When it comes to data, comparing apples and oranges is no good. An effective, customer-centric marketing strategy – not to mention critical decision-making functions – hinges on consistent, statistically comparable data.

Heterogeneous data or data dispersed among several silos makes it far harder and more expensive to understand, acquire and retain your customers. No matter how advanced your business intelligence software or analytics systems, you will not see valid results if they’re running on inaccurate or outdated data. Conversely, clear, consistent, well-organised inputs will enable the construction of a fact-based marketing strategy. In short, data standardisation is critical.

How do you standardise customer data?

Data standardisation is the process of putting collected data from multiple sources into a common, usable format.

Standardisation is the second step in the data supply chain, following collection. Once the data is standardised, it can be transformed or enriched, integrated, and then activated to yield useful, actionable insights. Standardisation can be challenging, as data often enters the business from a variety of sources and systems, each using its own format and many relying on their own repositories. Fortunately, you can convert even the most complex data sets into a consistent format by categorising them into predetermined fields. The result of data standardisation is a unified repository allowing for easy, fast and cost-efficient analysis and trend discovery.

To design a data standardisation system, the business must begin by accounting for and understanding all of its data sources and requirements. This step should include a diverse range of stakeholders; anyone involved in working with data in any part of the business should have the opportunity to voice their needs. The next step is to apply data standards and common pre-established rules to data coming from external sources. This may be as simple as renaming variables, but in some cases such as open-ended forms, it may require a more creative approach. Finally, the business must apply similar rules and filters to organise the data it has already collected to create a continuous record.

Overcoming data fragmentation

One of the most significant challenges to data standardisation is data fragmentation. This term describes the problem of data being scattered among several silos, making it time-consuming and expensive to access and process. This leads to incomplete pictures of your customers, which in turn, results in ineffective marketing campaigns and reduced sales.

Data fragmentation is often the result of an over-collecting of unnecessary data. Particularly now that GDPR is in full swing, brands should only collect the data they need. ‘Dark data’ – data stored on different systems or offline – that can’t be collected is essentially worthless, because it can’t be connected with other data to create a clear picture. Generating value from data begins with tidying and unifying it.

Taking on data fragmentation means controlling inputs and organising data as soon as it comes in. This prevents it from getting stuck in a silo and ensures that the entire company has the most up to date information. This process would be a near-impossible undertaking for a person, but automated tools make it straightforward. Tealium’s Universal Data Hub, for instance, contains tools such as EventStream to collect, control and deliver server-side event data as it happens. Once this data is collected, it will be sorted according to predetermined rules in the data layer. The data can then be easily shared through another Tealium tool, DataAccess, with stakeholders throughout the business to analyse and ultimately drive customer engagement.

The value of standardised data

Given the relatively small upfront costs and time required to develop a standardisation system and set up tools such as Tealium’s Universal Data Hub, it is unthinkable that companies continue to scrape data manually and attempt to homogenise it by hand. When this task is automated and valuable data is freed from siloes and made accessible through smart standardisation, it allows the business to reduce costs, increase customer acquisition and satisfaction, and improve competitiveness.

By Jason Lark, Managing Director at Celerity

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