Over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of TV shows about people’s stuff: finding value in discarded belongings, unchecked hoarding or selling heirlooms for unexpected sums. 

If there's one thing I've learned from watching American Pickers and Pawn Shop is that a lot of the time, the only reason someone stumbles across something of value is because they were forced to dig through piles of junk.

I can’t help but draw comparisons with how companies use data today. 

The infinite possibilities that “big data” tantalizes marketers with reminds me of the expression, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It’s all-out hoarding: grabbing anything and everything, often in duplicate or clashing completely with what you already have. 

There’s little regard for why you want that data at all or what you’re going to do with it or what value it’s going to drive for the business. And then when you go back and try to uncover something worthwhile, you’re wading through mountains of crap and layers of grime on a hope and a prayer.

But there’s hope. There’s no better time of year for a deep clean than springtime, so let’s make a plan, roll up our sleeves and get to it. 

Say it with me:

You Don’t Need 50 of the Same Data Point

Do you have a different version of the same person’s customer record stored in multiple places in your marketing stack? Their name or email or purchase history? 

It might be OK to have each system own a unique version of that individual’s identity, but only if it’s connected to and contextually aware of the information elsewhere. 

In the same way that you don’t need a dozen incomplete versions of a board game but rather the ability to simply play with a complete set, so it is for your customer data management. You don’t even need to create one master system of record, but you absolutely do need to make sure that whatever system is powering an interaction (ESP, CRM, WCM, etc.) has the latest and greatest, most complete understanding of that person when they serve up that interaction. 

Oftentimes, less is more.

This Isn’t Supermarket Sweep 

Remember that game show from the 90s? When enthusiastic people would cruise down the aisles of the grocery store grabbing everything in sight after answering sort-of-related questions about products? 

It was as haphazard and ridiculous as it was hilarious. But marketers who treat big data as their own version of Supermarket Sweep are doing it wrong. 

You need to plan your customer data strategy out with rigor and in concert with other business stakeholders. When you implement it, you should be focusing not on trying to pile everything you can into a cart to deal with later, but rather identifying sources of the highest-quality insights and directing time and resources there. 

If you’re trying to cook a specific recipe, you’ll purchase the ingredients you need. If you’re just guessing, you’ll end up with a bunch of random stuff that doesn’t go together — and maybe an amusing TV show if you’re lucky.

Keep it Fresh, Keep it Useful

This isn’t to say that “old” data is bad or useless. On the contrary, there’s huge value in being able to use older customer records for reactivation campaigns or customer journey modeling. But that requires you to — you know — use that data. 

Quarterly data audits, where you take stock of what customer data you have and how it’s being leveraged, will ensure that your program doesn’t stray from its core objectives and that you’re not missing opportunities to derive business value from your customer data. Don’t let data collect dust on a shelf in the hopes that someday someone will swoop in and pay big money for it. Sure it could happen, but it’s not much of a plan.

So let’s go marketers: ditch your inner hoarder and embrace a deep spring clean of your customer data!

Title image "Corotos I" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  Rossy¨¨