Quicken the pace of insight in 2017

Governance, cohesion and people empowerment should be high on the data agenda next year says Judith Niederschelp of Aberdeen Group Europe

In many ways, 2016 has seen a new dawn for data. The rise of CX marketing has put it under the spotlight and underlined its status as a strategic asset. Top tier B2B marketers are now competently handling vast swathes of buyer information spawned by the digital age. And they are beginning to use it for truly customer-centric activity that draws on of-the-moment insights to nurture leads and enhance ongoing customer relationships.

But what about everybody else? The reality is that most marketers know their data holds rich insights, but they just can’t get at them quickly enough. If you’re part of the majority that still feels frustrated by data inadequacies what can you do the shift the needle in 2017?

We’ve spoken to many organisations about their use of data and it is clear that three things set the winners apart. Whatever budget you have at your disposal next year, there are ways to unlock valuable insights from your data more quickly than you do today.

1. Data governance

Don’t make the mistake of thinking data governance is all about red tape and bureaucracy that hinders efficiency. Yes, it involves layers of policy and procedure to ensure the security and integrity of data. But it’s also about enhancing usability and availability.

Data is a living entity, changing and evolving all the time. Whether it is updated manually or digitally, it is vulnerable to inaccuracies and duplications. Best in class organisations treat data as a high-value asset and invest in people, technologies and processes to manage it. Benefits of this approach include better consistency and an enhanced ability to use data to inform marketing and lead generation activity as well as wider decision making across the business.

Governance is the foundation of quality and reliability in the data environment. It accelerates decision making by cutting down on time-wasting activity such as searching for correct information or completing missing data fields. It also facilitates more efficient exchange of information across business functions and improves accessibility of different data sources for key decision makers.

2. Data cohesion

The emergence of big data in B2B a few years ago had the sector on tenterhooks. The big question then was how brands would handle the sheer quantity of information. But it has become apparent that data volume is not the main challenge. As brands gather customer information from an increasing number of channels, streamlining and rationalising that data becomes a serious undertaking. Unless information from multiple systems is joined up to create a single customer view, deriving and acting on customer insights can be hugely problematic.

If this sounds familiar, the surest way to address integration issues is to invest in a metadata management framework. This enables silos to be broken down and creates a central pool of understanding that is continually refreshed and replenished by tributary sources.

Companies taking this approach are rewarded with faster and more consistent delivery of information to stakeholders across the business.  The fluidity and efficiency of the process enables more data from a wider variety of sources to become accessible to a greater portion of the workforce. From a marketing viewpoint, it can enable both strategic and tactical activity to be fine-tuned for better relevance and resonance with target audiences.

3. Empower individuals

B2B marketers can easily fall into the trap of sitting on vast amounts of data without putting it to work. Too many organisations are failing to harness valuable insights buried in their data because they lack adequate analytical processes and resources.

Linking business intelligence with big data needs to start with the users. By reducing reliance on the IT team for data-related needs, it is possible to deliver significant business value. Creating a self-serve data environment, underpinned by governance and cohesion, helps support faster conversion of raw data into usable and consumable information.

Think how much more powerful your marketing could be if unstructured data from social channels was incorporated into customer analyses as standard. This final piece in the puzzle can quicken the pace of insight in the organisation, delivering tangible returns through focused marketing and lead generation.

Strategise your technology future

Investments to improve the data environment need to be well planned and carefully executed. However, there is a risk that this can result in ‘analysis paralysis’ where much thought is put into the problem, but nothing actually happens to remediate it.

Taking the plunge and investing in new technologies and approaches is certainly not risk-free. But doing nothing carries risks of its own.

If your organisation has a technology architecture built on legacy hardware and software systems, you are probably struggling to keep pace with the needs of marketing in the digital age. That doesn’t mean a complete rip-and-replace of systems is required. But it does mean that something needs to happen. In most cases, a complementary approach can be taken where earlier investments are integrated with newer solutions geared up for the unprecedented challenges marketers face today.

Nobody can say for sure what 2017 will hold for B2B marketers. But complex data is here to stay. Organisations that find ways to cut through that complexity and deliver of-the-moment insights for customer-focused marketing will be the trailblazers in the year ahead.