Fighting Fragmentation: How to avoid data silos and see the bigger picture

Marketers are operating in a world where there is more choice than ever before. Not only must they grapple with fragmented audience attention, media channels, and data streams, they also must make sense of a huge volume of data, while answering consumer demand for personalised customer experiences and respecting privacy concerns.

Ayla Miller turns to MarTech service providers and data strategists to unpack the solutions and strategies marketers can employ to overcome data silos, engage with customers on a personal level and achieve that elusive single customer view.

Fragmentation comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes in marketing. The term can be used when discussing data, individual markets, media channels and even attention.

One of the major challenges marketers face is fragmented data streams. This occurs when an organisations’ data streams are scattered and technological silos are created. The more data being collected from different sources, the more likely it is that this data will become stuck in these silos making it difficult to see the big picture and truly understand audiences.

One solution to this problem is a piece of technology called a Customer Data Platform (CDP). The CDP Institute defines this as a “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems”. This is a prebuilt system that takes data from all sources and makes this data available to other systems to be used in different forms of marketing.

Paul Hickey, Managing Director of SpeakData, says Customer Data Platforms help businesses achieve that single customer view, something that is especially important now that third-party cookies are being phased out.

This also means there is more focus on good first-party data because bad data comes at a significant cost. According to research firm Gartner, poor data is responsible for a loss of $15 million annually, while many businesses don’t know how much bad data costs their business because it simply isn’t tracked.

The benefits of having a first-party data strategy are plenty says Paul.

“A first-party data strategy means making the most of your own data you have collected from your own customers with their consent and getting to know your own customers, or your own prospective customers, better than anybody else.”

This means it is the best quality data, the most complete, the most relevant and you can be sure the customers have given consent to use it meaning it can be properly utilised to provide a personalised and improved customer experience.

“You might serve them ads but you’re doing that because you know where they are in their customer journey and don’t hit them with a deal when they are not ready,” Paul says.

It also means that ads don’t get served to people who have already bought the product.

“In the old days they would have all got the ads and it was a waste of money. Nowadays it’s more personalised and relevant because they are using their own data.”  

Having too many data silos can also mean there are streams of data being updated at different times. For example some data might be updated every five minutes, while other data might be updated daily. Implementing a CDP also solves this issue as it works in real time.

“Pulling all that data together in a single customer view has been an elusive goal for a long time, maybe a decade, maybe two. The single customer view has been something that marketers have strived to achieve but often it has only used the identified data,” says Paul.

Identified data is data connected to a name, email address or some other identifying factor. The volume of data made accessible with a CDP increases as it connects all the anonymous data such as web tracking and ad tech.

“[Businesses] have been limited to the data held in each tool, which is a very incomplete picture of that customer. There has been no tool that has had the job of feeding data to each of the other tools and that’s what CDP does.”

And this is what has been holding marketers back for a long time.

“There is always more cheap software to buy,” he says. “Every time they [marketers] add another tool, they are increasing their fragmentation across all these data silos. The temptation to do it is massive and it was what everyone was doing in the last decade. I think there is a growing realisation that you can’t just keep adding on more tools making a bigger data mess.”

He adds that having everything combined into one system makes managing customer privacy and consent much easier too because it updates in real time.

“It’s always serving the freshest most aggregated, most accurate data possible. All the tools and all the systems are talking to the customer.”

Of course to be truly effective, marketers need data – and lots of it, Mark Griffiths, Regional Director, Marketing and Commerce Cloud for Salesforce New Zealand says.

Mark Griffiths.

According to The State of Marketing Report 2021 B2B marketers now use an average of 12 customer data sources, and B2C marketers use an average of nine. However, more data doesn’t always mean better data, Mark warns.

“If inaccurate or incomplete, it can cause tension across the customer journey leading to frustrated customers and lost opportunities. As marketers manage different types of data – including structured and unstructured, real-time and static – the potential for error is high.”

This means marketers are at a turning point in how they manage and think about data. Salesforce’s Marketing Intelligence Report 2022 reveals only 33 percent of marketers strongly agree they gain insights fast enough to actually make useful decisions.

“Many marketers are laser-focused on technology as the key to overcoming these challenges. As we gear up for a cookie-less future, we’re seeing companies investing in their first-party data strategies more and more,” he adds.

“Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are being adopted to manage the process of centralising data, segmenting audiences and personalising experiences across any channel. Companies like Xero have recognised the value of first-party data by using Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud, which covers every possible customer interaction and allows them to guide customers on their 1-to-1 journeys with the brand.”

For Dina Hay, Chief Data and Insights Officer at Stuff, fragmentation has its own meanings and challenges.

From a media owners perspective, fragmentation has disrupted traditional revenue streams like advertising, subscription and circulation. This is forcing them to find other new ways of reaching and engaging their audiences, who are seeking trustworthy content, while holding their attention for longer.

Dina Hay.

“Never before have consumers had more choice when it comes to how to spend their free time. Traditional media is no longer just competing with other industry players across multiple channels (digital, audio, video, print) and formats, but also with social media, video streaming, gaming and more.

“Alongside this, global changes in advertising technology mean media owners have to find new ways to identify individual users and develop trusted relationships with them so they know who they are, how they’re interacting with content, their likes and dislikes, as well as deeper insights that provide competitive advantage.”

She says this presents media owners with the opportunity to increase relevance to the consumer in terms of format and content, especially the younger audiences whose consumption of the news changes as fast as the technology to access it does.

“At Stuff, we’re taking a customer-first, data-led approach, enabled by the right technology. Being customer-first means listening to our audience, understanding their views and beliefs; what they think, want and need. We then couple that with understanding what brands/advertisers want to unearth from New Zealanders to help them shape up more relevant and engaging campaigns.”

The goal is to meet the customer where they are, Dina says. This can be achieved by stitching together audiences from different assets either online or off, for a more “targeted, relevant, and more meaningful experiences, whatever the touchpoints are”.

“We also have a big focus on trust and transparency as a company. That sets us apart from other channels like social media which have real problems with mis- and disinformation. So being trustworthy in the way we collect and use data and insights and interact with customers is essential.”

She agrees that having a first-party data strategy is important and says focusing on this allows marketers to be better informed about customers, who they are and how they behave.

“This includes the content they are consuming, advertising they are seeing and engaging with, and deeper insights like their mood, views, and beliefs on a particular topic.”

This kind of data enables marketers to sense, quickly respond and experiment with what communication works best as well as identify value propositions and audience drivers to learn what captures and holds the audience’s attention.

Tessa Tripp, Marketing Director at The Mind Lab, says with the constant evolution of technology and new software there can be the temptation to do more with data without understanding the risks or challenges.

“Building automations, complex nurture journeys, real-time experiences and personalisation are what all marketers aspire to but these shouldn’t come at the expense of robust systems and processes, as that is where you get into these spaghetti-like messes.”

Where possible, marketers should standardise their software and avoid working in silos. “Bringing your data scientists, development and tech teams on the journey from the beginning helps to future proof your data. It also helps to have someone who can effectively translate marketing requirements into software requirements, which is much easier said than done.”

To help with this The Mind Lab is launching a micro-credential around Understanding Software Development and Processes in the coming months which speaks directly to the gap in knowledge between non-tech people and technical teams. 

Tessa adds that it is important to engage legal teams and keep up to date with changing regulation. “Coming from London and managing a team through the integration of GDPR and changes to PECR, these are really big pieces of legislation with serious consequences if you get it wrong. Data and privacy legislation is really only going in one direction, so it’s important to get your data management processes in place and keep them up to date as you bring new technologies into your toolkit, rather than viewing them as an afterthought.

“Look at what is happening overseas to anticipate changes and set your standards high.” When speaking on fragmentation in general Tessa says audience attention is another big challenge facing marketers.

“Audience attention spans are so short and often distracted now, with information coming at them from all angles, it’s really difficult to get cut through and resonate on a much deeper level with your audience. Having robust and intelligent data and technology, and perhaps more importantly the knowledge and skills to get the most out of your tech, is so important for success.”

Despite the risks with having multiple data streams, Tessa says it is important to gather data and insights from a cross-section of sources.

“This should include your customers, internal stakeholders (particularly those who interact with the end customer), competitors, governing and industry bodies, media and where possible independent research.”

This diversity of insight, she believes, helps to shape a much deeper understanding of the industry you are operating in and inform strategies, identify barriers to entry, big market influencers, if the industry is innovative or if it has been disrupted. 

“I also like to encourage my team to look much wider than the industry we’re operating in and of course not limiting our view to New Zealand. Having that more holistic perspective gives you the ability to move beyond simply adapting to trends or challenges within your industry, but also anticipating trends, challenges and opportunities that others may not have.”

She says traditionally education has not been fragmented, however with online learning being accelerated by Covid, learning is more accessible than ever so has the potential to fragment.

“Yet there’s actually still a low degree of innovation in that space – simply moving a course online but teaching it in the traditional style is not innovative. At The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab, we’re trying to purposefully fragment ourselves away from the industry and carve out a new path.”

Tessa Tripp.

As regulations increase around privacy and consent marketers are changing the way they operate in accordance. Salesforce’s Marketing Intelligence report found that 90 percent of marketers measure success differently now because of data privacy changes.

While all this is going on, customers are of course in search of more personalised experiences which means marketers and consumers are looking for value trade-offs in data exchange Mark Griffiths says.

“There’s an expectation that customer experiences are informed, contextual and in real-time when appropriate. Achieving this requires understanding customer behaviour across all channels and stitching together online and offline experiences. While marketing teams are often the custodians of the customer experience, it impacts stakeholders across a business, like sales, service and e-commerce, so collaboration is essential to get results.”

So how can marketers best work within this fragmented environment and give customers that personalised experience? It starts with breaking down traditional barriers, Mark says.

“Instead of dealing with data in silos, centralise consumer data to support marketing, advertising and communications. Use AI to understand your customer in real-time and predict the best way to serve them.” 

To achieve this, collaboration is key, he says. Businesses need to identify the necessary skill sets in their marketing teams to meet objectives and invest in getting the most out of these. 

“Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. The data will never be perfect, so take what you can and use it for what you can – test, iterate and improve. Find the right technology to support your goals and use trusted partners where you see gaps.”  

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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