Data integration is a challenge worth mastering if you’re a marketer

Data is the lifeblood of any organisation looking to drive better returns from its marketing investments.

August 20, 2013

By Richard Mullins, director at Acceleration

Data is the lifeblood of any organisation looking to drive better returns from its marketing investments, but making the most of this data is neither cheap nor easy. It demands investments of money, effort and focus from marketers as well as from their technical support staff – though the rewards will more than repay the investments made.

One of the first obstacles many marketers encounter is that they already have extensive investments in data warehouses, customer relationship management databases, and other platforms. When they look closely, they find that what they have in place is not well suited to the realities of today’s real-time, automated digital marketing environment.

The idea of starting from zero, understandably, frightens them. But the truth is that once they start exploring their data needs and environment in a pragmatic manner, they find that there are opportunities to leverage their data that will justify the costs of integrating systems and putting new platforms in place.

The first step in the process should be to look closely at the existing structure of the data in the enterprise and then consider an enterprise architecture that will allow the organisation to use this data to better exploit information in its decision-making process. Once the enterprise understands where its data resides and what potential value it may hold, the integration process usually starts to look less daunting.

The next step is to consider which platforms and systems have data that is meaningful and easy to access. Some systems – billing platforms, for example – are not built to yield the sort of reporting data that marketers need for analytics. And an organisation that has massive data sets across its disparate campaign management, CRM, social media, display and billing platforms might not find it feasible to integrate all of this data into one common environment.

From a cost perspective, marketers need to consider whether the costs of integrating all these systems and data are justified by the potential value of doing so. The expenses of project management, purchasing new technology, and systems integration must be weighed against the potential business value of competitive advantage.

Once an organisation starts becoming serious about looking at its data architecture, it can position itself to leverage data more effectively. It can specifically build an environment architected to allow for technology platforms to be swapped down the line and to make integration of new tools and data simpler.

With the consolidation currently taking place across the technology industry, it is becoming easier to build an integrated environment based on a unified technology stack. Transactions such as the acquisition of ExactTarget by Salesforce.com and Adobe’s buyout of Neoland show that we’re moving towards a world of more integrated marketing platforms.

In more mature organisations, the complex set of digital marketing and advertising technologies they have implemented over the years are making way for more integrated and efficient platforms. The question any organisation needs to ask itself is what the risks and value are of its current technology stack.

For some, it might make sense to do a forklift upgrade that involves replacing solutions from multiple vendors with a stack from one supplier. Others may see more value in sticking with best of breed platforms or systems in which they have made extensive investments, integrating them as best as they can.

Whichever path you take, it is time to start putting in place an enterprise architecture that will help you understand customer engagements – across ad-serving, social media, web analytics, email, search, mobile and more – in a unified manner. The benefits of getting it right provide a significant competitive advantage, driving economies of scale and operational efficiencies, while extracting more value from your data and marketing.