Why being all touchy-feely about data is important to your business

Over recent months I have been working with Mark Gray at Real Print Management (www.realprintmanagement.co.uk). Based in Swindon, RPM specialise in the provision of both off-line and on-line web-to-print managed services for corporate clients across the UK.

This renewed relationship is thanks to a ‘people you may know’ feature on a well-known social media network – a lesson to me to review the list and take the initiative to make contact as Mark did.

My work to date with RPM involved me looking across their business – understanding where they are now, reviewing the systems and importantly talking to the people involved – from here, building a business plan, setting immediate objectives and those that will steer the business in the future.

Looking ahead, managing data will be key – it’s just a piece of the ‘business systems’ jigsaw but often under estimated, misunderstood and not maintained – the result being missed opportunity.

RPM already have a great ethos and working practice on this part of the jigsaw – our shared view on the ‘importance of good quality data’ is what led me to seek permission to publish a recent blog written by Mark Gray of Real Print Management as the content for this month.

It’s an in depth look at the role of data – a good starting point for you to review your practices. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

 

Why being all touchy-feely about data is important to your business

Many organisations are beginning to realise the importance of data as a key component to delivering successful marketing campaigns. Traditionally, data has been viewed as something of a tail-ender in the batting order of marketing milestones, with the creative work almost always consuming the most amount of time, energy and resource in a project timeline. The provision of data is often left to the end as a task that just needs to be done. I’ve lost count of the creative meetings where the stakeholders in a project have little or no control over the sourcing of data, often stating: “I’ve left it with someone in IT to sort out.”

Thankfully, this detached view of where data sits in the grand scheme of things is changing. Marketers realise that delivering the message to the target audience is just as important as any clever creative concept, after all, nobody wants to see their work fall on deaf ears.

So, the next questions are: how do I acquire data and what are the best methods of reaching my target group?

Let’s deal with data acquisition first. There are two main strands to successful data acquisition: Management Information Systems (MIS) and company culture. The best data is almost always your own, organically grown information borne out of your daily business transactions, but this data needs to reside somewhere and preferably not in a shoebox. MIS and particularly those with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module are pivotal in providing marketing teams with access to data that can be segmented, exported and manipulated to suit the requirements of each campaign.

However, good data from MIS depends largely on the employees who use the system and this is where company culture plays its part. Users need to know that their input is much more than just a means to an end e.g. entering the minimal amount of data to raise a receipt. Employees need to understand that modern-day MIS is based around something called a ‘relational database’ and that the input of a singular set of data can have wider implications than just completing the task in hand. This same set of data could be accessed by other groups wishing to use it in the next sales campaign, but if the quality of data is flawed then this could have a negative impact on the success of the campaign.

Updating MIS with new or amended data is not something to be done at the end of a period, it has to take place ‘as it happens’ and within reason make sure that your team share information verbally too. There is a common misconception that there is little or no movement in the labour market during times of recession with people preferring to hold down their current job. In fact the converse is true, organisations are constantly restructuring, divisions and departments are being reorganised as business looks to realign itself with an ever-changing market. This has a direct effect on the employees who work for the company who may be re-deployed in another sector or their job role may be re-defined. How to keep pace with this rate of change is a challenge in itself, but subscribing to business media sites such as LinkedIn and UK publication Insider Media is a good way of keeping tabs on the movers and shakers in the labour market, not forgetting the companies they work for, too.

Here’s a mini MIS and employee checklist for you to consider.

Ensure that:

  • your MIS can export data to .csv or other leading file formats
  •  the top tier for defining an organisation in your MIS is ‘Company’ and that Customer, Lapsed Customer, Supplier, Prospect are all sub-groups and that a company can belong to more than one sub-group
  • your MIS has fields for Market, Product Type, Area, Annual Expenditure etc… to help you segment data into specific groups
  • contact details have fields for Job Title, Division, Communication details, including telephone, facsimile, mobile, email, website and even Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts
  • you can make a contact inactive if they leave an organisation or if they choose to opt out of a specific communication type
  • above all, your team are fanatical about capturing data

Now we can move on how to best to reach your target audience. The explosion in new and social media means that you are no longer restricted to just print as the only viable means of communication. Each media channel has its own merits and it’s not necessarily a case of ‘either/or’. In fact, you will often find the more experienced and advanced marketing teams using cross media (where one media channel connects with another) as the route to customer engagement.

For example, many printed items now contain a QR code (Quick Response) where users can scan the code and receive additional information through their Smartphone device. Often, in these cases, the marketer has been both tactical and strategic in their approach. It’s generally accepted that in the first instance that printed communication is the most appropriate approach to gaining customer opt-in, but both print and postage does come at a cost. QR codes and personalised URLs help keep the cost of print and post to a minimum, as these are merely links to a web page where an infinite amount of information, including variable, real-time information can be hosted and so in this instance, the printed item is merely a conduit to encourage the recipient to engage with the campaign online.

Here, the business savvy marketer has used multiple media channels to good effect, but will probably only do so knowing that their contact and address data is in good order. Using an unqualified list would simply be too big a risk to take when conducting a cross media campaign. Once the prospect has engaged with the campaign online, assuming you have included the appropriate permissions, you can continue to engage with this audience group using the lower cost base of online communication. To summarise, the more costly channel of print and postage has been used to ATTRACT the prospect, but the lower cost base of online has been used to CONVERT and subsequent online activity will be used to RETAIN the customer.

But what if you are just starting out or if your database has not been used for some time? Well, in this instance, email marketing is both cost-effective and will give you an instant response in terms of deliverability. You’ll know in a flash just how good or bad your data is, but don’t be surprised if your unused data has a failure rate of 30% or more. Emails that have failed to arrive will show up in your ‘Bounce’ reports, usually divided into ‘Hard’ reserved for domain name server failure and ‘Soft’ which may eventually arrive due to current status of mailbox full or maybe your email has been marked as spam. You will need to allocate resources to investigate and correct all bounces as this is the means by which you improve the deliverability of future campaigns.

The golden rule with all email marketing is to ensure that you have audience opt-in. Sending unsolicited emails is a huge turn off and a sure fire way to alienate potential customers from you and your business. Therefore, brief your Sales and Account Management team to ask prospects and clients for permission to send tailored and content relevant emails on a periodic basis. Most people will say ‘yes’ if asked nicely. Ensure that your company touch points; website and email footers have eye-catching subscriber forms that encourage readers to receive content electronically.

Business solutions experts, such as CreditsafeUK cite that business data decays at over 30% per year – this is the rate of change to a set of business data that is left unaltered for a period of 12 months. That’s a sobering statistic and proof that putting off using your prospect/customer database is not a sensible option and that regular client contact with relevant content is the route to success.

The analogy that I use for maintaining a good database is similar to that of tending to a flowerbed. Sowing or planting the seeds can be likened to capturing data. ‘Thinning’ once the seeds have germinated is akin to segmenting your data. Weeding or hoeing draws parallels with removing invalid or obsolete data. Feeding or nurturing is synonymous with warming your leads and good customer relations. Follow these steps in managing your data and you should see your marketing efforts blossom in 2013.

Link to original post from Real Print Management: Why being all touchy-feely about data is important to your business