The 4 Keys to Smart Data Planning

To get the full benefit of customer data, there’s a few things marketers have to get straight

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Customer data. It’s at the center of today’s customer engagement landscape, supporting the kinds of targeted messages and responsive customer experiences that define successful customer/brand relationships. But while the rise of mobile and other digital technologies have made it easier than ever before to collect, manage, and act on customer data, a lot of brands are still falling short.

Why? Because they aren’t thinking about data planning the right way.

In my role on Braze’s Customer Success team, I talk to clients about data all day long. (At Braze, when we talk about “customer data,” we mean the kinds of user behavior that you’re going to want to track and then take action on in future messaging and engagement campaigns.) With the benefit of hindsight, and insights into the power of customer data gleaned from my time at Braze, I’ve put together a list of four key things that every brand should be mindful of when it comes to data planning and using customer information effectively. Take a look!

1. Know how you’re going to tell apart different members of your audience

This one is BIG. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common for brands to collect information on their users without first figuring out how they’re going to identify them—and that can make it very difficult to actually use that data effectively

When you’re collecting (or planning to collect) customer data, it’s essential that you make sure you know the answers to these two key questions as soon as possible:

  • What kind of user ID will you use to distinguish different unique members of your audience?
  • What systems (internal or external) will be storing client information, and are they capable of talking to each other?

We’re living in a mobile-first world, but it’s not a mobile-only world: the desktop web is still thriving and the number of new platforms and connected devices out there seems to grow every day. To really engage your customers, it’s imperative to be able to understand their behavior across web, mobile, email, and beyond. That kind of understanding begins with a user ID.

So, before we dive in with our clients to help them implement their marketing strategy, we often ask a hard question: “What ID do you use to know that, say, Brian Kellogg from L.A. is a different person than the Brian Kellogg from Des Moines?” (That tends to get the internal conversations going.) Depending on how your brand categorizes information, that ID might a customer ID or a database ID or a loyalty ID. Regardless, it’s imperative to figure this one out before moving or collecting any new data, because, without it, you can’t maintain a clear, complete view of your individual users.

2. Make sure key internal teams are talking to each other

This is uncharted territory for a lot of companies. It’s pretty common for departments to interact rarely (or not at all) with other internal teams—and that’s a problem. When I first started at Braze, I found that there were a bunch of different data types that I’d never dealt with during my marketing career. (“Boolean” was something I had to Google on my first day working here. 😬) I learned a lot from the departments across the company, and you can (and should!), too.

Embrace cross-team collaboration! You’ll learn a lot. When it comes to customer engagement, lots of teams have a role to play. Marketing sets the use cases. The product team has to know how to access the data needed for those use case. Development teams need to figure out how to get that data to the necessary place. And your BI team will need to make sense of all the engagement and customer data at the end of the day. By working closely with other teams from the start to get your data planning in order, you can reduce duplication of effort and missed connections, ensuring that your data strategy is as comprehensive and seamless as possible.

One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is that you need to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the data that’s being used. For example, something as simple as naming conventions can have a major impact on the effectiveness of your data management. Having a document that tracks the data that marketing uses, the name of that data in your system, and the definition of what it actually means can clarify things immensely. Similarly, classifying your users into “active” and “inactive” buckets makes sense, but it’s just as important to make clear what logic determines when someone is listed as inactive? Is it three months of inactivity? Two months? A day? The answer should depend on your audience’s behavioral patterns, and making sure that your whole organization is clear on the decisions being made around data and why they’re being made will pay off in the long run.

3. Ensure your data use is thoughtful, not creepy

One of the most important parts of effective data planning is figuring about what, exactly, you need to know about each user. The other piece is: how should you use it?

There might be some kinds of data that work best if used in a subtle manner—for instance, targeting users for messages based on movie genres they like, with recommendations they’re likely to find useful. But, used thoughtlessly, the same information can lead to messaging that a users are more likely to find unsettling: “Hey, Todd! We’ve been carefully tracking all of your viewing behavior and noticed that you really like Romance movies—want us to suggest some more?”

With a piece of actionable customer data, it’s important to assess whether it works better informing message targeting, messaging content, or providing a better understanding of each customer (or, potentially, all three). Getting it right helps support brilliant customer experiences; getting it wrong can do a lot to alienate your audience.

4. Think through how you’ll measure success

This one is really important. Let’s imagine that I work at an eCommerce company and our big priority for 2018 is driving loyalty program sign ups. Knowing that goal from the start as your company builds out its plan is crucial. Why? Because otherwise you’re going to miss things. If, for instance, you send a targeted campaign to encourage enrollment but don’t coordinate with other teams to ensure that signups to the program are being tracked, you may never know whether the campaign worked or not.

It takes some upfront planning to pull this off, but, in theory, you should know the goal of each and every campaign you send—otherwise, it’s impossible to measure whether the campaign was a success or failure (or somewhere in between). A big part of that is ensuring that you’re tracking key moments that inform the success of a campaign. At minimum, that should include actions like registration, loyalty program sign ups, purchases, etc., but it can go far beyond that. Your marketing goals are going to dictate other data you’ll want to track; the key is to ensure that you have a clean way to attribute a given user action to the wonderful, targeted, highly-personalized message that you sent!

Final thoughts

Data planning may not seem like the world’s most exciting topic—but that’s no excuse for neglecting. Putting in the work early can do a lot to support your brand’s long-term success. As a former marketer, I’d love to go back in time and tell myself, “Hey! Pay more attention to your user data!” Because if you don’t, you’re missing out on opportunities to power the kinds of brand experiences that really engage your audience.

Looking to dig even deeper into customer data? Check out our look at the ins-and-outs of data collection.

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