Joel Nicholson, Managing Director of Marketsoft talks Data Quality [VIDEO]

Joel Nicholson, Managing Director @Marketsoft

In the digital age we know marketing is much more data dependent, but just how big is the accuracy problem and why is it such a critical factor?


To give you some idea of the scale of what we are dealing with, a recent survey at the ADMA Global forum revealed that 74% rated their organisations data as being not good quality. 11% went even further and said data accuracy was a major problem. Of course, we know that customer data is not just a nebulous mass of information. It is precious insight into what makes each individual unique. So accuracy is absolutely critical. Simply spelling a name wrong can risk a whole relationship. The problem today is that customer data is changing so rapidly. For instance, in B2C, people update their social status and preferences on a daily basis, and in B2B, people are now changing job roles on average every 26 months. So the accuracy of data is constantly under assault. Now many businesses are committing to things like insights and analytics as a big part of their strategy. But you know the old adage “garbage in, garbage out”. I would suggest that there are a lot more bottom line results to be gained by changing priorities and investing more into data accuracy.

In our experience, we have seen larger campaigns where data quality improvements have yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings and benefits.

Could you give a few tips as to how organisations can go about improving their accuracy in general?


There is certainly no silver bullet. But, yes, there is plenty of scope to attack the problem. Let’s talk fundamentals first.

Step one is to look at your internal processes and policies for managing data. In other words, treat the causes of the problem, not just the symptoms. This includes structural issues like having marketing and IT sit together to build a coherent data management plan. Once the structure is in place, then you can look at tactical tools for incremental improvement. These days there is a deluge of data flowing into a business, but often a lack of capability to structure and stitch that data together so that it’s accurate and meaningful. Data capture technology is one tool that can eliminate inconsistencies of data coming from different sources. Then you can get really clever with purpose-built solutions that can clean data on the fly, while running campaigns. All this can be a complex exercise, so it can be helpful to have an external specialist partner that can help streamline the process.

What are some of the other tools and data sources that can improve accuracy?


This is where we can get down to the nitty gritty of building data accuracy at the coalface.We can start with channel specific tools. These are tools that are purpose-built for use on a particular channel, whether it be web, email, phone, mail, social media or mobile. These can equip the business with the scope and finesse to impact accuracy levels. The channel specific tools can then be enhanced using cross-pollination matching techniques that add another layer of quality control. These techniques overlay patterns within your own data to ensure customer information such as email addresses are as high quality and standardised as possible. Many marketers also find derived scores to be a useful tool for segmenting and targeting. Now, it is true that they have a role to play, but it is a technique that must be used carefully. Gaps in data that are filled by deriving can cause accuracy issues, so exercise a healthy degree of caution. Data aggregators have a role to play too. When integrated with the other tools I’ve mentioned, aggregators can provide a further level of accuracy screening.

New sources of data are being introduced all the time for marketing. This must present real challenges in terms of maintaining accuracy.


Yes, big data creates big opportunities, but equally big accuracy risks. There are some notable slip ups by large corporates who have over-reached with their reliance on automated data management. The results can be very disruptive to client relationships. There will always be a need for a certain degree of human intervention. There is a surge of rich data that can now be captured on customers. This demands that marketers use greater discretion on how that data is interpreted and used. You can easily cross the line and end up appearing like big brother in your customer interactions. It’s also true to say that the depth of information collected creates greater risk of inaccuracy. Small errors can be highly visible when it relates to highly personal information. How data is interpreted and the way it is transformed is a real challenge. You may have sophisticated data collection from cookies that are linked back to IP addresses, or from mobile location, time and app usage….. but how reliable is the end result you are interpreting from this data? The bottom line will always be how a customer perceives your messaging to them. Are you identifying them and their preferences accurately? Are you using the information sensitively? Will they perceive greater value in the relationship?

 Data accuracy is important from the point of view of relevant marketing but how does it relate to privacy?


Well there is a very direct relevance. Accuracy of information is there in black and white in the national privacy principles. We need to keep things simple. The rule of thumb I recommend is to apply the simple test of whether your actions will protect the interests of the customer. Make that your primary filter and the majority of privacy issues will be eliminated. As marketers, we can become overwhelmed by the inundation of data that pours into the organisation and the opportunities we have to exploit that data with powerful technology. It’s easy to become distracted and lose focus on the issue of privacy. The sheer breadth and variety of channels we have to deal with can also create complications for complying with obligations. Every channel has its own rules so the information needed to manage privacy can become blurred. We need to seek smarter answers to streamline how we manage this issue. To that end I can see preference centres playing a much more prominent role in the year ahead.