skip to main content

Scaling Marketing’s Big Rocks: Silo Can You Go?

Jed MoleSeptember 22, 2014

This title works on a number of levels. If you read it while rhyming with the Ludacris song ‘how low can you go’ then the question implied is ‘just how siloed have we or can we become? However, if it’s more like a request, asking silos, ‘can you go’ then it speaks to the quest we all seem to agree to, have done for well over a decade and have failed spectacularly to achieve! In today’s edition of scaling marketing’s big rocks, let’s tackle silos.

Twenty years ago, long before the mass adoption of email marketing, let alone mobile and digital, we had the exciting world of direct mail! And, at the time, while advertisers didn’t quite see it that way, marketing leaders were pretty excited by the results. It turned out that being able to get your message to someone on a one-to-one basis, someone you actually knew something about and could usually tell if they went on to buy your offer, was a big deal! It generated a great ROI. To be fair, it’s exactly the same strategy today, just played out across all devices, media and channels, the ‘holy grail’ has moved from direct mail to omni-channel; or whatever term you like to use as it seems most are loved or loathed to equal degrees.

Back to direct mail and the reality that any DM programme of any sophistication relied not merely on flat files (akin to spreadsheets) but significant, usually relational databases. The databases initially sat alone, being fed by the database marketing manager with an increasingly varied diet of data from the companies’ own systems (first party data) and from data vendors or publically available data (third party data). This was all well and good until advances in technology across the whole business, coupled with the growth in channels such as call centres and customer services, meant that data about the customer was being created in many more places.

A key driver to multiple, siloed databases has been real-time demands. Contact centres and today’s digital advertiser want simple real-time or near real-time guidance such as ‘what’s the next best action/ offer,’ rather than being presented with all of the data. At the other extreme, analysts don’t want a dynamic dataset, they need a static set they can look at and explore. And so were born real-time databases and analytic datamarts, adding to the list of places ‘the customer’ insight resided.

Of course, few marketers or IT leaders were able to sit back and take their time as the digital age thrust us into a new data-driven world. As email became mainstream, followed by mobile and now social, new departments were set up, often selecting their own ‘best in class’ software and tools that were rarely integrated within the marketing IT ecosystem. Now, not only were there multiple instances of the customer, but they were also very disconnected.

A few years ago at a conference we sponsored some questions, live in the event to around 200 senior markers. The questions probed, “In how many separate places does your customer data reside?” or words to that effect. No one said ‘one’ and the average was 16, sixteen single customer views! The question now is; what to do?

It seems that we’ve been forever saying we need to eliminate silos but the rate at which we’re diverging and fragmenting, and all for good reasons, has persistently exceeded the rate of consolidation and unification. It seems we just can’t help but explore new ideas and capabilities and in doing so, we do it in increasingly ‘agile’ ways, leading to haphazard marketing IT ecosystems, more silos and a mess of broken data connections; that must be fixed to give the customer the brand experience eConsultancy’s 2014 Trends report says is the CMO’s number one priority going forward.

The view that we should physically integrate everything now seems as outdated as the era of direct mail dominance (although there’s definitely still a role for direct mail in the mix). Today, salvation from disconnected silos (leading to poor customer experiences and failing brands) comes in two forms: first, a proper data strategy and second, recognition.

A data strategy is essential to delivering success going forward. It’s not good enough to just have an IT strategy or a marketing strategy. People rely on technology and data every single day and increasingly so. Unless you have a strategy, dedicated to understanding where your customers and prospects are, dedicated to understanding where information is flowing (in the form of data) and how it can be flowed to you; then the chances are you will fail, perhaps not fast but you will be outsmarted and out-experienced by smarter brands.

However, how do you know what data is relevant and where it should flow and how it should come together to give the insights and triggers you need to deliver that great experience? More than ever, recognition is mission critical. On every device, across every touch-point, media and channel, the ability to move from anonymous, through cookies and personas to known, is where the battle will be fought. You can have all the great branding, technology, software and data but make no mistake; the key to it all is customer recognition; recognition is the fundamental enabler to data connectivity.  You must be able to recognise people so you can understand them and engage them in the ways we all increasingly demand to be.