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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Data, Data Everywhere, But Do You Know What to Do with It?

Learn how to connect data from multiple sources to provide the seamless customer interactions your business needs.

Disorganized data is one of the main barriers standing between today’s brands and success. When data is properly organized and accessible, companies can get ahead of their customer needs and drive them toward loyalty programs, which increase retention and customer lifetime value. Today’s brands, from retailers and restaurants to financial services and football teams, have more data than ever to work with, but they’re still failing to bridge the data gap between them and what their customers want. In fact, 77% of decision makers think they underutilize customer data.

For Further Reading:

Understanding Connected Data Is the Key to Understanding Your Customer

Wrangling Data into a Holistic View

Executive Q&A: Data, the Cloud, and the Insurance Industry

Let’s look at how to untangle the web of data you currently have so you can connect data from many sources together and provide the seamless customer interactions you’ve long chased.

Set Data Goals

The first step is to set goals with your data in order to prioritize your efforts. It is likely your enterprise faces many potential challenges and roadblocks to an ideal scenario, but setting goals and prioritizing them will help you get the highest return on your investment.

First, think realistically about what data-driven experiences and actions do you want to provide to your customers. Instead of far-fetched ideas of what may be possible in five years or more, start by thinking about what may be possible in the next two or three years with some effort, but not so much effort that the initiative itself may become bogged down.

Map out what an ideal experience would look like within these boundaries, such as the content, offers, and other elements of the customer experience. Then define the platforms, processes, and data that would be needed at each stage to deliver that experience.

Identify what data you need to serve your customers. Once you determine the types of content, offers, and experiences you want to provide to your customers, you can more easily assess the data needed to provide them. Using a customer journey map (where you step through a customer experience to better understand the actions, platforms, and data needed at each step) can help you provide an optimal experience.

Understand Your Current Data Situation

After you set goals, it’s time to understand the full picture of your data access and connectivity, and where you may face hurdles.

Audit what data you can currently access. An audit will help you understand your current data situation including what is currently available and how to access it -- what platforms, APIs, or other methods you have at your disposal. You may find that certain types of data require work above and beyond what a reasonable amount of effort would accomplish, such as additional data security approvals or integration with APIs. In these cases, prioritize the data that will make the biggest impact and defer more complex integrations or requests until a phase two.

Identify your data gaps. Once you understand what you can currently access, it is time to identify and create a plan to fill in the gaps. Because you’ve already set your goals, you can prioritize which gaps are most critical, but having a full audit and understanding will help you and the teams involved understand the big picture. Although there are likely many more questions you will want to ask about your data, these are a good start to understanding your current data situation.

Create an Iterative Plan to Achieve Your Data Goals

As a strong proponent of agile principles, I highly recommend taking an iterative approach to achieving your data goals. Although this can take many forms, here are a few ways to think about getting started.

What tools can help you bridge the gaps and get a complete customer view? At this point you know what data you have and what data you need. Now it is a matter of determining if you have the right platforms and connections to enable the desired customer experience.

If you currently do not have a customer data platform (CDP) in place, it is time to seriously consider integrating one to maximize your ability to create unified customer profiles using the data you have on your internal systems as well as the data you can collect from customer interactions on such platforms as your marketing website, social media, advertising, and other channels. You might also need to look into a consent management platform (CMP) to ensure you are gaining the proper agreements from your customers about how you can use their data. 

Even if all of the above is in place to some degree, you may need to ensure that your CDP is truly connected to all potential data sources or only a subset. Determine what will bridge the biggest gaps here to give you a fuller view of the customer.

What phased approach will help you iteratively move towards your goal? Trying to solve everything all at once doesn’t work. If you create a scope of effort that is too large, your initiative runs the risk of taking too long, being too expensive, or not even getting approved in the first place.

Instead, prioritize your efforts to get some quick wins to prove the return on an investment in your data. Create a phased plan that can deliver continuous value to the business rather than some large project that will take months before the first signs of payoff.

Final Thoughts

If your organization is like most, your biggest data challenges are not whether you have enough data but understanding what data you can access, what systems are connected with one another, and what stands in the way of achieving a complete view of your customer in order to provide them the best possible experience.

Solving these data challenges, although never simple, can have great rewards for the customer and your business. Once you have done the work described here, you can create the types of personalized, data-driven customer experiences that connecting all of your data sources allows.

About the Author

Greg Kihlström is a best-selling author, speaker, entrepreneur, and currently an advisor and consultant to top companies on marketing technology, customer experience, and digital transformation initiatives as principal and chief strategist at GK5A. He is also the host of The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast. Kihlström has worked with some of the world’s top brands, including Adidas, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, HP, Marriott, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota, and VMware. House of the Customer is his 11th book. More information is available at

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