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Why Data Quality Is a Marketing Problem

Martin Doyle March 11th, 2014 Data Quality, Master Data Management
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What is the greatest asset the marketing department could wish for, apart from a generous budget?

It’s undoubtedly good quality data about the people it is marketing to.

In most businesses, the marketing department owns the data about existing customers, although the scope of the data may vary massively from business to business. While other assets are important to marketers, customer data is simply essential. Without this information, marketers are operating blind and cannot be expected to achieve their objectives.

In this article, we’ll look at data quality in relation to the marketing department: what it means to marketers, why marketing is changing and how marketers can rid themselves of decaying, useless databases that have seen better days.

In 2014 Marketing is Still Evolving

Technical marketing is a relatively new buzzphrase. It describes a new role in the marketing department, where technical skill (analytics, code, optimisation) is an essential string in the modern marketer’s bow. This is similar to web design, where the graphic designer must also now understand content, usability and code.

As employees, we are all being asked to cover more bases, broaden our horizons and use information in new ways. Data quality is one of the many concepts that technical marketers need to understand to do their job properly.

Poor Data Quality  Vs a Great Brand

In marketing, it helps to think of a database in terms of its component parts: customer records, lead information, demographics and so on. It’s this information that allows marketers to split and segment in order to deliver effective marketing campaigns on a reasonable budget. Finding the balance – the return on investment – is the real skill.

Poor data quality instantly interferes with the marketer’s balancing act. When data quality is lacking, negative outcomes are instantly clear; marketers spend time calling the wrong people, making bad assumptions and duplicating their efforts. Mail is needlessly printed, reprinted, sent to the same people over and over, or sent to people who have long gone. The budget is squandered, and results are not satisfactory to the wider business.

According to the Read Group, it’s estimated that businesses in the UK waste more than £75 million a year on this pointless marketing waste, and online marketing is not immune (although its waste is harder to quantify). All in all, waste can kill a marketing campaign stone dead. Think about it: if your direct mail is addressed incorrectly, it may as well be shipped straight from the printing press to the recycling plant without a customer ever setting eyes on it.

If your database contains duplicate records, you could be wasting massive chunks of the budget on leaflets nobody will ever read. In fact, in marketing, it’s estimated that the average database contains up to 30 per cent duplication. That’s one third of the database that is a drain on resources – and the figure won’t drop without action.

Yet the biggest damage is to the brand.

Protecting the Brand With Data

According to research, bringing a new customer on board costs six times more than retaining an existing customer. Why?

Think back to the last time you purchased a television, laptop computer, vacuum cleaner or washing machine. Most of us look up reviews to see how other customers rated the product. It’s said that people are far more likely to write a negative review than a positive one, and this skew may influence hundreds of purchases.

Bad news travels fast.

As a marketer, you cannot prevent poor reviews, but you can certainly do your bit to raise brand reputation by making sure existing customers look upon the brand favourably. That means not targeting the wrong people, not sending mail to the wrong address and not giving customers any reason to shop elsewhere.

Often, the first contact a customer has with a brand is through its marketing department. Every contact with that customer is a chance to reinforce the integrity and quality behind the brand. This is a massive responsibility in marketing. Address a catalogue to the wrong name, and you may lose that customer for life. And, believe it or not, poorly managed data can result in marketing material being addressed ‘Dear Deceased’, a salutation that will kill any customer relationship stone dead.

Inspiring loyalty is the best way to recruit customers and keep them. If the business makes its customer feel valued, respected and understood, the customer will stick with them, and they will be far less likely to write that bad online review.

It’s Not Just Damage Limitation

Marketers have a responsibility to err on the side of caution when working with data, and it should never be assumed that a database is ‘clean’ if efforts have not been made to clean it.

However, that doesn’t mean that marketing departments are constantly dodging bullets or veering from one potential data disaster to another.

There is a real, tangible and obvious benefit to good quality data, and anyone who has worked with a well-maintained database will attest to this. High quality data means better targeting, better decisions, better communication and improved efficiency. When it comes to management of data, and a drive for quality, these are all valid reasons in themselves to be proactive.

Dealing With Marketing Data

So what can marketers do?

The first step is to own the data quality problem.  Remember: technical marketers must be able to analyse and record accurate data, and this may mean stretching their own skillset and encouraging buy-in from other parts of the organisation.

Marketing departments can make massive gains from investment in data quality software, particularly software that intelligently matches and merges records in order to deduplicate records in a customer contact database. And if your organisation is forward thinking, your CEO will jump at the chance to cleanse the database, merge data from legacy systems and decide that the the single customer view is an achievable goal.

The real lesson is that marketing is not just about selling – although marketers must keep their objectives in mind. But marketing is also about information and being able to capitalise on data in order to make decisions. Good quality data benefits both brand and buyer, and it’s essential that marketers don’t have their head in the sand.


Written by Martin Doyle

Martin is CEO and founder of DQ Global, a Data Quality Software company based in the UK. With an engineering background, Martin previously ran a CRM Software business. He has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience over the years and has established himself as a Data Quality Improvement Evangelist and an industry expert.