Make Databases Meet End-Users' Needs

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How many of you have visited a trade show in search of the marketing database solution? Do you find yourself impressed with the quality of the glossy brochures, dazzling demonstrations and promises of rapid implementation? Have you ever wondered why the hype rarely matches reality?

Here are a few thoughts to ponder.

Many of us have learned software alone cannot deliver a marketing database that meets the application needs of end-users. While it's true that a marketing database has core data elements that can be consistent (demographics, orders, promotion history, etc.), the fact remains that the design and use of a marketing database can vary tremendously from industry to industry and even from client to client. This is not a minor issue.

Companies have varying business rules - and ways in which they define their customers, markets, sales, products, etc. - that need to be discussed, implemented, executed, easily modified and replicated within the context of a database building and updating process. The definition of these processes takes extensive planning and involvement of people from various departments within an organization who really understand the fine details of their internal databases and operations.

The task of talking with end-users to determine their information needs and deciphering the content of raw source data from operational systems takes time. While the technology exists today to rapidly develop a marketing database, the promise of building a marketing database (data mart) in one week does not serve a client's best interest. First, marketing end-users often don't know specifically what they need because in some cases they have been unable to access the data they need to analyze their business. Second, collecting documentation for internal source files and validating its content requires a diligent effort.

If your marketing database is designed in a rigid predefined structure for the sake of a one-week implementation, then what long-term value will it have to your company? A marketing database needs to be customized to meet the unique information needs and requirements of its end-users. This approach is called "reverse engineering." In short, you determine the information needs and make certain the marketing database can efficiently support your applications. The focus is not on hardware or software but rather on the database building processes necessary to produce strategic and tactical marketing information.

One cannot build an initial marketing database and updating process and expect to meet the application needs of its end- users for an extended period of time. The marketing database will evolve as the client and supplier determines more efficient ways to design the database and expand its content. For example, a new flag, summary or virtual field can be created to allow end-users to more efficiently query the database. Remember, in some cases marketing organizations are starting from ground zero in the learning curve, and answers to their questions will often spur new questions and ways to use the database.

Companies maximize their return-on-investment by establishing a relationship with a company that can provide the tools and, when necessary, assist them in cleansing, maintaining, updating, mining and deriving value from their marketing database. The supplier-client relationship and service aspect of our business is sometimes undervalued in this age of hi-tech software solutions. The software component of a marketing database solution is simply a means to the end - it isn't the end. It's the thought process and knowledge transfer skills of experienced professionals that make the marketing database solution a reality.

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