A Guide to Customer Data Solutions: Tools That Extract Meaning

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Mar 20, 2013


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Article ImageCustomers are one of a company's most valued assets. At the same time, customer data is one of the most valuable assets a company can acquire and use. Knowing how and why a customer is drawn to a company's products and services provides insights organizations can use to deepen that customer engagement into a very profitable relationship.

Fortunately for organizations--and especially their marketers--there are many customer data tools that can help a company most effectively and efficiently collect and analyze that customer data.

Tools range from those to help collect vital data--offline and online (from websites and social media)--and keep it clean and organized to those that enable the data to be easily accessed and deployed for further uses. Data management tools help marketers use their data to make relevant connections to customers. Data quality and data hygiene tools enable organizations to effectively manage data by purging inaccurate and duplicate data.

However, the newest entrants into the customer data solutions space are data management platforms, according to Jonathan Margulies, managing director at Winterberry Group, LLC, a consultant firm. This set of tools "grew organically in the world of digital data, where marketers faced a pretty substantial challenge in that they needed to make sense of the enormous quantity of information being generated both on their own properties online, as well as the data being offered to them from third-party aggregators and exchanges to inform the way audiences were behaving in the digital sphere."

In a relatively short period of time, data management platforms (DMPs) have made their presence known. "People are wrestling, to a great extent, around what they do with these platforms," says Margulies. Yet they recognize that data "being generated in the digital sphere has tremendous value. They have to do something with it. They have to make it actionable."

Margulies explains how DMPs have emerged to solve the problem of non-PII (personally identifiable information) data. This can include data about online user behavior; data that has value to advertisers and marketers. That data "needs to be captured in rapid time frames because the data decays quickly," says Margulies. "It needs to be integrated in such a way that makes it standard and usable, given a set of business objectives." The data must be easily accessible and deployable, he adds. "Over a relatively short period of time, the marketers just see value in using the platforms to visualize that third-party data."

While these tools provide clear benefits, there are issues regarding the use of the data that these customer data tools enable.
"A caution in all of this for both users and publishers is data protection and privacy," says Gordon McLeod, president of krux digital, Inc. "Is it really free content or are you using my data to target me? Or are you giving my data to others to target me? Nothing on the web is free. Some publishers or tool providers tell you; others don't. But that's always a concern when you're providing services to users where you're also able to collect the data they're generating to use that service."

McLeod, who previously served as president of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, noted how if a publisher knew he liked cars, the company could respond by showing him new car ads or presenting him with more content about new car models. "For me, that's a service," says McLeod. "For others, it might be an intrusion of their privacy. That's where a lot of these tools are coming under a closer scrutiny."

Here are some vendors and solutions that help organizations make the most of the customer data they collect through a variety of channels.

Campaign Management Tools

These tools essentially make marketing data more accessible, according to Margulies. With their roots in traditional offline direct mail, these tools have expanded beyond names and addresses to email addresses and other information used to identify online users and subscribers, he said.

Data Analytics Tools

"Data, as valuable as it is, has no value whatsoever if you're not able to transform it into actionable insight and these are the tools that allow trained analytics professionals to do exactly that," says Margulies. These tools, explains Margulies, don't manage or deploy data. "They are engines for helping statisticians and others in the organization write and deploy models on that data to generate useful insights."

Data Quality and Data Hygiene Tools

Data quality, says Margulies, involves standardizing native information, assigning a common taxonomy to it and "making sure it is effectively clean for use depending upon whatever your use regulations or best practices dictate."

These tools have become more important, notes Margulies, because digital data decays more quickly than traditional data. "These are tools that effectively help clean data that may be used for a variety of different purposes," he said. "It's both making it malleable and making sure it aligns with whatever best practices and data use the marketer has identified."

Data Management Platforms

One of the newest offerings, these platforms enable marketers to aggregate different data forms and integrate them based on a common taxonomy and structure, says Margulies. 

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