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Laying the retail marketing data foundation

  • Katelyn Ares
  • 4 min read

By now, we all know that quality data is the future of business, and of marketing in particular. It’s how brands understand who their customers are, and how they get the right messages in front of the right consumers at the right point on their path to purchase. In 2023, leveraging data is table stakes for marketing effectiveness and innovation.

The problem is, for most, that’s the future state. And for a lot of UK retailers, it’s tough to see how to get there, because;

  • The only customer data available is transaction-based – what was bought, when and where
  • The business may be collecting first-party data, through newsletter sign-ups or e-receipts, but the data is managed by someone else in the organisation outside the marketing department
  • Data collection is based on third-party cookies, and the organisation isn’t prepared for what will happen when Google stops supporting the use of third-party cookies next year
  • A wide array of customer data exists across the business, but for reasons of technology, permissions, or organisational structure it can’t be leveraged to create a single customer view (SCV)
  • An SCV does exist, but not the required resources to derive insight from it and to plan and activate on those insights
  • The business may have quality data and the resources required to leverage it for insights and planning, but not have the connectivity to marketing platforms at scale

The data maturity journey begins with a single step

The list of scenarios above lends some insight into the journey digital marketers are on to data maturity. Every organisation has its own unique challenges but they all share one common thinking pattern: all-or-nothing. 

Think of it like this: Let’s say you want to live a healthier lifestyle or get into better physical shape, for whatever reason. Maybe you have a special event coming up (like a wedding or a big holiday) or maybe your doctor has advised you to lose weight to lower your blood pressure. 

Regardless, when you think about the change you want to make, you are likely imagining that you need to make a monstrous financial and time investment with uncomfortable restrictions to see any results. You need to join and spend hours a day in a gym, hire a personal trainer, buy expensive supplements, go on a strict diet plan, cut out junk food and sweets entirely and make all of this change at once while balancing the rest of your life’s responsibilities. So what do most people do? 

Most people do nothing. At least until they receive a red letter from their doctor or their holiday is two weeks away. However, some people start small. Some people see that if they start one step at a time with consistent, meaningful changes, like replacing a chocolate bar with a piece of fruit, a few months later they become a much healthier version of themselves. Rather than swallowing the apple whole, they eat it bit by bit. 

In other words, stop waiting for the RFP, the digital transformation initiative, or the data infrastructure overhaul, and instead focus on small manageable steps and measuring your progress in mini milestones. First, write down all of the things you’d like to be able to accomplish today but can’t. This will help you track your progress and look back each month on what you have been able to tick off that list. As I mentioned in my previous post, each problem solved not only takes the organisation a step closer to a data-driven future, it also brings incremental benefits of its own.

The first thing any marketer needs to do when developing their data strategy is outline what their business objective is. What goals are they measured on? That might be acquiring more customers, retaining existing customers, increasing the lifetime value of existing customers, or (more likely as of late) improving marketing efficiency due to shrinking budgets. All of these business goals can be better achieved through data. However, if you’re new to the world of data, it’s best to start small. Pick one or two top priorities to drive your foundation. 

The next step is to identify where a lack of data is preventing those goals being reached. For example, if your main aim is to acquire more customers do you know what core attributes your most valuable customers share? What data would be most valuable to build an effective targeting strategy on to make that happen? Think broadly, then build your wish-list. And don’t let your thinking be constrained by what data you have today. This is about the data you need that will get you to where you want to be.

Then think about how you’ll know whether you’re hitting your goal. What will your mini milestones be? The first on your list could be something as simple as “knowing who our customers are” and having that rich customer profile validated by data. On the other hand, if your focus is on acquiring more customers, you’ll likely want to compare post-campaign transactions with your record of existing customers to see who’s a repeat purchaser and who’s new.

Once you’ve taken these foundational steps, you can start thinking about the data resource you need to build, and where that data is going to come from. And that’s what we’ll be looking at in my next post.