Data Held Hostage

  |  June 26, 2008   |  Comments

A bias against outsourcing, combined with overburdened IT staff, needlessly hinders effecting e-mail communications strategies.

What's incredible about "Crash," this year's winner of the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture is its basic premise: the connection between the biases, motives, and actions taken by the ensemble group of actors living their daily lives. It's not only the intersection of these connections that makes the movie memorable and disturbing; it's the reality that there's a little bit of each of us in a character or two.

Each action taken, each opinion and bias, no matter how small, can potentially result in dire consequences.

I've made my way around the marketing and business operations of many companies for several years. I work with both staff and management who share a common goal. These folks understand the mandate they've received from corporate finance and sales departments regarding the importance of increasing sales and profits in a highly competitive marketplace. Recent years' economic tightness only reinforces the edict that the strategies deployed to accomplish these goals must leverage smaller marketing budgets than ever before. Though on the surface this may appear to be challenging, the significant shifts in consumer behavior, customer communications, and channels play right into the sweet spot for these marketing plans.

Never before has there been a more important time for organizations of all sizes to understand the power inherent in customer databases and e-mail communications. There's renewed passion in marketing departments to better understand each customer touch point and the opportunity to capture behavioral and transactional data. Data must be used as the backbone for constructing a more contextually relevant, meaningful, and cost-efficient dialogue between marketer and customer. Access to and manipulation of this data to retain and grow existing customer relationships, attract new customers, and win back lost or inactive customers are essential to a profitable future for any company.

On the road to making this vision a reality, however, there have been a series of fender benders. Accessing data now requires several weeks' notice to the internal IT organization. In many cases, the response is, "We'll get to it when we have time." Technology projects that would streamline internal integration between CRM (define) and marketing systems to enable deployment of truly relevant e-mail messaging between marketer and customer rank very low on a very long list of IT priorities. Frustration mounts as business owners, faced with meeting challenging goals and clearly understanding what's required to get the job done, are held hostage by internal teams working on some other priority.

We all understand the demands on these teams within large companies and their need to prioritize tasks. But the bias prevalent in any discussion focusing on the need to outsource the work required to facilitate the completion of a business requirement is beyond comprehension. IT leadership seems to be saying to the internal organization, "We don't have the time to build the infrastructure required to support your marketing communication needs according to your time frame. But we won't agree to outsource this project to a third party, either."

Leveraging data in a customer database and creating more effective e-mail communications are inextricably connected. We're well past the time when e-mail campaign management was simply a process of creating some cool piece of HTML and blasting it out to millions of consumers, then waiting by the Web site to tally up the dollars. Every data point, every customer or prospect action or inaction, provides essential insight into the customer profile, not to mention the potential of using this insight to build deeper, more efficient relationships.

Interested parties within marketing organizations must conduct due diligence and gain greater comfort about outsourcing the task of connecting data with e-mail technology, support, and execution. Security and infrastructure audits are the metrics of the day. Issues such as privacy and security must always be considered when outsourcing any part of a data or e-mail communications strategy. In recent years, though, such concerns have been overstated. They've served to stop organizations from moving ahead. As a business owner, you can't afford the biases, fears, blind spots, and stubbornness getting in the way of executing best-of-breed e-mail communication strategies.

You want a revolution? IT organizations take their cues from the corporate hierarchy. Start there. Make sure the folks on the executive committee understand your pain and frustration regarding the lack of focus and traction on e-mail communication programs you believe are essential to long-term success. If a dinosaur mentality in your company has missed the seismic shift to online communications, write to me, and I'll send you volumes of research to help convince even the most skeptical. Be aggressive. Be noisy. Grab attention. Drive the point home in whatever way you can.

Without bold moves within your organization, the next sound to be heard within your company will be the crash of your profit-and-loss statement hitting the wall.

Until next time,

Al D.

Al is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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Al DiGuido

Long recognized as one of the direct response industry's premier innovators and a pioneer in e-mail communications, Al DiGuido brings over 20 years of marketing, sales, management, and operations expertise to his role as CEO of full-service digital marketing company Zeta Interactive. Formerly Epsilon Interactive's CEO, DiGuido also served as CEO of Bigfoot Interactive, CEO of Expression Engines, EVP at Ziff Davis, and publisher of Computer Shopper, where he launched, a groundbreaking direct-to-consumer e-commerce engine. Prior to Ziff Davis, he was VP/advertising director for Sports Inc. DiGuido also serves on the Direct Marketing Association's Ethics Policy Committee.

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