by Antony Begley, Managing Editor
Martin Doyle | CEO, DQ Global
Graham Clark | Sales Manager, HelpIT Systems
Matt Gregory | Account Director, PCA Predict
With an increasingly data-savvy audience that is happy to volunteer personal data in return for some sort of benefit, a key element of marketers keeping up their end of the bargain is ensuring that customers’ data is always handled carefully.
In an increasingly digital world, more and more of today’s consumers are aware of the ‘value exchange’ they make with brands when they offer their personal data in return for a benefit of some kind: a special offer perhaps, or a useful piece of information. But this hard-earned trust can be lost very quickly through careless database management, as a raft of recent high profile cases demonstrates.
It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the B2C database marketing industry relies on brands ensuring they don’t betray this trust through malpractice, putting data quality and database management firmly in the spotlight. It’s never been easier for consumers to quickly and easily opt out of all marketing communications, making accurate, relevant, timely database marketing more vital than it has ever been. Yet with a wider array of convenient, high quality and affordable data quality management solutions available to marketers than at any time in the past, there simply is no excuse for low grade, inaccurate, poorly maintained data.
But the unfortunate reality is that low grade, inaccurate, poorly maintained data still abounds in many organisations. “This is effectively the same challenge that the industry has been facing for decades and it can sometimes seem that we are destined to continue repeating the same mistakes and re-learning the same things over and over again,” laughs DQ Global CEO Martin Doyle. “But it’s definitely good news to see new waves of organisations coming to the realisation that handling their data well is important.”
And, at an anecdotal level at least, it appears that more and more businesses and organisations are indeed latching on to the importance of establishing and maintaining world-class data quality management practices.
But if it’s world-class data quality management we’re after, where should marketers start? Well, the fundamentals of world-class data quality management have never changed, despite the huge amount of progress that’s been made in the industry and the various all-consuming fads that have come and gone along the way, ‘big data’ being a decent example.
“The simple fact that sits at the heart of every discussion about data quality management and its relative merits is the plain, indisputable truth that good quality data is what underpins everything we do as an industry,” says PCA Predict Account Director Matt Gregory.
The entire edifice we call database marketing is founded upon good, solid, accurate data. If that data forms the foundations upon which the industry is built, it is the industry’s responsibility to make sure those foundations are good and strong.
“Every decision marketers make is only as good as the data that was used to make it,” says Gregory. “It’s that simple and it’s something that we can never afford to forget.”
HelpIT Sales Manager Graham Clark is convinced that the oft-repeated message about the value of good data quality management is getting home with a far wider audience. “In the last couple of years we have seen more and more clients coming to us because they’ve realised that they need to get their data management practices up to scratch,” he says.
“After many years of talking about good data practices and implementing true single customer views (SCVs) we’re finally starting to see it actually playing out on the ground, which is massively positive news for the industry.”
Clark also points out that while the rush to digital saw many marketers shift their focus in the last five years or so, the vast majority have now come back round to the notion that the humble name and address is still what makes the machine tick.
“Email and digital changed a lot of marketers’ views but I think we’ve all come back to the idea that names and addresses remain the most important pieces of data that you can collect,” he says. “So many people now have three and four email addresses and all sorts of online personas, but the two things that marketers can absolutely rely on are a name and address.”
This is particularly important for anyone building an SCV and trying to draw together a plethora of offline and online data and attaching it to a single human being.
PCA Predict’s Gregory agrees that the general tide is rising in terms of the number of organisations who seem to be taking their data quality management practices seriously. He comments: “I think the general level of understanding of the importance of accurate data has definitely risen over the last few years and I think this is down to a combination of a couple of factors. One is the desire not to fall foul of the legislation and one is purely commercial.”
There’s no question that as the ICO has developed an increasingly fearsome set of teeth many marketers have been forced to sit up and pay attention, but Gregory feels that the real driver behind the broader and deeper commitment to good data quality management practice is simply down to marketers wanting to treat their customers well and manage their data responsibly and transparently.
“From our own experience we know that customers frequently provide inaccurate or just plain false information, especially in online forms, and they do that because of data privacy concerns,” he says. Marketers are starting to understand that and are starting to take bigger steps towards reassuring their customers about why they’re collecting data and exactly what they’ll do with it, and that has surely got to be a good thing.
“The world has changed and marketers are changing with it,” says DQ Global’s Doyle. “They are realising and accepting that managing data well is not a task to be ticked off a list, it’s a way of life. It’s not something you do whenever you need to, it’s something you do on a constant basis. Data decays quicker than pretty much any other asset a company owns so it requires regular upkeep, and I think that more and more organisations are coming to that realisation.
While it seems clear that the majority of movement in the right direction – towards better data management practice – is being driven by marketer’s desire to do the right thing by their customers, there is no getting away from the fact that the fear of falling foul of legislation is more real than ever before. The ICO has spent the last year or so issuing a series of very significant penalties to rogue marketers and impending GDPR changes will mean that the practices of data and insight marketers will be under a fiercer spotlight than they will have ever had experienced before now.
“Poor data practice still goes on,” says Clark “but it’s becoming rarer and rarer and I think that most marketers do accept that the work the ICO is doing is actually benefiting the industry. Getting rid of rogues can only be a good thing and I think the new GDPR will only accelerate that progress.”
Doyle also points to the still nascent but clearly growing trend for consumers to take a more proactive approach to managing their own personal data. He comments: “There are more and more instances of consumers taken responsibility for the management of their own data and there are more and more solutions and tools available to them to do that.”
The could turn out to be both a threat and an opportunity for marketers, but the one thing that is for sure is that transparency is the order of the day for marketers looking to develop a sustainable business.
“The days of small print and pre-ticked check boxes and misleading online forms are surely on their last legs,” says Gregory. “They ring alarm bells with consumers and for good reason. Today’s consumers are far more data-savvy and can spot these tricks.”
Doyle agrees: “When it comes right down to it, database marketing is all about trust. People interact with brands over time because they learn to trust them. That’s what makes the recent LinkedIn deal so interesting, particularly as LinkedIn is basically just a data site. Millions of people using LinkedIn developed a relationship with the brand and trusted it with vast quantities of their own data. These people are unlikely to have the same relationship with Microsoft, so it will be interesting to watch how that plays out over the next few months. Unfortunately you can’t just buy trust, you have to earn it.”
The upshot of all this for marketers willing to keep up their end of the value exchange bargain with consumers is that the way forward must surely be a transparent, open, proactive relationship between brands and their customers where the value exchange is clear and explicit. Every piece of data a business requests should be justified and an explanation given for why it’s being collected and how it will be used. No unnecessary data should be requested. Mistakes should be admitted and rectified.
“The rules of world-class data quality management have never changed,” says Doyle. “It’s just that the value of capturing, storing, maintaining and using data has risen. It’s gone from the basement to the boardroom.”
A good analogy and one that the UK’s data and insight-driven marketers undoubtedly welcome. Whether or not we can finally claim that the true value of data and insight has finally been recognised in the boardroom is another question however – but there’s plenty of reason to believe that the direction of travel is clearly positive, and not before time.