Many of today’s businesses find themselves overwhelmed by data. 

They are dealing with multiple data sets which are often collected separately, run in silos, and with huge levels of duplication. 

This data is mined on an ad-hoc basis by communications teams operating under antiquated marketing strategies, leading to loss of patience from consumers, as well as a lack of growth and differentiation in the business. 

Marketers are struggling to find the signal among the noise.

Resolving this mess requires a significant shift in both data and marketing strategy.

Unlocking the right data and making it available across your organisation gives you the opportunity to engage with your customers in a more meaningful way than ever before. 

It allows websites to move away from a one-size fits all, homepage-led website, to an individually tailored experience that responds directly to an individual’s specific circumstances, regardless of their point of entry.

The shift to data driven experiences is easier to make than you might think. 

The technological changes required are time consuming, but relatively straight forward. Surprisingly, the greatest challenge is not in new technology, but in the shift of mindset and business processes required to make the most of the data on hand.

Think people, not users

It’s not enough to think of customers any more, you must understand your customers as individuals.

But individual identity is a complicated, ever-evolving thing. 

Identities are personal, social, public and private all at once. They frequently resist definition, and although they seem knowable at first glance, they break apart with further inspection.

Getting to know someone well takes time and effort. Whenever a first meeting takes place, a lot of questions are asked to understand who this new person is and how best to relate to them. 

Social context provides many cues for us, but it is only as a relationship deepens and shared experiences are created that the nuance of individual personalities reveal themselves to us.

In our personal lives, our identities coalesce around our names. We might know something about who John is, but if we work with him, do we really know who he is when he’s at home, at a bar with his friends, or what’s really going on in his mind?

The digital world gives us a new way in which we can play with, explore, and share our identities. 

The main way we do this is by way of our active digital identities. These are distinguished from passive digital identities in that we control what we put out there. 

We actively display our digital identity to the world in a variety of ways:

  • Our profile and posts on social networks such as Facebook
  • Our tweets
  • Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn
  • Blogs
  • The photos we choose to share on photo-sharing sites such as Instagram
  • Selfies
  • The fantasy identities we take up in gaming and virtual realities

However, we are also passive bystanders, producing a conglomeration of information about ourselves, discoverable through search engines. This acts to create a passive online identity.

Examples of passive online identities include:

  • The results that arise alongside our names in Google searches
  • Photographs and comments that others post about us on social networks
  • Information about us (accurate or not) that is collected and compiled by online aggregators
  • Information about us that is placed online without our knowledge or consent
  • Personal information outside our control that appears online in a variety of ways 

Active interrogation and passive observation

It is critical that a relationship offers the right level of intimacy for the known identity of the individual. Knowing too little will result in wasted effort and misguided messages, knowing too much risks alienation.

In many respects, the level of individual understanding which is achievable through data is directly analogous to the information perceived when a customer walks into a store. 

The shopkeeper profiles the individual. They may know them from previous visits, sees who they spend time with and may even count them as a friend.

Now imagine that the same shopkeeper followed you out of their store and down the street. And that they then stood outside of your house with a pair of binoculars, looking in through your windows, or went door to door asking your friends and neighbours about your interests, likes and dislikes.

You’d find that more than a little creepy. In fact you’d probably call the police.

The difference here is between active interrogation and passive observation. Observing how an individual engages with your product and acting accordingly is very different to actively mining their complete data set. 

A permissive, transparent approach is needed, where by you take steps towards a more complete understanding of the individual, only on the back of deeper user engagement.

Once you have established the right approach to data collection and use, you will need to ensure real time availability. 

This means real time data processing and an approach to infrastructure that places both content and user data on an equal footing at the heart of your business.

If you can do this, you’ll be in a position to deliver on the promise of data driven experiences. 

Further reading…

For more insight on how to use data, download our report The Promise of First-Party Data examines the opportunities in the proprietary data that marketers already have (or should have).