Work through these steps to ensure you have the data volume you need without sacrificing accuracy.

An unsolicited magazine arrived at our house the other day. It wasn’t the direct-mail version of spam – it was about home building and design, and we’re doing both. And then my wife noticed the mailing label.

The magazine was addressed to “Ryan Winter.”

Now, that’s half right because I am Ryan. But “Winter” was my wife’s name under her former husband. So “Ryan Winter” doesn’t exist at our house. Imagine the cringe-inducing laughs around the dinner table that night!

So, being the professional I am, I promptly thought, “Gosh! Someone householded the data wrong!”

That got me thinking. How prevalent is that in today’s data-driven world? Anecdotally, more often than we might think. In talking to a friend of mine about this, she said something similar happens to her regularly. Whoa!

We need to get our data in order — now

Not long after “Ryan Winter” showed up, I got four mailers. Two were duplicates. Apparently nobody deduped the mailing lists before sending. What a waste of money!

I’ve been talking for a year and a half about marketing agility and outdated data models. But now that we are beginning to resume our regular marketing operations, we need to talk about how much our success will depend on our data.

In the United States, we enjoy the flexibility and availability of third-party data to supplement our own customer data. Without permission. As we start to operate in normal marketing (whatever that normal is), we need to think about what to do with our data from a marketing perspective.

That’s because we need certainty in marketing. That’s what makes us run — being able to predict consumer behavior, to meet consumer demand, and to plan for consumer needs. Data helps us do that every day. Whether it comes from a SAAS platform, a data sciences project or some other operation, data is the golden key that unlocks the door to consumers.

So, as we start closing in on our holiday marketing plans (yes, I said it), let’s talk about three ways you can use data to grow revenue and stay agile in this new normal.

1. House more data in your ESP so you can test faster and tie customer behavior and email activity together

As I write this, I’m preparing an RFP for a large company. Like so many others, it runs list-based campaigns. Whenever the marketing team creates a campaign, they have to query their master database, pull a list of names and email addresses, load it up and then send to it the ESP. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam.

This is highly ineffective because they have to wait for the data group to pull the data, process it and post it. It also creates a bottleneck — they have to wait for the data, and they can’t directly query the data on their own, making it hard to execute marketing automation.

To fix this problem, break the habit of list-based campaigns and maintain a list of often-used and relevant data in your ESP that you can query against on your own, without waiting for your data group to get back to you. It sounds like Captain Obvious wrote this, but you would be amazed how many times I have given this advice over the years.

APIs have become more sophisticated in the last three years. Integrations between the ESP and the tech stack are more common and easier to implement now. Email marketers can log in to their ESPs, run queries and build lists on their own to send test campaigns quickly.

That innovation and inspiration can vanish if they have to wait for the count to come back or the data to show up.

Look to your data team to replicate and sync data regularly in your ESP. Pick fields and data pieces that are valuable in your program strategy. If you’re not sure how to use the data query tools in your ESP, get some training. After all, your company is paying for them. This helps you become more agile.

Here’s another reason to add extra data to your ESP: If you have greater data on your customers from your CRM, you can pair that data easily with your email response data.

Many CRM systems don’t have the granular data showing what an individual subscriber clicked on or which emails they opened. With that extra data in your ESP, you can overlay email behavior on consumer profile data. That can help you build more workable segments and campaigns.

2. Whatever you thought you knew in 2019 has changed. Find out what’s different

Consumers are different now. Shopping habits are different. Your models need to be updated and refreshed more often. I talked about this in previous columns, and I’ll probably talk about it again before the end of the year.

Your email data might be less accurate now. If you email to work addresses, many of those people might no longer work there. Of all the projects people did last year, consumers might finally have updated their personal addresses. When was the last time you looked at your bounce, unsubscribe and click rates to look for changes?

Do you need to run quality checks on your lists? Reach out to companies like FreshAddress, Webbula and Validity to talk about email validation. If you see unwelcome trends in deliverability or engagement, spot-check your lists.

The constant theme in 2021 and on into 2022 is that nothing is normal or the same. You have to take what you used to do and augment it.

3. Data: If you don’t have it, get it. If you have it, get more

If you have already made data more accessible and segmented the changes in your audiences, it’s time to update and add new data to your database. Have you audited your data to make sure you aren’t emailing “Ryan Winter?”

Check your personalization. People assume that using “fname” and “lname” will populate the right data, but are you sure? Audit the number of records that use your personalization. This can commonly be done in the ESP with campaign testing, but spot checks are a great way.

I encourage audits, and now is the best time to do both data and program audits. June through August are usually slow months — even this year when we’re just beginning to see how things have changed. Take this time to reflect on what you’re doing with your data and how to use it. Just using the first name in a subject line gives you a temporary bump but not long-lasting change.

Go shopping for data now. Ask your CRM or data group about the data they have that you’re not using now. See what you can use to personalize your email in ways your customers would expect. What about segmentation? Create a data plan for using the data you have now and the upgrades.

Also, ask what data is available that you don’t have yet. Can you make a case for acquiring it?

This will be like going on a shopping spree — seeing what information you can pick off the data shelves. Now is the time to do it before holiday 2021 descends and your data requests get lower priority.

Smart marketers plan now for the holiday season (yes, I said it again). Putting these things in play now will pay off in the holiday season because you will have speedy access to the data you need.

The data you should look for. Fifteen years ago, when I was running a Fortune 10 retail company’s email program, I would go to the data geeks in June and update the database and integrations and processes between the master data file and my ESP.

I knew from the previous holiday what I was missing and what I needed. I used this time to refresh my memory and find out what new data we had acquired from third parties and what additional data I had in my records.

Wrapping up

Sometimes you can have too much data. But if you remain list-based in running your campaigns instead of data-driven, think about how much time, effort and energy you put into your program and how ineffective it is to wait on another resource to get you the data you need.

There’s no excuse today for an email marketer not to have replicate data in the ESP. If your ESP can’t handle that, find another. There’s also no excuse for “Ryan Winter” to show up in my inbox.

Before all my ESP friends start screaming at me, let me remind you that your ESP is not a CRM system. There are limits to how much data you can store with your ESP. Partner with your ESP to discover those limits and work within them.

As we become more agile in responding to conditions that are different around the country and from one country to another, one of the easiest things you can do is have up-to-date and relevant data at your fingertips.

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