To connect with your customers, you first need to know who they are and how to reach them. Your marketing success depends on data. Services that only collect data aren’t enough; to make sense of the huge volumes of data coming into your CRM or marketing automation system, you need database management protocols that keep quality high. An essential element of data quality is data integration, yet it’s one of the most overlooked aspects of data-driven marketing.
An Integrated Picture
To understand data integration, it’s useful to think of it as the language your software speaks. You’re fluent in at least one language – probably English, given that you’re reading this post in it – and possibly two or three more. If you’re a true polyglot, you might speak and understand half a dozen languages. Databases only speak one language, yet they’re bombarded with data that doesn’t fit. When faced with data they don’t recognize, they record the information as new even when it isn’t or discard it as nonsensical.
Data integration acts as a sort of dictionary, translating information from one system to another in ways your database can readily understand and place into its proper context. Let’s say your house list is generated from forms that allow users to type in their country name. Everyone who lives in the United States of America recognizes it by various names – U.S., US, U.S.A., USA, United States, America – but to a database that hasn’t been appropriately integrated, that looks like half a dozen different places. If a customer has “U.S.” attached to purchase records, “USA” attached to loyalty program information, and “United States” attached to newsletter subscriptions, that customer can’t get complete care. Your message to that customer will forever miss the mark.
Enter data integration.
Data Migration and Validation
To solve integration issues that can generate invalid data or make needed information disappear, upgrading to a single multi-purpose system is often the answer. This solution presents its own challenges, though, in the form of data migration, the transfer of information from one system to another. Your database management team has a golden opportunity to fix data integration problems during migration. Just as moving to a clean, new home lets you put everything in its place, migrating data to a new system makes it more accessible, functional, and useful.
The first challenge your database marketing manager faces is deciding which data needs to migrate. Not all records need to make the move. Records that haven’t been accessed for years may wind up being archived after manual sorting. To continue the moving analogy, these records are the equivalent of that chip-and-dip set you got as a wedding gift years ago and have never used: Sentimental, possibly valuable, but probably just taking up space.
The next step is finding a way to integrate data your database can’t use in its current format. Your database management team can create algorithms to spot variances, such as the variants in country names you read about earlier, and correct them. This process also involves verification against a database of known information. By using this yardstick to measure data on your house list to fit into your database, marketing companies ensure that your data is clean and accessible. Anomalous data that still doesn’t conform after these processes then gets checked manually.
Building a Better Database
Marketing successfully depends not only on clean data at the outset, but also on finding ways to handle incoming data logically. Updated forms that eliminate variable answers in the first place – for example, installing a pull-down menu for country codes on a form instead of a free text box – will keep data organized and ready to use as it comes into the system.
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