collection and an A for integration. That would be good, right? Well, not exactly because the revolution that is currently disrupting marketing requires cumulative action. In other words, it is not good enough to gather data and integrate across channels; you have to be able to use it in real time. For one thing, data loses value over time; information grows old, and as it does, it becomes less actionable. That means that if you are not able to act on data within milliseconds after it is captured, all of the work and money that goes into collecting and integrating your data is diminished and the actions you take will be less effective. But beyond the shelf-life issue, the fact is that all of us—marketers and consumers alike—move in real time. The gulf between “just browsing” and an actual purchase can happen in the blink of an eye, which means you need to be able to deploy your message automatically and instantaneously. That is what real time marketing means.

Are you using the customer experience to breakdown cross channel barriers?

Data collection does not happen in a vacuum. Or at least, it shouldn’t. The whole point behind collecting data, integrating it into a single picture, and building real-time capabilities is to improve the customer experience. Unfortunately, it is easy for marketers to lose sight of the customer as they work to build and integrate various platforms and tools into their marketing stacks. So what marketers need to do is take a customer-centric approach. Today’s customers expect timely, relevant, and personalised interactions. But it is up to marketers to figure out the specific contours of those expectations, to articulate an ideal customer experience, and to design an infrastructure around delivering that experience, both within the context of a specific channel and across all channels in a seamless, consistent way. When you are able to do that, you will have aligned each element of your organisation, and corresponding consumer touch point, with the customer journey.  

Do you have a good relationship with IT?

Not too long ago, the relationship between marketing and IT in most organisations could be summed up as the former largely ignoring the latter until some piece of technology (anything from a BlackBerry to a server) failed. At that point marketing would do the same thing that any other department would do—curse IT and assign blame. Today, that relationship is changing. Marketers are expanding their sphere of influence across the organisation, while at the same time, the technology that drives marketing is becoming increasingly sophisticated. That means that a key byproduct of the cross-channel revolution is that marketers and IT will need to work more closely than they ever have before. In fact, that kind of cooperation should already be happening, especially when you consider that 53 percent of marketers reported that they made steady increases in their technology spend within the last three years, according to our recent survey. This is a good change and a necessary one. But to make that change a reality, marketers need to see IT as their organisational partners.