How to Turn Your Audience
Data into an Accessible Asset
Marketing automation — the
latest and greatest shiny object of technology — provides great appeal on the
surface, but publishers may find that the ROI falls short due to poor planning
and incomplete data. Without good data, automation technology may just make you
more effective at executing bad strategies.
By Brett Keirstead
promise of today’s great marketing automation — email and website
personalization technology — is predicated on the ability to start with a
complete, dynamic audience profile. Marketing automation provides great appeal
on the surface, but publishers and marketers must understand the effort
involved as well as the role data plays in making it truly effective. Without
good data, automation may just make you more effective at executing bad
strategies. Getting your data house in order is the precursor for
personalization and automation.
it comes to solutions for managing audience unification needs, publishers and
media companies are presented with a myriad of different choices. Traditional
point solutions such as email service providers, marketing automation tools,
content management systems, and legacy circulation fulfillment vendors all
portray the ability to create a unified marketing data platform that builds on
their traditional technologies. Emerging data management platforms have good
data processing capabilities, but often lack an understanding of the nuances of
how a publisher operates and structures its business.
very simple to state, the actual functional requirements, data processing
needs, and strategic support required for the unique needs of the publishing
industry are very hard to accomplish. Here are the five key points and related
questions to consider when evaluating an integrated data platform.
Combining disparate originating data
into a single profile.
Publishers have a unique and powerful set of originating data sources in
multiple systems and many different formats. Profile data has been collected
from both online and offline sources over numerous years with many different
attributes to the data. Today, those sources are even greater with the
emergence of online data, transactional data, social information, behavioral
information, and topical tracking. The complexity of the data is often
overwhelming, and combining information to a single source can be daunting.
Similarly, original source data often
falls short of being usable because it lacks the proper structure, hygiene, or
data elements. The first process of going from a disparate database environment
to a single unified audience database is paramount to making informed
When it comes to choosing a strategy in
your initial efforts to unify your data, consider the following:
the system create a dynamic, consensus record that reconciles all profile data,
across all sources into a single profile?
the platform process and normalize offline circulation data?
the platform conduct list hygiene on incoming files? Does it process
the system create and support a unified record that does not include an email
address? How about a single record that has multiple email addresses?
the inbound data processing functionality provide data transformations and
enhancements or is consumed, stored and presented in its original state?
the system have one individual with multiple statuses (prospect, reader,
exhibitor, advertiser, attendee) — all at the same time?
the development and management of a publisher’s audience data a core competency
or an add-on to a legacy solution?
segmentation, targeting, and list creation. Once the initial task of combining data into a useful,
relational, dynamic database has been completed, the next step is making it
available for automation and personalization. There is no efficiency gained or time
and costs reduced when every request for information from the database requires
IT resources or programming time. Similarly, publishers are running multiple
email campaigns, conducting numerous sales calls, planning new events, and
managing circulation and content distribution every day, leaving little time to
wait for the results from a database request.
So, the second critical aspect of any
audience data platform is the ability to render the data in a simple, easy-to-understand
user interface that can be accessed in real-time by multiple users across the
As you determine how you will make your new
data accessible to the organization, consider the following:
the system apply the necessary opt-out and suppression rules at all the
required levels (product, channel, account, type)?
the platform have the ability to create custom views of the data that restrict
access to a user based on specific brands or products?
there a simplified sales view for users who need limited access?
the web interface for the data segmentation tool allow for segmentation by all
demographic, behavioral, and contextual data on an individual?
the user interface present data originally captured from a circulation file,
email interaction, live event, and website in a single view?
the UI restrict individual users from downloading records?
there a graphical view that displays audience members geographically to aid
with event planning?
the interface create venn diagrams that visually depict data overlaps?
the system intuitive enough for end users that don’t understand SQL
the data to power your systems and processes. Many publishers have purchased numerous
technologies in an effort to bring greater effectiveness and efficiency to
their operations. This ranges from advanced email functionality, more robust
content management systems, and marketing automation tools. Individually, these
tools represent the opportunity to improve specific processes, but
collectively, they often disappoint due to their lack of integration.
Experience shows that when a publisher begins with the consolidation and
unification of data, then adds an easy-to-use segmentation and list creation
interface, this foundation provides the core information needed to make all
these advanced systems work.
The third important aspect of a
publisher’s data platform is the ability to use the information seamlessly
across all the critical systems within a publisher’s operations.
As you determine how you will make your
new data accessible to the organization, consider the following:
the application programming interfaces (APIs) allow for real-time website
personalization of content based on a current profile?
personalization instructions be sent to the ad server for custom ads?
the platform have open APIs that allow it to consume and distribute data to and
from sources such as CRM, CMS, marketing automation, email marketing,
circulations systems, and event registration platforms?
there an automated process to send scheduled updates from the data platform to
the platform require you to use pre-selected and configured email, circulation,
and marketing automation, or is it an open API?
the data loop. Now that
you are using your data and tools in the most efficient and effective manner,
it is important to keep the data faucet flowing. It is not enough to have the
static, point-in-time data that is common among many legacy data platforms.
Today, audience members are always engaging in your content and leaving clues
about their interests that you can use for more effective initiatives. The
constant email opens, clicks, website visits, downloads, and registrations
generate valuable information that must make its way back to the unified
database. Reporting, trend analysis, behavioral monitoring, list targeting,
event planning, marketing automation, site personalization, and product
research are uses of real-time data facilitated through this automated loop.
The fourth key consideration of a
publisher’s data platform is its ability to receive data from various disparate
sources and unify and append that information to historical information to
create the most current profile possible.
As the amount of your audience
interactions rise exponentially and you need to capture more data, be sure to
consider the following:
the platform bring in topical data from email and websites and append to a
it have flexibility to capture and segment based on the URL, ad tags, and
are the cost considerations for linking up multiple websites for behavioral
tracking and topic capture?
the platform provide SMTP log files to assist in audit requirements for digital
strategies and support to drive real results. Often lost in any initiative is the difficulty in
achieving organizational change. Many companies fall into the fallacy trap that
by simply buying new technology they will achieve organizational change and the
desired financial results. Many shiny-object technologies are purchased, only
to underestimate the amount of work to set up and maintain the systems as well
as the typical resistance to organizational change. This often leads to tools
being underutilized and falling short of the predefined business goals.
Therefore, choose a partner with experience and a
commitment to understanding you and the publishing industry. The right partner
can help you manage the organizational and cultural change that results from a
switch in strategy from being product and ad centric to being data and services
Assess your partner’s commitment,
experience, and understanding of the publishing industry as well as to your
long-term success beyond the initial technology rollout.
Technology aside, when you think about
the desirable attributes of a partner, consider the following:
the partner provide strategic support for monetization of data? Onsite training
for end users and sales training?
the platform allow for direct data licensing for third parties and the ability
for advertiser to purchase contact information in a shopping cart style format?
the platform allow you to bring in third-party client data and host and manage it
on behalf of clients to create additional marketing services revenue?
the partner have a formal commitment to advancing the publishing community
through content briefs, webinars, and sponsorships? Do they have a publishing client
advisory board, user conference, and online learning center?
are looking for new technologies and partners to promote their growth.
Marketing automation and other technologies are great, but they are falling
short of potential ROI due to poor planning and incomplete data. The
unification of a publisher’s data is the core building block for long-term
success, and a publisher will best optimize their chance for success by
following these ideas.
vice president, sales, at Knowledge Marketing.