Eight signs you may need a new flexible database

Databases have revolutionized the way most marketers do their jobs. However, many people are still struggling to get the marketing intelligence they need out of their corporate memory banks. These tools should be enablers, not barriers. Here is a list of warning signs that you need a new database.

Databases have revolutionized the way most marketers do their jobs. However, many people are still struggling to get the marketing intelligence they need out of their corporate memory banks. These tools should be enablers, not barriers. Here is a list of warning signs that you need a new database.

1. History

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. This applies to marketers just as much as politicians.

Many marketing databases today focus solely on current data so marketers can see what products and services their customers currently hold. This does not allow you to examine any kind of behaviour that is defined by changes over time – things like retention or loyalty.

At least 13 months of info should be represented to allow for year-over-year comparisons. Without access to this data, you are severely limited in the kind of marketing intelligence that your database can deliver.

2. Campaign tracking

Direct marketers invest large amounts of money in campaigns, but often, the analysis to determine whether the money was well-spent is not performed.

There is almost no point in executing a direct campaign unless you can ensure you’ll know whether it worked or not. However, many databases do not easily allow the addition of ad hoc tables such as final mail or response files, thus limiting their ability to derive accurate results and ROI analysis.

3. Customer level

Most marketers understand the importance of looking at the complete customer relationship. However, many databases only track at the account or product level. Others aggregate everything to the household level, thus losing the granularity of the data.

By examining data only at the account level, you may completely misread the state of your company’s health. For instance, if your total number of accounts is up it may seem very positive. However, if you lost 10% of your previously loyal and high-value customers and the growth came entirely from new customers, this is likely not as positive.

Marketing databases need to support analysis at multiple levels including account, product and most importantly customer.

4. Standard reports

If you’re like most marketers, you regularly receive standard reports that show things like how many new accounts opened last month. If you’re lucky, you may also have reports that highlight changes over time.

What happens when you want something different? A marketer should always be thinking of new ways to look at customers, and this often translates into new reports.

But if you need to create a ‘document of understanding’ and 12 other IT request forms to get them added, you’re likely to give up before you even get started. Good databases need flexible query and reporting capabilities.

5. Cross-business unit data

Marketing databases need to be able to see across internal boundaries and integrate different lines of business and channels to be truly valuable. You can run into big problems if you treat someone like a Best Customer based on the appraisal of one business unit’s data. This same customer may be the least profitable and most problematic to every other business unit in your company.

You may be completely misjudging the current and future potential value of a customer.

6. Long waits

While some analysis can be planned ahead, there will always be the need to perform quick ad hoc reporting in marketing. But depending upon your IT arrangements, you may need to join a lengthy queue to get the quick answers you need. And by the time you get the answer, the need may have passed.

An effective marketing database should be able to support urgent ad hoc requests.

7. Understanding

How often have you requested a report or query and in response received a large table of numbers with no other explanation? Or how about getting back a report that follows the literal wording of your request but not the intention?

Most marketers have little interest in spending hours deciphering rows of numbers. They want to know the answer to their question and feel confident that the numbers accurately represent what they were looking for. Hence, you need people who understand the business problem you’re trying to solve.

8. Front-end tools

Often databases are only accessible via complicated front-end software tools that require marketers to spend too much time sorting out file layouts, entity relationship diagrams and data dictionaries.

Most marketers have little interest in becoming business analysts or programmers just to get information they need. If you don’t have straightforward tools or experienced marketing analysts, then your database will ultimately fail you.

Most importantly, marketing databases need to be able to support your changing requirements. You can’t now know every question you may one day, but your database should be flexible enough to keep up with you.

Paul Tyndall is director of analytics and database management at Toronto-based Tener Solutions Group. He can be reached at paul.tyndall@tenersolutions.com or (416) 585-2900 x61.