Why marketing needs to own its customer data

If you think back 20 years ago, to the dawn of digital marketing as we know it, the advertising landscape was dominated by the purchasing of mass media placements for static creative. In this environment marketing departments owned and operated next to no marketing IT systems, unless they were one of the relatively few with an in house studio populated with Mac Operators and Graphic Designers. In this age of marketing advertisers did not own, or need to own the media placement platforms, that was the realm of the media agencies, where such platforms even existed.

This was a perfectly acceptable situation at the time as any feedback on the effectiveness of the marketing or other targeting data was very high level and based on samples or focus groups or from inference from rating, listener and readership data from the owners of the media platforms themselves. However, this all changed with the wide adoption of Email and AdWords.

Email Marketing and AdWords for the first time made it possible for Marketing to measure the effectiveness of marketing at an individual level and to calculate true marketing ROI. However, both these digital channels were initially provided by the same model that was being used to deliver mass media placement and often by the same agencies. This meant that the new performance data that was now available often didn’t make it back to the advertiser in anything other than summary form. This was mainly because the customer didn’t know the data existed let alone what they could do with.

As email became more targeted, rather than being treated as just another mass advertising medium, and more digital channels became available an awareness started to grow as to the value of the data generated by these channels. This lead to an increasing number of conversations between agencies and their customers about how they could access and make use of that data. That became especially true as corporate boards have become more aware of the ability to objectively measure the effectiveness of marketing spend and have started to demand it from their executive teams.

However, it hasn’t been as easy as most would have expected for the organisations that are paying for the advertising to get access to and use the data. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Agencies believe that they own this data, as they own and operate the media purchasing and placement platforms. Therefore they see any data generated as a result of their activities as theirs, even if they are acting on behalf of and at the direction of another party.

  • Agencies believe that this data will reveal their Intellectual Property (IP) to their customers and ultimately to their competitors. In order to justify higher fees and to differentiate themselves in the market many agencies will place additional proprietary targeting and purchasing algorithms on top of the standard media purchasing platforms. Therefore, they quite rightly worry that by providing detailed performance data to their customers that their customers may pass this onto their competitors to enable them to switch agencies and lower their costs with no loss of performance.

Whichever side of the argument that you fall on the effect is that marketers that cannot access this data are less able to deliver compelling, timely and relevant experiences to their customers and leads than those that do. This results in these organisations performing worse than those that have access to their digital marketing performance data and who have the know how and tools to leverage it effectively.

So how do you avoid being one of those data poor marketing organisations? The following list identifies the most effective ways of ensuring that you are a ‘data have’ rather than a ‘data have-not’:

  • Think of campaign performance data as your data. You can’t let your agencies treat your paid advertising or direct communication performance data as their IP and provide you with only a summary of it. The data is much more valuable to you than it is to them so your access to it should never be up for debate.

  • Own your digital media placement accounts. If you are advertising on Facebook, Google or on any other advertising supported platform you should setup and/or control your advertising accounts on them yourself. This does not mean that you need to perform the advertising yourself, you can and should still engage an agency to do this for you. But your agency will have to perform their activities on your accounts using their processes and tools, which means that you will always control and access to the performance data for these channels.

  • Own your direct communication channels. If you are sending email or push notifications or any direct digital communications that you should setup and control the platforms or accounts used to do this. This doesn’t mean that you should steer clear of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions and install dedicated email or direct marketing platforms in your IT environment. What it does mean is that you are the administrator and owner of these services or platforms, so it is you that grants an agency or staff access to operate the platforms on your behalf and that you decide who gets access to its data.

  • Have data infrastructure and platforms that can extract and use your data. All the data generated by your marketing activities must be stored in infrastructure and platforms that make it easy to analyse and use for other initiatives. It is even more vital that you own or administer these platforms as they are the crown jewels of your marketing stack. Enterprise Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are an example of a platform that provides everything you need to extract, store and use your marketing performance data which will improve the efficiency and targeting of your marketing activities. It is something that you should give serious consideration to having in your stack.

In summary just because agencies are not used to sharing detailed performance data it does not mean that it has to stay that way. Where the data is available it should be provided to you in as much detail as possible. This can be enforced by owning/administering as much of your marketing stack as possible. In order to make effective use of this data you must have a CDP or data management platform that can ingest, store and use this data to drive better experiences for your customers. Don’t be data poor.