Data is the key to Marketing Automation


One topic every company is currently discussing on high level is the topic of marketing automation. It is a key factor to digitalisation of the marketing approach of a company. With Marketing Automation, we have the chance that marketing gets much more precise and to the point. No more unnecessary marketing spent, every cent spent wise – and no advertisement overloading. So far, this is the promise from vendors if we would all live in a perfect world. But what does it take to live in this perfect marketing world? DATA.

One disclaimer upfront: I am not a marketing expert. I try to enable marketing to achieve these goals by the utilisation of our data – next to other tasks. Data is the weak point in Marketing Automation. If you have bad data, you will end up having bad Marketing Automation. Data is the engine or the oil for Marketing Automation. But why is it so crucial to get the data right for it?

As of now, Data was never seen as a strategic asset within companies. It was rather treated like something that you have to store somewhere. So it ended up being stored in silos within different departments. Making it access hard and connections difficult. Also, governance was and is still neglected. When data scientists start to work with data, they often fight governance issues – what is inside the data, why is data structured in a specific way and what should the data tell us? This process often takes weeks to overcome and is expensive. Some industries (e.g. banks) are more mature, but are also struggling with this. In the last years, a lot of companies built data warehouses to consolidate their view on the data. Data warehouses are heavily outdated and overly expensive nowadays and still most till now most dwh’s are poorly structured. In the last years, companies started to shift data to datalakes (initially Hadoop) to get a 360° view. Economically, this makes perfect sense, but also there a holistic customer model is a challenge. It takes quite some time and resources to build this. The newest hype in marketing are now Customer Data Platforms (CDPs). So far, it’s value isn’t proved yet. But most of them are an abstraction layer to make data handling for marketeers easier. However, integrating the data to the CDPs is challenging itself and there is a high risk of another data silo.

In order to enable Marketing Automation with data, the following steps are necessary:

  • Get your data house in order. Build your data assets on open standards to change technology and vendor if necessary. Don’t lock in your data to one vendor
  • Do the first steps in small chunks, closely aligned with Marketing – in an agile way. Customer journeys are often dedicated to specific data sources and thus a full-blown model isn’t necessary. However, make sure that the model stays extensible and the big picture is always available. A recommendation is to use a NoSQL store such as Document stores for the model.
  • Keep the data processing on the datalake, the abstraction layer (I call it Customer 360) interacts with the datalake and uses tools out of it
  • Governance needs to be done in the first steps – as it is far too difficult to do it at a later stage. Establish a data catalog for easy retrieval, search and data quality metrics/scoring.
  • Establish a central identity management and household management. It is necessary to have a “golden record” of a customer and all necessary entities are linked to the customer

With Marketing Automation, we basically differentiate 2 different types of data (so, a Lambda Architecture is my recommendation for it):

  • Batch data. This kind of data doesn’t change frequently – such as Customer Details. This data also contains data about models that run on larger datasets and thus require time-series data. Typically, analytical models run on that data are promoted as KPIs or fields to the C360 model
  • Event data. Data that needs to feed into Marketing Automation platforms fast. This could be a product a customer bought. If this has happened, unnecessary ads should be removed (otherwise, you would loose money)

This is just a high-level view on that, but handling data right for marketing is getting more and more important. And, you need to get your own data in order – you can’t outsource this task.

Let me know what challenges you had with this so far, as always – looking forward to discuss this with you 🙂

I lead a team of Senior Experts in Data & Data Science as Head of Data & Analytics and AI at A1 Telekom Austria Group. I also teach this topic at various universities and frequently speak at various Conferences. In 2010 I wrote a book about Cloud Computing, which is often used at German & Austrian Universities. In my home country (Austria) I am part of several organisations on Big Data & Data Science.

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