Cutting Through The Hype: 5 Points To Drive Value From A Data Management Platform (DMP)
Are you getting all you can out of your data management platform? Columnist David Booth discusses what you should focus on to ensure successful results.
Most digital marketers are by now very well aware of the benefits they can achieve by using a data management platform (DMP). In fact, in a recent Econsultancy & Oracle Marketing Cloud report on the role of DMPs, more than 40 percent of organizations have been already been using them for three or more years.
And for some, the promise of unifying and activating data to identify and target the right audiences has been fulfilled. That same report touts conversion uplifts of 200 to 300 percent with basic retargeting campaigns, while an Oracle Data Activation Results white paper cites 20 percent and 50 percent media and data cost savings, respectively, leading to a DMP paying for itself in as little as 3 1/2 months.
There is certainly no shortage of hype lately, and it’s no wonder that DMPs have been at the very top of marketers’ technology wish lists. And it’s important to know that same promise of a cross-platform, seamless experience is also near the top of consumers’ wish lists.
Today’s customers are busy and savvy. They don’t make distinctions between web browsing, search results, mobile or desktop or specific social media platforms. They expect a consistent, personalized experience every time they interact with a brand.
And DMPs are helping marketers do just that by creating a more holistic, complete and actionable profile. By enabling organizations to build proprietary audience segments to activate data and report across communications channels — including websites, social media, paid media and more — DMPs can deliver a unified perspective on customer interactions leveraging first-, second- or third-party data.
So while all this sounds good, many who have invested in the technology have struggled to drive value and get the results they had hoped for. For those who have found success, here are five things that have made the difference and allowed DMPs to live up to the hype:
1. It’s Not Just About The Technology
Vendors can (and do) spend hours diving into why their solution is better, faster and so on, and the truth is, they all have some very capable and innovative solutions. But while it’s important to make sure that the platform you pick meets the unique requirements your organization needs, it’s imperative to think beyond technical requirements.
If you’re building a house, then before you go out and buy the tools and materials, you’d better have a plan. The same goes here: Your initial focus should be on defining your organization’s strategic objectives and understanding exactly what capabilities are required to deliver those objectives.
Once you know where you want to go, selecting the right technology becomes a much easier task, and implementing that technology follows your plan.
What you don’t want to do is find yourself in a situation where somebody buys a DMP and rushes through the standard deployment without consulting other key stakeholders, auditing the data available across the organization or getting an understanding of the audience attributes and behaviors you’ll want to leverage. That’s a strategy destined for failure.
This is a decision that requires the input of many areas in the organization, and there are many things to consider. One organization we recently came across found themselves in a tight spot when their procurement team negotiated with a DMP vendor and proudly announced the “deal,” only to discover that the discount they received was due to a vendor lowering thresholds to a point that using the solution would have incurred overage costs that made it impossible to use.
In the end, there’s no point in having a DMP if there isn’t adequate, trustworthy data in place, and situations like these can happen very quickly when key members across the organization are excluded from the planning. People and processes are central to post-implementation execution with respect to feeding a DMP the data it needs, managing the activation channels it supports, or helping deliver results to others in the organization.
You don’t want to find yourself with a flawlessly implemented DMP, only to discover the process for deploying a campaign is so complex that you’re likely to bring some other aspect of your marketing operations to a halt. Or, when you finally have the capacity to create targeted, personalized campaigns for a variety of different audience segments, you don’t want to find you don’t have the resources to create enough of the assets and content that are necessary to feed those campaigns and keep audiences engaged.
It’s mission-critical to understand that a DMP is a platform. It’s a tool.
As with any other tool, you need a plan, a team that can manage that platform and people and processes to help you activate precision marketing with data-driven activation. Start with goals, key stakeholders and a framework for good governance before making your move on the technical considerations.
When you have this perspective in place, determining the best fit for your organization with respect to vendors and solutions becomes pretty straightforward.
2. Focus On Quick Wins
Many organizations mistake a “grand vision” — what they ultimately want to accomplish with a DMP — for strategic long- and short-term goals.
A grand vision may include creating a single multi-sourced, rich profile across every channel that your customers interact with. While this is certainly a great aspiration to strive for, you need to understand that there are likely going to be organizational barriers (like budget, resources, roadmaps, technology and alignment, for example) that limit how quickly you can achieve this.
And you don’t need to wait until the grand vision is complete to gain value — you can start finding ROI (return on investment) from the very beginning.
Even if your organization is just starting the evaluation process, the focus should be on creating an overall blueprint and vision for using the DMP. Jonathan Flander, Marketing Technology Lead with Cardinal Path, a DMP expert since the inception of the technology (and my colleague), worked with a client who was struggling to prove ROI using only Paid Media.
“Once the vision was expanded to support website personalization, they were able to include anonymous visitors in the analysis and estimate the incremental lift they could expect from increased personalization,” he told me. “Those additional conversions proved to be a big part of the business case they were building.”
This is why it’s so important to have a DMP solution blueprint to drive your project plan with a sequencing strategy that ensures the different work streams (data, tech, analytics, content and more) are primed to deliver value as soon as possible. Think of it in terms of Crawl, Walk, Run.
While you clearly want to have all of your first-party data consolidated as part of your onboarding approach, it’s likely much more achievable to start off with, say, using only your CRM (customer relationship management) or email marketing list, rather than having to wait on other groups in the organization to build and deliver a consolidated, integrated feed.
The advantage of this approach is that you can start working on understanding your audiences, refining your testing approach, and saving some of your media spend (by suppressing existing customers) while showing value immediately through quick wins.
Another problem with not having a defined sequence toward success in both short- and long-term goals is that it feeds a tendency to get really technical. Don’t miss the forest for the trees here: Companies that want to work toward a grand vision right away could be missing opportunities if the business shifts in the 12 to 18 months it takes to work toward that end goal.
You can prioritize in such a way that you work in phases to play, learn, succeed and iterate from one phase to another. This allows you to be flexible and responsive to changing business environments without losing sight of that grand vision.
And in the meantime, instead of struggling because you bit off more than you could chew, you’ll be picking off low-hanging fruit that can start demonstrating value to your stakeholders every step of the way.
3. Make Sure Your Data Is Usable
In some organizations, the marketing department has become infamous for wanting all the data possible and hoarding everything they can, just in case they’ll need it someday for a campaign.
Be sure that what you’re holding onto is actually usable data. The worst thing to happen is that you could finally have an opportunity to make use of all the data you’ve collected and find that it’s not structured correctly, it won’t match up with other data sources, or it isn’t in a format that’s easily leveraged without a bunch of additional processing.
One of the best ways to avoid this sort of holdup is by developing a comprehensive data taxonomy that provides clear definitions on not only the data sources, but also the categories and use cases. A recent poll by Econsultancy in association with Oracle reported a number of data-related benefits to using DMPs. The majority cited centralized control and standardization of existing first-party data as a major benefit.
A DMP can act as the unification point for your data, but someone still needs to provide clear direction on not only what data to include, but how it should be structured.
Without a comprehensive data taxonomy in place from the start, you could find yourself with data that isn’t organized so that you can easily create audience segments from it or measure results because, for instance, different parts of an organization use different definitions for the same thing. Or because your data doesn’t line up with second- and third-party data that ends up being critical to your needs.
Terms such as “prospect,” “lead” and “qualified lead” can all have very different meanings, even across the same organization in departments such as customer service, sales, marketing and more. How will your organization define a “purchase” or differentiate in-store from web, catalog, mobile or anything else?
“Conversion” actions should also be very clearly defined so that you can have a common language for talking about how you will measure the success of your campaigns.
Once an organization can define its taxonomy, it becomes easier to put data in the right categories and to understand how to evaluate progress in specific segments and categories. If someone asks for “every customer who hasn’t made a purchase in the last six months,” everyone at the table should understand what “customer” and “purchase” mean and have confidence that they’re all on the same page.
Going through the rigor of this data taxonomy work not only brings the clean, usable, easily understood data to the forefront, but it can also act as a great catalyst to broader data governance initiatives: Maybe you don’t need every single data point you thought you did, or maybe there are redundancies that can be eliminated.
Don’t give into the industry-wide belief that you have to collect everything and figure out what to do with it later. Define what you need and collect accordingly.
If you end up with a huge pile of data that hasn’t been collected for a purpose or the purpose was never well defined, it could well end up being garbage.
4. Move From Data To Insights
Okay, so you have a plan, and you’ve got reports that represent interactions across your entire funnel — from awareness and engagement through conversion, retention and ongoing loyalty. You can dig into reports and look at disparate data to help you understand what’s been happening. And although this is valuable, it’s not necessarily the holy grail.
The real value is unlocked when you can create insights around why something happened and then figure out what specific actions you can take with that information. And a step in the right direction to achieving this is having a rock-solid handle on your key performance indicators (KPIs) and the key business objectives (KBOs) they support.
While ensuring you have the right KPI and measurement framework in place certainly isn’t specific to only a DMP’s success, its efficacy simply won’t be the same if you don’t have one in place.
For starters, without a solid measurement framework and KPI definitions, you’ll be hard-pressed to find ways to ensure insights are relevant or easily grasped by all stakeholders. With a measurement framework, you’ll be able to bridge the gap between data-speak and “C-speak,” break through silos to connect data together and create insights that have real value across the organization.
The very nature of the DMP is to activate audiences, so a big reason to bring all this data together in meaningful ways is to make you smarter at executing campaigns across a variety of channels. Understanding your business objectives and the data that defines success or failure allows a DMP to give you the power of refined targeting, specific and relevant messaging and the potential for conversion lift and value.
When you have a concise, defined set of touch points and KPIs that will allow you to understand what Jane Smith or John Smith does at an individual level across the digital landscape, you can ensure that John or Jane is getting consistent, relevant offers, messaging and information whether they interact with a display ad, land on the website, receive something in their inbox, call on the phone or walk into the store.
5. Make Sure You Have The Right Team To Deliver
Above all, implementing and truly leveraging a DMP platform requires people. That means a specialized expertise in data, the underlying platforms, strategic planning, project management, analytics and more.
The reality is that most folks with hands-on expertise implementing these platforms sit either at the vendors or within specialist agencies; unfortunately, they’re not on your in-house team.
This is a challenge because most marketing technology stacks today have significantly more tools than they did just a few years ago. The level of complexity increases every year, so finding partners who can help you not only implement DMP solutions but also get the most value out of them is a critical need, and this is where it can get tough.
What you need to implement to get the most out of an investment in a DMP in both the short and long term is a blend of strategic and technical resources. This can mean working with a combination of in-house expertise, partners, agencies and vendors to cover the various elements, ranging from strategic to deeply technical to day-to-day operational.
Once you have the top four items on this list in order, you’ll have a good map and blueprint that will lead directly to understanding who needs to be on board to deliver the goods. Again, this is where all your work — establishing clear short- and long-term objectives, having your data in good shape and understanding your measurement or KPI frameworks — will pay off big.
It will be that much easier to evaluate what your talent, resource and partner needs will be if you’re grounded in what you want to accomplish and how the organization as a whole will play into accomplishing its goals.
The Promise Of True Omni-Channel
The reality of realizing the promise of a DMP can be daunting. There’s real work involved in getting up and running, activating and continuing the path towards the grand vision. But with competitors already rushing to get DMPs into place and starting to realize a return on their investment, the time to get started, or begin extracting value from investments you’ve already made, is now.
By laying the foundation in a methodical, rigorous manner, you’ll ensure that your investment in this promising technology will yield both the insights and the competitive advantage your organization is poised for. And as more organizations start to go through (or start over and use) this process, an enormous amount of value will be created with a deeper understanding of clients and prospects and an unprecedented opportunity to achieve a true omni-channel, customer-obsessed strategy.