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How to Harness the Benefits of “Big Data” When You Can’t Collect it all Yourself

wold horses

I’m a loyal American Express customer, and am continually amazed at how well AMEX aligns their offers to my own personal preferences, both in terms of products that I might want to buy, merchants that I might want to buy from, and channels that I like to communicate across.  They do a tremendous job of analyzing their customers’ transactions, building models that accurately assign offers to personas, and then execute across online and offline channels in a customer-centric way to drive increases in share-of-wallet and total spend.  The same can be said for Amazon and a few others.

When it comes to understanding the buying preferences for B2B or B2C customers and prospects, the more personalized the marketing and sales touch is, the higher the likelihood that the target will respond to the call to action.  AMEX and Amazon are fortunate in that they have tremendously rich data assets that they can leverage in the form of the transactions that their customers and merchants execute across their network and digital assets.  That said, even AMEX and Amazon have to go outside their four virtual walls to purchase 3rd party data to learn even more about their customers, as well as identify prospect businesses and consumers that don’t yet use their products and services.  Of course, very few companies have the same level of transactional (and in Amazon’s case, behavioral or pre-transactional) data at the individual buyer level as AMEX and Amazon.  And, many companies cringe at the idea of buying more data, as they have enough trouble managing the data they collect on their own.

While many organizations are staffed with marketing, sales and IT professionals who collect and analyze customer attributes (and there are exponentially more who are not-so-well-staffed-or-resourced), companies are so focused on collecting data across their many customer touch points that they forget that there are companies that specialize in collecting and selling customer-level information which can be leveraged to provide more insight about their own customers and prospects. Third-party data is available—and credible—for specific consumers and businesses, as well as anonymized digital behavior data.  By buying 3rd party data and integrating it into your customer database, you can quickly — and measurably—improve your ROI by reducing overall spend, while at the same time increasing conversion rates and yield.

Here are 4 tips for how companies can start leveraging 3rd party data quickly and easily:

  1. Start small—clean up your customers.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but put your shoulder into doing a simple hygiene exercise to de-dupe and standardize your information.  Vendors can help with this if you don’t have the skills and tools in-house, or just don’t have the bandwidth.
  2. Enrich what you’ve got—append data about your customers from vendors that can provide additional intelligence to inform your downstream segmentation, targeting, and ultimately attribution and ROMI.  You’d be amazed at what’s out there for purchase, be it for consumers, SMB, or Enterprise.  Be thoughtful about where you purchase your list, as there are vendors that have particular expertise in verticals, and segments.
  3. Don’t get too excited by what you see in the window—vendors typically offer tons of fields that could be available, but keep in mind that the completeness and credibility of the data may be questionable for more-difficult-to-determine data elements.
  4. Try before you buy—at least, before you buy an integrated solution or engage in a long-term commitment.  Coverage studies, sample record sets, and test campaigns are all easy ways to get to know the value that you may (or may not) be able to glean from a third-party data provider.

One day I will buy my own consumer record from a few vendors out there, although I’m a bit afraid to see what I don’t yet know about myself.  Until then, I’ll let AMEX and Amazon keep telling me what I haven’t figured out yet—they’re usually right, I just don’t know it yet.

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