It seems that many marketers still struggle to build a rich picture of their customers. 

They could do worse than study the works of Georges Seurat, the famous French impressionist painter of the 19th century, whose techniques have interesting lessons for today’s 21st century marketers. 

But first, consider the following:

  • Only 6% of marketers have excellent knowledge of their customers and 50% say they have only fair, limited or no knowledge of their customers.
  • Over 31% of those surveyed said that no data mining was being conducted at all, and 63% were only doing moderate levels of data mining for customer intelligence and insight.
  • Key initiatives to increase customer retention included improving customer communications (65.2%), addressing complaints, problems and pain points (51.8%), and enhancing the customer experience (54.8%). Sadly, fewer marketers cited their companies’ willingness to modify business practices and policies to accommodate customer needs.

These are the worrying findings from research conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer Council in the US. The report also points out that only 15% of CMOs surveyed say their companies effectively integrate customer data. 

Despite the massive investments in CRM systems and customer focus programmes, few organisations have either the means or the will to put the customer at the heart of their business. 

One to one marketing is only truly effective if a company can pull together the disparate threads of information scattered about the organisation. 

Purchase histories, campaign responses, satisfaction feedback and market research have to be integrated with demographic and psychographic data into a rich picture. 

Insight is the ability to spot patterns sooner than others but pattern spotting becomes easier the more data points you have and here is where Seurat comes in. 

He developed a technique called pointillism - his paintings were drawn by making thousands of tiny dots on the canvas with a small paintbrush. 

From afar, the image is rich and clear but close up it looks like a jumble of coloured dots. Organisations have access to many data but fail to build a picture from it. Siloed data is the result of siloed organisations and thinking. 

Mastering customer data integration, already a challenge, will be exacerbated by the development of the semantic web. If Web 2.0 is about relationships and interactions, the semantic web is all about context. 

In the semantic world, one to one marketing is not enough, you have to know about, understand and communicate not to an individual but to an individual in a specific context, and that challenge is an order of magnitude greater. 

Just think how many different contexts you operate in each day: employee, sports person, customer, parent and on and on and on. Seurat’s dots are about to get a whole smaller and massively more numerous. 

My advice is get to grips with customer data now and get a head start.

David Jackson is the Managing Director of


. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those held by the publisher.