Simplifying Integration: The Difference Between Unchained and Unhinged
With all the data that’s available at our fingertips, you’d think it would be easy to pull up the latest insights on customers, cross reference it with recent purchases and special offers, and then quickly spot outliers in behavior. This is not the case for most marketers. These actions almost always remain on the wish list instead of the to-do list. The problem is that on the back-end, integrating various systems and data sources is complex. While there are many marketing platforms that strive to bring disparate systems together and deliver insights through a single dashboard, they’re often limited in the insights they offer.
Without getting mired in details (famous words from an engineer!), the biggest challenge in getting to those insights is that the gems of data are often spread across various tools, systems, and applications. The more marketing channels you have, the more complicated it becomes to get those different systems talking to each other. For example, one database might code a gender as “M” or “F,” while another database codes it as “1” “2” and still another might use “male” “female.”
This is why marketers are still largely dependent on data analysts and IT to get the information they need, therefore limiting their ability to quickly respond to market shifts.
For marketing to become untethered from its reliance on IT and data analysts requires a powerful yet flexible platform. It also requires a visually stunning dashboard that simplifies the complex technology foundation and presents data and insights in a way that’s intuitive and easy to master.
Specifically, the underlying data model and semantics of the data need to allow marketers to easily apply business logic dynamically on the fly and change it as often as necessary to quickly respond to market shifts, customer demands, and competitor moves. That can’t happen if you’re waiting for IT to integrate or make changes on the back end.
Getting that flexibility is a critical part of the integration process. Yet even before the integration gets underway, marketing and IT need to be in sync. Essentially, marketers need to have a seat at the table during the integration planning process to decide what goes into the marketing platform and what doesn’t at the integration point.
For example, key elements such as personally identifiable information (PII), contextually relevant contact information, and anonymized data all need to be discussed. All of these requirements need to be considered before the integration starts.
The reason being that once the data sources are integrated into a platform that’s not flexible by design, it’s very difficult to go in after the fact to alter the parameters such as PII or anonymized data. It’s like pouring the foundation for a house and later finding out you’re a foot over the property line.
Dashboards: More Than Just a Pretty Interface
Moving from the foundation to the dashboard, it goes without saying that the dashboard should boil down the most complex problems and challenges into simple tools that make it easy to access, analyze, interpret, query, and make sense of your data. Yet let’s not lose sight of the fact that dashboards are essentially a snapshot in time. Dashboards can tell you what happened over a given time period but to make the data useful to change the future, marketers may have to dig a little deeper. This is the mantra of many marketing platforms today, and yet marketers are still looking for the ideal solution.
For example, there’s no lack of dashboards that allow you to say “plot the weekly revenue split by gender and location.” The problem with this approach is that the report doesn’t uncover new information beyond what the data is being asked to query. Sure, it’s useful to a degree but you can only spend so much time looking in the rear view mirror. Then what happens if there’s a major swing in the data from one week to the next?
Marketers need to be able to experiment with the data, run their own analysis, ask questions, and generally explore and validate their hunches. To get deeper insights and understand the “why” shouldn’t require marketing go back to the data analyst because by the time they have an answer, it will be too late to respond. With a flexible platform and intuitive dashboard they can get the insights they need. After all, an insight is only useful if it’s adaptable, easily understood, and actionable.