In the data-driven marketing industry, it’s easy to drown in information and be blind to the people behind the numbers. Had Allen Ginsberg been a data analyst, “Howl” might have read “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by ‘analysis paralysis’” instead of madness. Marketers can forget that the data we collect tells the complete story of our customer’s journey.

Sometimes the customer’s road from browsing to purchasing is long. It can be difficult to assign proper value to customers and marketing channels when ROI takes an extended period to materialize. This is why understanding the entire journey is essential.

Consequences of an Inaccurate Customer Journey

When mobile marketing first became mainstream, I was tasked with understanding whether my company should experiment with it. The basic data suggested nobody made purchases on mobile and it wasn’t worth our time. Though performance numbers didn’t show it, customers did research on the go, and mobile marketing was a big part of their journey. Therefore, it became apparent that a mobile presence was vital. Our proposal to track customer journeys across devices seemed elusive, like a chupacabra: Plenty of people talked about it, but no one had seen it.

We decided to be present in the digital space regardless of the basic data, which was lucky because misjudging the customer’s journey can pose dire consequences.

First, you risk misallocating your marketing budget. Even though a huge percentage of online advertising is never seen, digital advertising is the most cost-effective and trackable way to reach customers. Focusing on last-click attribution doesn’t take into account all the ways customers interact with a brand. With it, money gets funneled to only the best-performing channels without leading to actual growth.

You also risk underestimating campaign impact on third-party distribution channels. When selling products through other sites, marketers can struggle to discern when a customer’s interaction with a digital campaign leads to a transaction because tracking capabilities break down. With mobile advertising spend projected to triple by 2018, it’s crucial to fully understand your customers’ journeys. To complete the entire supply and distribution chain, marketers should know not just how customers interacted with their site, but also whether they visited and purchased from a distributor’s site.

Ensure an Accurate Customer Journey

All this data is useless if it leads to an incorrect portrayal of the customer journey. Here are five methods to ensure you’re relying on the correct data.

1. Make sure it’s all-inclusive. Look at all online interactions, not just those with your own systems. Even your best customers spend most of their time elsewhere. If you focus solely on your own ecosystem, you’re not just missing the forest for the trees — you’re missing the entire planet.

2. Tie it together. Your customers interact with you through various platforms, devices, and channels. The only way to understand where you reach them and how to increase those opportunities is to tie all these engagement points together. This isn’t easy, but it’s extremely valuable, and increasingly sophisticated technology can help figure it out.

3. Don’t duplicate individuals. Customers are multitaskers: They work on their laptops while simultaneously checking notifications on their phones. But marketers need to ensure that a person on multiple devices still appears as one customer in the data; otherwise, the journey looks fractured.

4. Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself with customer data; start with a segmented subset. Maybe it’s your most frequent customers or your site’s visitors who never buy anything. To get a better idea of how they behave, compare their behaviors not only to each other, but also to the general population.

5. Squeeze out bias. Bias is impossible to eliminate, but normalizing and indexing data over time will help ensure it’s as adjusted as possible to make the proper conclusions.

Marketers need to steer customers toward the right offers and services, and that requires a complete customer journey developed from accurate data. Without it, you could misuse time and money and miss out on key channels. Your data should answer three big questions: Who are my customers, where have they been, and where are they going next?

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