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Marketers are still drowning in big data

Business person in need of help

Last week Scott Liewehr and I joined more than sixty leaders representing some of the most respected globally-recognized brands along with a group of marketing technology vendors and implementation service providers for the CMO Digital US Summit. Held at the stunning Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, this premier event focused on helping brands get ahead of the curve and achieve success with digital marketing and customer experience management.

Some of the most high-profile attendees included senior leaders from Disney, NBC, and ESPN, which was not surprising, given the proximity to Los Angeles. Finance, hospitality, and consumer brands were also heavily present at this year’s event which headlined a well-received keynote on the powerful intersection of experience and content in MasterCard’s Priceless Surprises campaign, given by Michael Donnelly, Senior Vice President of Global Digital Marketing.

In my role as Head of Marketing for Digital Clarity Group, I was there to learn, moderate a roundtable, and lead a workshop on digital transformation in marketing.

My roundtable was entitled Digital Strategy: Data and Your Digital Business. In it, we explored specific challenges related to the collection, storage, analysis, and use of data in support of modern digital marketing.

The session format was structured to encourage the group to share their challenges associated with the topic, a request all were quite willing to fulfill. We then selected the most frequently occurring obstacles and broke up into working groups. Each group explored their area of focus seeking to better define the core challenges, necessary stakeholders, and solutions.

Drowning in Big Data is still a big challenge

Critical to the success of omnichannel customer experience management, Big Data is still a big problem for practitioners and leaders who can be quoted as ‘literally drowning in data’. Sorting through the rising tide of available information to find the signal through the noise was by far the most frequently raised issue we discussed.

A close second, the efficient integration of disparate, external and internal data sources seems as distant a goal as it has ever been, despite the explosion of new marketing technology solutions designed specifically to solve this problem. Interestingly, none of the participants were willing to claim significant success providing customer data to resources who field customer communications via social listening for the purpose of providing continuity of experience. The CX community has, somewhat ironically, defined this objective as an early step toward 360-degree customer data maturity, which none seem able to achieve.

Managing the complex risks associated with governance and changing global regulatory environments regarding privacy and data protection also continues to be a key challenge, particularly for global organizations who do business with residents of the EU, as GDPR, dreaded among those in the room who are in the know, begins to take effect in 2018. Compliance is a particularly thorny issue because of the obvious and potentially damaging legal implications.

Big data may be hard, but there is hope

Although all participants listed the core problems as significantly hampering progress, most were optimistic about the future. There’s simply too much potential in leveraging real-time customer data for it to be ignored or abandoned just because it’s complicated. My group was just as enthusiastic to share their thoughts on solutions as they were to share their problems.

When we discussed which stakeholders to involve in navigating these tricky waters, the answers were nearly identical across all of the working groups:

  • Marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Consumer Relations
  • IT
  • Legal/Risk/Compliance

I initially found it interesting to see public relations in the mix, but the explanation made sense immediately. Many people still find the use of their data creepy, even, or especially, when an organization uses it effectively. I found it equally interesting that nobody suggested data analysts or data scientists among the right stakeholders to include.

Similarly, the suggested solutions also aligned around common themes. These included:

  • Focus on talent and training
  • Start with quick wins
  • Modernize infrastructure
  • Establish a center of excellence around data

Speaking of GDPR, Digital Clarity Group is booking custom workshops to help leaders understand how this gravitational shift in the ownership of personal data might impact their business specifically. Don’t hesitate to contact us if your organization has any contact with residents of the EU. The stakes are incredibly high and non-compliance is simply not an option.


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