According to research, 80% of all the data a company possesses is dark data – i.e. the unstructured and unanalysed data gathered from multiple operations and channels, including the social web, customer service, raw surveys, and more.

This finding comes from Econsultancy’s Marketing in the Dark report in association with IBM, which is based on an extensive survey of more than 1,000 marketers.

So, how are organisations navigating this murky world? Here are some key charts taken from the report, with insight into what they might tell us.

A strategic approach to data

In order to gain a competitive edge, it is important for organisations to undertake a strategic approach to data. One way to initiate this is to appoint a CDO (chief digital officer) to join up multiple data sources and implement a culture of data-fuelled decision making.

As it stands, it appears that the majority of mainstream companies are still in the early stages of developing a data strategy. Just 6% say they have a ‘well developed, comprehensive strategy in place’, with 16% saying they have only just implemented a strategy.

For leading companies, the news is only slightly more promising. 10% say they currently have a comprehensive strategy, while 9% have a comprehensive strategy that is frequently reviewed.

Taking action on customer insights

When it comes to the ability to act on insights derived from data, research suggests that organisations are improving. 

While 46% of companies said they were ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ in this area in 2016, this figure rose to 60% in 2017.

In terms of the differences between mainstream and leading organisations, the latter are far more confident in their ability to harness customer data – almost three times as much in fact. This is good news for organisations intent on delivering personalised and targeted communication, as data can be used to better understand or predict customer needs and behaviour.

Complexity remains a challenge

When asked about the biggest barriers to building a joined-up view of the customer journey, the overriding response (from nearly half of respondents) was the number of different touchpoints involved. 

Alongside this, unifying data sources and poorly integrated marketing technology were also cited as big issues, as organisations are clearly struggling to get to grips with today’s fragmented data-sets. 

Interestingly, dark social was only cited as a top-three barrier by 4% of companies, though insight suggests it might become a more pressing matter in the near future.

Managing different data-sources

In terms of the types of data most-used by organisations, first-party sources including Google Analytics and email data remain at the top.

Interestingly, with a steeper drop in the usage of offline data by mainstream companies, we can determine that the ability (or rather inability) to integrate this into analysis is holding these organisations back.

Similarly, with leaders more likely to be utilising the full range of third-party data sources – including demographic or behavioural data and social data – it is clear that the chances of success increase with the variety of data being used.

Personalisation vs data privacy

Finally, how are organisations balancing the need to protect customer’s privacy while delivering personalisation? Seemingly a contradiction-in-terms – it’s unsurprisingly hard to get the balance right.

Due to the impending GDPR deadline, it appears privacy is front of mind, with 80% of respondents ‘strongly’ agreeing that customer data must be protected and secured, and just 16% ‘somewhat’ agreeing.

The good news is that companies do not have to jeopardise their compliance with data legislation in order to provide a relevant experience. This is because implicit data – i.e. location-based information and type of device and browser – can still provide marketers with actionable insight.

Meanwhile, with the benefits of personalisation becoming clearer to consumers, it is up to brands to extract the most valuable data and deliver relevant results. 

Download Econsultancy’s Marketing in the Dark report in association with IBM.