Does Your Database Measure Up?

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If you're among a growing number of marketers faced with expanding customer data housed in a marketing database that can't keep pace, deliver insightful analysis or provide the intelligence to make confident decisions, it's time for a marketing database checkup.


As companies become customer-centric, the marketing database must become the nucleus of business operations. And technology providers have delivered gains in recent years to help marketers boost ROI. Here are four critical questions that will help determine whether your marketing database is a relic of the past or an engine for future growth:


Who calls the shots: marketing or IT? The first question is the most important. Who controls database marketing? The likely answer is the IT department. Typically, IT staff owns the data, crunches the numbers and makes strategic planning decisions. Marketers are stuck in response mode. They lack tools to conduct their own analysis and must wait up to weeks for results to come from an IT report. This stymies analysis and discourages marketers from tackling sophisticated issues.


But the tide is turning. Database marketing technology has grown easier to use as it has evolved in performance sophistication. And new tools give control for analytics and campaign management to marketers. Today's smarter database marketing tools are built around friendly, intuitive graphical user interfaces driven by "wizards" and "experts." These provide step-by-step guidance through the campaign management, data analysis and reporting process.


Marketers now can complete common marketing activities from the desktop such as:


· Customer profitability analysis.


· Purchase analysis across products and channels.


· Identification of characteristics of customers who lapse/switch or respond to a specific promotion.


· Customer segment migration analysis.


· Creation of new marketing metrics.


· Train-of-thought analysis on large volumes of data.


The ability to take greater ownership of database marketing comes just as more is being asked of marketers. These growing expectations can be met with meaningful access to data by the marketing department, not the IT department. If your database does not provide direct access and control, you're not taking full responsibility for your success.


Can you "see" your data? Marketers need access to data on their desktops, and they need to view this data on their own terms. As typically creative, right-brain creatures, marketers prefer working with images rather than technical structures. They view marketing as continual investigation of how they are satisfying customers. Thankfully, new visual methods to capture and display data are available, such as GIS mapping, charting, cross-tabulation and Venn diagrams.


Visualization simplifies the increasingly complex discipline of database marketing. It lets marketers perceive trends more quickly and clearly and broadcast the results of their analysis to a wide business audience.


Visualization not only transforms how marketers view and manipulate their data, but how they design, execute and review the effect of marketing spending on customer behavior. It also improves campaign management. Highly graphical, drag-and-drop user interfaces provide an easy to use, yet functional method for defining and executing even the most complex campaigns.


Is database marketing a visual experience at your company? If not, look for a new solution.


Do you catch up on sleep between queries? There's no excuse for marketers to wait hours for results of complex database queries. While industry analysts report skyrocketing volumes of data, database technology has kept pace. Many companies that grapple with large volumes of data have begun to use a new form of analytical technology called column-based analytical technology, or CBAT.


Don't let the term scare you. The concept is simple: Data are analyzed by column rather than by row. The result is powerful. CBAT enables ad-hoc, train-of-thought analysis on large volumes of data with results returned in mere seconds.


Through CBAT, marketers can establish a "direct dialogue" with data. They can value, rank and compare hundreds of millions of transactions without needing to predefine the questions for IT staff. They can query away without fear of wasting time, resource and budget. This leap in speed also boosts segmentation and targeting. Marketers can continually refine their segments without racing against the campaign clock. With audiences increasingly fragmented by behaviors and purchase/response channels, the ability to view customers in more discrete and complex segments is a strategic and competitive advantage. If you duck out for lunch between e-mails to the IT department, make sure your database supports CBAT technology.


Do you dodge your CFO? Marketers ask for a lot these days: bigger budgets to pursue multichannel strategies; new analytical tools to get closer to customers and prospects; and better campaign management systems to make marketing more effective. Companies have doled out, and it's time for marketers to pay back in the form of ROI.


Marketing increasingly is held accountable for showing not only that its expenditures and activities produce results, but moreover for reporting and illustrating, usually in short order, those results in quantifiable ways. Most marketers are unprepared for the coming scrutiny. Many don't consistently track and report campaign results. This not only jeopardizes marketing credibility but impedes a deeper understanding of customers.


Fortunately, new marketing database technology is replete with intuitive measurement tools that marketers can master easily. For example, marketers can track each step of a campaign, from data acquisition to transaction analysis. Again, visualization tools let marketers readily perceive gains and losses as well as report these throughout the company. And with direct access to data, marketers have freedom to prepare the reports they need to measure and improve ROI.


Assess your portfolio of measurement tools. When you actively measure and report your marketing results, run-ins with your CFO are sure to be less painful.


Take control. When you measure database performance, look for:


· Direct, desktop access to data.


· Train-of-thought data analysis.


· Ability to view data visually.


· Query speed measured in seconds, not hours or days.


· Measurement tools you can master.


If you can't prove your database is a critical tool empowering your marketing programs and maximizing ROI, it may be time for a transplant rather than just a checkup.


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