Data key to every interaction, now more than ever

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Data is the unquestionable currency of direct marketing. It fuels new customer acquisition, informs new product development, drives relevance for existing customers and, in economic conditions like these, helps marketers justify their media spend and their jobs to the company CFO. 


At Ad:tech San Francisco last month, I saw renewed excitement around the power of data. Whether you are developing cutting-edge behavioral targeting models, segmenting your online audience or subscriber base or using social networking to monitor customer trends and brand awareness, digital communication has changed the speed and the volume of the data acquisition and processing your team must do. 


Data is the key asset that companies everywhere are willing to invest in today. Social media digitizes the previously invisible word-of-mouth phenomenon. Brand marketers are now faced with traceable personal conversations that can inform — or curtail — elaborate creative campaigns based on measurable buzz. 


In this issue, we sought to capture the excitement and the challenges that come with collecting, maintaining and using the glut of data critical to the industry, in the first annual DMNews/CognitiveDATA Data Management Survey (page 13). An overwhelming theme was the importance of data quality. With 43% of marketers spending a third or more of their day on data management and 72% of companies allocating 20% or more of their yearly marketing budgets to data management, no one can afford to feed bad data through a costly and time-consuming pipeline. 


Marketers also cannot afford to ignore data, which is the effective result if you aren't integrating data at every customer touchpoint. In this week's Spotlight conversation, Merkle CEO David Williams advocates for a customer-centric model (page 9). For me, this phrase has always raised skepticism due to its seemingly naïve simplicity. Aren't all marketers fundamentally customer-focused?


However, as Williams explains to senior reporter Chantal Todé, in practical terms, customer-centrism means adjusting campaign timelines to purchase funnels rather than internal media-buying timelines or new product pushes. This concept resonates with behavioral buying models and necessitates simple brand promise rather than constant product repositioning. It also necessitates a data collection and integration model that follows each customer's preference and uses multiple channels to follow them through the purchase funnel. 


Recently, Winston Binch, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky's director of interactive, told me over coffee that his agency seeks to shift consumer culture with every new brand it works with. An audacious goal — until you step away and seek to do it at the individual level. One salesperson, one direct mail piece, one banner ad at a time can turn one individual into a new buyer, particularly if it reaches him or her at the right moment with the right relevant information.


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