Two Strategic Rules of Thumb

Over the past several years, I have been able to discuss with numerous companies their strategies for online marketing and commerce initiatives. Invariably, the conversation turns to the collection, management, and use of information, one of my favorite topics to discuss because data underlies all things companies aim to accomplish.

Recently, I was in this situation once again. But two things were different. First, for a long time at one point, the room was filled with consultants — an ad agency, a CRM, a web developer, a systems integration, and a few others — but nobody from the company itself. When we all noticed, we thought it strange but continued with the meeting because we felt we were making great progress.

Second, the diversity of disciplines in the room was mind boggling. Finance, operations, product, technology, marketing, and design were all represented — quite a team. As we discussed how to use the mountains of data they were collecting, it became clear that the online marketing tactics we were considering had significant operational implications. In essence, how they marketed the organization relied on their ability to perform. They very much needed to walk the walk.

Sending the right message to the right customer with the right pricing under the right circumstances through the right channel, and potentially in real time, requires the cooperation of many departments and depends on the integration of myriad disciplines. Add in the analysis and optimization of marketing efforts, and the challenge continues to grow.

I came away from this experience with two conclusions.

Responsibility for planning a data collection strategy shouldn’t be handed off to consultants. Bringing in a consultant or two to alleviate workload or contribute specific competencies an organization may not have is certainly a wise decision in certain cases. However, a room full of consultants is not the answer. Relying on consultants to map out such a fundamental part of your business is not wise.

Data is central to the entire efforts of the organization and heavily influenced by marketing. Those driving should be empowered to operate across the company and held accountable to each functional group that produces and depends on data.

(In all fairness to the organization alluded to, it was an unexpectedly busy day, and its team members were repeatedly called away.)

Marketing, particularly online marketing, requires an extraordinary degree of integration across the enterprise. This brings with it good and bad news. The good news is that marketers are in a great position in their companies to drive product development and champion internal cross-functional initiatives. The bad news is very much the same. Integration requires a lot of education and bridge-building activities that are not at the top of everyone’s list, given the frantic pace of business.

If we are really seeking to take advantage of what the Internet offers — an effective, targeted, and dynamic marketing tool — we need the entire organization’s input, assistance, and buy-in. We rely more than ever on the entire organization to execute on the strategies we develop. As dynamic pricing models, integrated supply chains, and trading hubs begin to propagate, this will grow increasingly more acute.

How Have You Done?

I have, in only three short months, discussed data management no less than twice. And this will not be the last time I write about it in some form or another, either. Data is the tie that binds e-business, and everything we do comes back to collecting, managing, and using it effectively.

This has been a significant obstacle for a lot of companies. I would be very interested in hearing the challenges and successes you and your organization have faced in tackling data and its use in marketing efforts. And with your permission, I’d like to share them here.

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