The advertising industry is toiling to ensure a future in which consumer privacy is absolute, without compromising marketing. Forward-thinking marketers are betting on “future-proof” strategies fueled by first-party data to both acquire new customers and make the most of the ones they’ve got.
But an organization’s ability to master soon-to-be best practices—including contextual targeting, personalization at scale, unified customer experiences and creative automation—depends on its ability to build a strong foundation. And that requires data standards.
Data standards are an organization's unique data language—a blueprint for defining and managing common formats for data across all regions, teams, campaigns and use cases. Creating this language may not be particularly fun, fast or sexy, but doing so lays the foundation for the future-proof marketing concepts organizations are scrambling to implement. It is also the gateway to a world in which marketers are not beholden to the whims of walled gardens or betting on the revolving door of digital identity-solution alternatives, but rather maximizing the value of first-party assets.
Here’s what it takes to create and enforce a holistic approach to your company’s data.
Collaboration, strategy and a solid data dictionary
Marketing teams and external partners that create campaigns on behalf of the same organization often use conflicting taxonomies based on different data sources and metadata tags. When data structures and values are inconsistent, they lead to errors in marketing execution. On the flipside, organizing this data allows you to improve your marketing now, as well as in the future when ID/device-level tracking isn’t possible. For example, it can do this by improving measurement capabilities, aggregating first-party data to enable insights and optimization, and improving context relevancy.
In broad strokes, to create a data taxonomy you must:
- Identify internal and external stakeholders who own channels and information domains.
- Work together with stakeholders to determine which data points to include, define metadata and add hierarchy and relationships.
- Create a data dictionary, a document that defines a common data language across data sources.
- Create a standard approach to naming conventions within campaigns, content, product listings, digital coupons and more.
- Develop processes for updating data standards as needed and communicating changes to all teams.
These steps take time but pay off. Food and beverage company Mondelez reports global ROI has increased by 70% since it partnered with the data and digital media consultancy MightyHive in 2017 to standardize its data.
To achieve data standardization and to preserve it you need to educate the organization about why it matters. Ensure that every department, including the executive team, realizes that standards support future-proof marketing and enable teams to track and analyze every aspect of each campaign, including creative attributes, campaign configuration, media and campaign spend.
Communicate the tangible benefits that will improve employees’ day-to-day work, including:
- Removing roadblocks caused by confusing taxonomies and inconsistent metadata tags.
- Improving campaign measurement across devices, platforms and channels.
- Enabling teams to optimize automated marketing workflows and take more control of their jobs.
- Creating more effective data experience models.
- Achieving greater ROI
Brand marketers are responding to some of the most impactful changes in digital advertising’s history. Adopting a marketing data governance approach will be another significant undertaking. Careers were built on cookie targeting. Now companies need the processes and people for embracing privacy-safe targeting and measurement alternatives. But it is part and parcel of cultivating a culture of agility. If the marketing team needs to wait a week while data analysts scrub and analyze data, how will they make fast decisions and pivot on the fly?
Be sure to:
- Communicate that this is a cultural shift that affects every corner of the organization.
- Involve learning and development (L&D) to develop a plan for upskilling and reskilling.
- Consider processes—for example, regular audits—for ensuring every department and external partner is adhering to data standards.
When marketers think about the future, it is unlikely they are dreaming about dumping data into a data lake and dabbling in ETL (extra, transfer, load). They will probably paint a picture in which data flows cleanly throughout the organization. Identifiers? Who needs ’em. Instead, they will be making the most of first-party assets, whether they are acquiring new customers in what will likely be a walled garden-centric future, or retaining and nurturing their customer set. To realize this future, brands must create and adhere to global data standards, and they must start now.