David Bernard has studied marketers’ database efforts for more than 20 years as a consultant with several firms and as managing director of his own CRM consulting firm, DB Marketing Technologies. He spoke to Direct Marketing News about the common mistakes of marketing database management and how to avoid them.
Direct Marketing News (DMN): Are most marketers neglecting their databases?
David Bernard: There’s a lot of investment in database marketing and technology, but you find that marketers are reacting to issues, in place of innovation. When you talk to marketers you hear a lot of how “I feel hostage to my data” and comments like that. The database feels more like an 800-pound weight tied to their ankle rather than the rocketship that’s supposed to blast them to new heights.
DMN: What are some mistakes marketers make?
Bernard: There are structural issues with the database that are prone to ongoing error. For example, how you manage data collection from customers.
In a marketing-rich company, the variety of data you collect can be huge. Consistency is important, being able to manage slight changes in these elements is important.
If the database itself is not designed to do that well, the information that you’re going to get out is not going to be right and errors will ensue. That cascades into segmentation.
And there’s issues with staffing and management of the database team. Having the right people with the right skills for the job is essential. Often that’s not the case, you have overly technical people who are managing; the technical people don’t necessarily see the strategy of marketing.
DMN: Sounds like a lot of hands are involved, and supervision is necessary.
Bernard: It’s important that marketers and/or their advisers take a very hands-on and granular approach. They need to know when the vendor is slipping and provide direct and clear and immediate feedback.
There are two categories of things that need to be done. One is correction.
The first thing you need to do is audit. Because of all of these moving parts, marketing databases fall out of phase with requirements, especially when there is neglect. So the purpose of these enhancement efforts is to bring it back to spec, to make sure that the business rules – about who is your customer, how do you treat them, what’s the logic of segmentation – are clearly understood and properly executed in the database.
The other half of that is preparing for continuous improvement. The marketers need to have skilled, objective, hands-on management, whether they do it or they hire a consultant to do it. The other thing that’s important is to develop contractual levels of service agreements with your vendor; this way it’s in black and white and the expectations of the client are very clear to the database provider. And regularly review the marketing database, so that everything is up to date, and perform an audit checkup on a periodic basis.
DMN: How often should a marketer audit databases?
Bernard: We recommend every 18 months or two years. I look at it like teeth cleaning at the dentist: If you’re good at flossing and you take care of yourself, they say you can come back every 6 months. If you are not good at that, then you have to come back every 4 months.
If the marketer has taken the steps to proactively manage their database, to proactively manage their vendors, if they have the skills and partners in place to do that proactive oversight, chances there will be fewer issues that accumulate over time.