Too much information

As far back as 1973, the man many consider to be the father of modern management theory, Peter Drucker said, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits them and sells itself.”

Endlessly prescient, the business guru was speaking at a time when marketers had at their disposal limited channels through which to interact, and therefore learn about potential punters.  Mail order and direct mail were established while telemarketing was in its infancy. Very little was computerised: online had not even been conceived and the term ‘data warehouse’ was the preserve of science fiction.

Fast forward almost forty years and the marketing landscape has been transformed from the days of the Three-Day Week and David Bowie platforms. Most certainly, the internet has changed the game.

Companies now have numerous touch points with customers, and the discipline of managing the oceans of data generated by these countless interactions has become a sophisticated science that many dedicate the best years of their life to.

Indeed, the explosion of social media in the recent years has given marketing bods almost too much information to work with.

It seems today everything is social : geolocation services from the likes of Gowalla and Foursquare now track your every move; sites such as Blippy allow users to review their latest purchases and even your own DNA can now be used to connect with distant relatives over the Web using services like 23andme.

Attitudes to what personal details it is OK to broadcast into the public domain are far more relaxed for the digital natives of Generation Z compared with their more confidential forebears.

No wonder Facebook founder and poster boy for the networked cohort Mark Zuckerberg famously went as far as to declare privacy as dead.

For marketers, this brave new world of sharing presents both an opportunity and a headache.

With countless channels now at their disposal, there is the opportunity to interact with their market like never before and the prospect of understanding customers in a way Mr Drucker could only have dreamed of. And this trend is only going to develop further as new technologies and services come online, and companies become more sophisticated in getting the message out.

But, as the volume of data increases, so the potential number of problems swell too. The more you have of something, the harder it is to manage.

And when organisations attempt to integrate online and offline marketing communications as well, things get harder still, as they try and bring all the individual subsets of data into line to give one consistent and accurate view of the customer. In turn, this provides them with a high level of service, regardless of the channel through which they interact with said organisation.

Ah! The fabled single customer view  – a quest that has long been the Holy Grail for marketers navigating the challenges of the digital age. But it is clear that few can honestly hold their hands up and say they have reached this nirvana just yet.

A report published last year by Econsultancy found that while 90 percent of companies think that providing multichannel customer experience is important, just four percent claim to have the fully joined up systems and processes to give them a single view of the customer as they move between channels.

The majority – a sizeable 68 percent – it said, are still at the ‘cluttered’ or ‘considered’ phase, meaning they lack joined up systems and processes.

This situation is a source of frustration for many marketers, who, arguably, are the ones within an organisation who most appreciate the level of service the modern customer demands.

Leaders in the pursuit of the single customer view are Californian business consultants Jill Dyché or Evan Levy -   the guys behind Baseline Consulting. Over the years, the duo have written a great deal about the importance of the single customer view and the science behind it – something they term customer data integration or CDI.

And while they acknowledge how hard it can be to reach this higher state, back in 2006, they managed to smartly distil the challenge down to five key areas:

•    The first of those is completeness. Essentially, if a customer record is incomplete, it’s useless
•    The second is latency. By the time a record has been created, it’s probably out of date
•    Accuracy is the third part – one bad keystroke can bring even the mightiest of marketing budgets to its knees, for a few moments at least
•    Integration – the foundation of multi-channel activity – from sales to marketing to finance
•    And last, but by no means least, ownership. Who drives, manages and ultimately owns that data?

Another interesting development is the growing interest around the concept of value-driven data integration – the idea that as data volumes spiral skywards, an increasingly important job is to filter this information and distinguish what is of value and what will add little worth to the single customer view.

Of course, these things are easier said than done. With multiple touch points, customer information becomes far more dynamic and is constantly changing – and trying to pin it down and share it is akin to shooting at a moving target.

That is why any system that is put in place and the processes that support it must be flexible.

It’s time once again to defer to Peter Drucker and his pearls of wisdom. While he was talking about knowledge when he said this, the quote applies equally to data and the challenges companies face in staying relevant to the modern-day customer.  He said: “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, otherwise it vanishes.”

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