Handle with care: the data challenges facing marketers
Marketers have never had so much data available to them, but extracting true value from all this material, while complying with privacy regulations, is no mean feat. How are they rising to the challenge?
Businesses that make the most effective marketing decisions have a thorough understanding of their clientele based on good, clean data. As Georgia Swanson, director of marketing at digital consultancy ARQ, puts it: “Like chess players, we marketers must analyse the moves we require to win. The only way we can do that and find the best path is by having accurate data to hand and the scope to interpret it.”
But she adds that the task of collating material that’s worthy of interpretation from the wealth of sources available to them won’t be straightforward in most cases.
“Disparate, siloed data presents room for human error. It may need to be pulled in from multiple imperfect sources and stitched together,” Swanson says. “Our goal is to determine what’s most valuable to our customers at various times and work out how to reach them at the right point in the buying cycle with messages that resonate with their goals. I want to understand their needs now, over the next six months and in two years’ time – even before they know themselves.”
One way to form such an understanding is the use of commerce media and the data it provides. Commerce media – from videos and reviews to guides and recommended content – has become a crucial bridge connecting marketers to online audiences worldwide. By enabling consumers to discover and purchase goods as part of their everyday experience on the web, commerce media brings together great swathes of purchase-intent data, such as product views, previous purchases, ad clicks and contextual indicators such as keywords and hashed identifiers.
Debbie Gainsford, an independent marketing consultant, reports that there has been “a huge increase in investment in commerce media by advertisers, publishers, agencies and tech companies” in recent years. This has enabled marketers to tap into a massive source of data to inform key strategic decisions.
Once Apple, Google and Mozilla end their web browsers’ support for third-party cookies, first-party data will become even more important to marketers. That material, once it’s fed into the latest business intelligence tools, will allow for more sophisticated and focused campaigns, according to Gainsford.
“It will enable marketers to see where new customers are coming from, their media consumption and the potential to expand into new markets,” she predicts.
Lawrie Jones, MD of medical supplements provider Stronger Bones, also helps ecommerce businesses to meet their growth targets by using targeted ads and other content.
“More data means better decisions,” he says. “Our in-house data gives us the confidence to invest in new channels knowing that we can compare their performance effectively. That’s a good thing for both the industry and its customers, who benefit from greater choice.”
The main goal should be to find where customers are, especially if you’re weighing up potential investments in new channels such as the metaverse, according to Jones. “More intuitive, targeted advertising helps to build better relationships with clients,” he adds. “That should translate into better relationships with customers, which should in turn translate into higher sales.”
For Swanson, there’s still a key challenge to overcome once the data has been gathered. As she sees it, marketing is a strategic play – and great marketers are defined by their ability to interpret data and come up with actionable campaigns based on it.
“You could be the most strategic, data-driven marketer in the world, but you’d be unable to make any impactful decision without access to unified data that presents the insights you need,” Swanson says.
Data virtualisation is emerging as an effective way for marketers to achieve a holistic view of data across the gamut of sources. As organisations struggle to process the growing volume of data being generated, the use of this technique is set to increase by an average of 20% a year until 2031, according to Allied Market Research.
Applying both advanced analytics and machine learning, data virtualisation enables customer insights to be generated as a single view of the customer, drawn from different stores but presented as if it were one seamless database.
Swanson says that one of the key benefits of this technology is its ability to establish links between data points. She explains: “Several data points will feed into the decision-making process behind a marketing initiative. The relationships between all these components are important in informing expectations of that initiative and its overall performance. For example, without the right balance of opportunity, budget and channel, there is no way of identifying whether the campaign will lead to the desired outcomes or not.”
For those who must make the right marketing calls, achieving such balance is the holy grail.
The ongoing challenge of extracting more valuable insights from data is set to become tougher for marketers, with jurisdictions around the globe legislating to protect consumer privacy.
Gartner has predicted that three-quarters of the world’s population will have their personal data covered by some form of legal protection by as early as 2024.
Sydney-based fintech company Frollo is acutely aware of the fine line it must tread. It specialises in open banking, working with financial institutions to give customers secure access to their data under the terms of Australia’s Consumer Data Right, which was introduced in the banking sector in 2020.
Frollo’s head of marketing, Piet van den Boer, explains that one of his firm’s fundamental tenets is that consent can be given by customers, but it can be withdrawn just as easily.
“We can’t assume that, just because we’re able to collect data, we can use it for everything,” he stresses. “We need to be conscious that consumers own their data.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the legislative push to protect privacy is fuelling the popularity of data-provisioning platforms such as Privitar and DataPlus, which are designed to help firms comply with the relevant regulations. It’s part of a shifting dynamic between marketers and customers, as multinationals tackle the challenge of ensuring compliance in several jurisdictions while giving their customers peace of mind with respect to how their data is being managed.
Van den Boer believes that it will soon become standard practice to offer privacy-compliant solutions. “We’re shifting to an era in which consumers are more in control of their data,” he says.
Future privacy regulations are also likely to compel businesses to be more selective in their data-collection practices to reduce their exposure to legal penalties and the associated reputational damage. It’s leading to a change in philosophy among marketers about what material they need to obtain from customers.
“Data minimisation” is van den Boer’s term for the new approach. “Collecting only the minimum needed is a complete departure,” he says. “It used to be about collecting all the data.”