In my July 22 MENG Blog posting, I addressed the topic of understanding your customer by using a few demographic and behavioral points. Those data points provided a baseline of your customers.

For this post, I am going to take the topic to the next step which is how to understand the data. It seems obvious, right? We have data around us all the time, and we choose it, we use it, we share it.

But where does it come from? What is your data source? Is it modeled or appended? Was the customer the source in a face to face transaction or did the customer provide it through an online transaction? Or did the sales person add the data through a dynamic interface like Salesforce, or come back to the office after a two-week road trip and input data based on their recollection of the meetings? This will drive understanding of your customer, and it all begins when you ask the question: what’s in the data?

The top data vendors in the world collect, define, and provide data under the requirements of local privacy laws. If you are conducting cross-border analytics get your legal group involved early in the process. Legal will ask the questions that will enable them to be get a clear understanding of the process the vendor uses to collect the data, the expiration of the data, and if your company’s intended use meets the parameters of the local law. Good data providers are willing to share this information, and one meeting plus an exchange of documents will address the critical issues.

Each of the legal requirements adds complexity for data storage and IT will have to tag and track the data fields, potentially removing outdated data or working with the business function to collect refreshed data. Bring your IT management team into the project so they can understand how to architect the data.

The next step is to understand what goes into the data point and your data source. Take gender for example: maybe your sales force is among those who still capture titles. If your data comes from the consumer, not every consumer proactively provides a title unless it is a mandatory field in the profile. Maybe gender is collected at the point of sale, and you send regular reminders to sales that keep the data collection top of mind and they collect it on 85%+ of your customers. But gender is one of the fields that becomes “less important” when closing the sale and it may get skipped when sales and the customer want the transaction to be completed.

Some data vendors and organizations use a combination of title and first (given) name to determine gender when it is not provided directly. The combination generally works in-country but becomes more difficult as names are used for either or both genders (e.g. Dana, Sam, etc.), or when names are used differently in other countries.

If you get your gender data from an outside data source, ask specific questions—where did the gender filed originate? The vendor will be able to provide a reliability index to increase your organization’s comfort in using the data point.

Data can enhance your marketing efforts, but quality data, gathered thoughtfully and with an understanding of the source, will give your organization’s marketing a real benefit.

Happy Marketing!