Here’s a little story for all those CEOs, CMOs and CIOs who dream of digitally transforming their businesses. 

My pharmacy of choice, Walgreen’s, offers customers a rewards program using a telephone number as a unique identifier. Like many people, I have both a land line and cell number, and I’ve managed somehow to set up loyalty programs under both. In addition to its own rewards program, Walgreen’s participates in the Balance rewards program, to which we also belong. 

But wait, it gets worse. Walgreens also offers a special discount program focused on prescriptions. I’m a member.

My family now has four different loyalty numbers with Walgreen’s alone. With nothing but the best intentions, Walgreen’s has added complexity that does more harm than good. All of these loyalty programs actually make us less loyal.

A Daunting Prospect 

Loyalty programs are part of the vast and quickly growing sector known as digital experience. It includes everything from e-commerce to customer relationship management to social media and beyond. In every issue of BCG Perspectives or McKinsey Quarterly, in every report from Forrester or Gartner, and every software vendor under the sun is talking about the best way to win the hearts and minds — and pocketbooks — of the consumer. Digital experience is a hot topic.

Considering the Walgreen’s example, however, digital experience purveyors should take a lesson from the physicians and, first, do no harm. For many companies contemplating a digital transformation, however, a daunting question looms: where to start?

The challenge has become so onerous that it’s hard to know where to start. In his famously confounding marketing technology infographic, Scott Brinker visualized the complexity on a single page filled with the names of the nearly 2,000 software vendors promising to deliver digital experiences.

Will the Real John Kottcamp Please Stand Up?

The answer to the question is both simple and complex. The place to start is — wait for it — at the very beginning. (It’s a very good place to start, I hear). And in digital experience, everything begins with data.

Data is that one priceless commodity every company craves, yet never believes they have quite enough of. And, generally speaking, they do a very poor job of using. There are all kinds of data: market data, customer data, product data, behavioral data, transactional data, social data. Sometimes the data is structured, other times not. Without good data — and the means to store it, analyze and act upon it — no digital experience will have a prayer of reaching the sought after ideals of relevancy, contextualization and personalization necessary for a truly transformational digital experience.

The process by which companies audit their data is called data mapping. It starts with figuring out what data is being collected and from what sources, both internal and external. For example, one of the most basic pieces of data is a list of customer names. 

Sounds simple, right? But, as with Walgreen’s, what seems easy at first glance, can be extremely complex. Customer names come from every corner of the company. Finance and accounting collect names when customers purchase, especially if they use a credit card. Sales and marketing are busy amassing names even before those names turn into paying customers. Customer service also collects names every time someone calls for support.

The trouble arises when names are collected multiple times, introducing the risk of duplication from poor transcriptions, typos and, like my accounts under different phone numbers with Walgreen’s, in simple customer error. This is basic stuff. I mean, what is worse than personalized digital experience that gets your name wrong?

First, Do No Harm

So before your company starts reaching for the grail of personalized digital experience, heed the physicians and focus on the small stuff — do no harm. Strive for consistency in data across the entire company, in every department, in every market and most importantly, with every type of technology. This is a huge, but critical first step.

Only then can you move on to the bigger-but-more-rewarding challenges of matching names with transaction histories, forms of payment and, the brass ring, customer behavior — how many times did the customer visit, what pages did they visit, did they click on a display ad or search for a specific term before buying, and what other websites they visited before yours? These are valuable data that can enhance the digital experience and truly set your brand apart from the crowd. But you’ll never get there without good data.

It takes a lot of work, time, resources and planning, but the risk of foregoing a proper and comprehensive data audit is profound. Without know where you’re starting from, you won’t be able to evaluate how you’re doing or how you are improving over time.

As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Don’t let this happen to you. Before you start thinking about the big questions of personalization, dynamic content, multi-channel alignment, centralized customer management, and so forth, start start working on the small details in your data. You’ll be glad you did. As in so many other worthwhile endeavors, good data is the foundation for all the great things digital experience has to offer.

Title image by Damir Kotoric