Why a Unified Database is the First Step to Real Time Marketing
Imagine a customer interacting with your mobile app on a smartphone. She completes tasks and unlocks a rewards discount. The next day, sitting at her home desktop, she visits your website, and, voila! -- her rewards points display along with the discount offering. 

Perhaps mobile apps aren’t core to your business. What if a prospect retweeted your blog post and you sent a triggered email a few minutes later thanking him, which invited him to follow you on LinkedIn? Or if someone walked into your store, and within moments received a text message with an offer customized to her past interactions with your company?

The idea here is that you’re delivering cross-channel, behavior driven communications -- all in real time -- that are uniquely relevant to each contact in your database. But delivering this level of tailored customization instantly is easier said than done.

The explosion of communication channels and devices during the last five years has opened up exciting ways for marketers to interact with people in real time, while also introducing new challenges. Customers and prospects now tell businesses all sorts of things about themselves and their interests through actions taken across these different channels.

As a result, these same empowered buyers are demanding a new level of attention. But many marketers struggle to scale the personalized messaging that their customers and prospects crave on an instantaneous level.

The best way to achieve this is twofold. First, by embracing behavioral marketing -- whose practitioners were 29 percent more likely to grow revenue faster than other marketers -- while also combining the approach with marketing automation solutions for execution. 

But before integrating a marketing automation solution into your customer and prospect outreach strategy, the first and most critical step is having a unified master database to draw upon.

Let's look at why a unified database is important, as well as an outline of how marketers can evolve from traditionally siloed systems.

The Importance of a Unified Master Database

When you consider that your marketing programs are only as good as the data you use to power them, it’s easy to see why the database is the most valuable asset for today’s marketers. But with the ever-increasing number of communication platforms, processing all this data is a challenge: Less than half of today’s businesses capture and consolidate customer behavioral data from multiple channels in a single database.

Because the channels contain disconnected silos of interactions, it’s been difficult for marketers to create a quality customer experience. Consider a few of the undesirable scenarios that can result from fragmented or missing data:

  • A customer purchases a steel refrigerator, then gets an email a few weeks later with the subject line, “Tired of steel refrigerators?”
  • A new boater comes in to test ride the latest personal watercraft and provides her cell phone number. Two months later, she gets a text message alerting her to a special offer on your new 30-foot cruisers.
  • A prospect retweets your new blog post, then gets an automated email from you offering a demo. Problem is, he’s already in the nine-month nurture because he told you his existing contract won’t expire until next year.

You get the point: Siloed lists and/or data parts will leave your marketing efforts disjointed and your customers dissatisfied. In contrast, a unified master database will provide the foundation that allows you to listen to the behaviors of each and every customer across various channels, and then interact and respond on the appropriate channel in real time.

To do so, your database must be connected to your most important channels and systems, enabling you to pull in behaviors via email, website, social, SMS and mobile apps -- and then reflect these actions in a timely fashion. Since today’s marketing database manages everything you know about each customer, it also needs to be scalable, flexible and easy to administer.

Despite the benefits of a unified master database, many companies are still focusing their resources on increasing the number of people on their email list, with can lead to database shortcomings such as:

  • Failure to incorporate key behaviors
  • Lack of integrations with CRM system, e-commerce platform, product catalog data, support data, etc.
  • Empty data fields (or fields populated with old data)
  • “One-off” lists separate from central database

While growing your master database is important, quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to driving additional engagement and revenue.

Moving Towards a More Unified Database

How can you start moving toward a unified, behavior-driven database that’s ideal for personal, instantaneous communications? There are many steps you can take to improve your data, but one of the most critical is moving to a flexible keys paradigm.

What does this mean? Traditionally marketing databases have required the presence of a specific field -- usually an email address -- before a business can start collecting data on an individual.

The problem is that in a multichannel world, customers often start a relationship with your company via your website, social media page or mobile app. By not constraining your database around a particular field, you can store your social relationships right next to your email subscribers, who are intermixed with your web visitors and mobile app users -- some of whom may be synced with your billing or CRM system. As the relationship with each person progresses, new keys are added to their identity, allowing you to connect the virtual dots and associate even more behaviors with each profile.

This approach helps your more quickly decipher customers’ “single identities,” connecting the dots so you can recognize that the person on your website watching the video is the same customer who retweeted the pictures of your product announcement last week -- and the same person who previously searched for “running shoes” but hasn’t been back to purchase.

The ability to put these virtual puzzle pieces together has become increasingly critical in a world in which your customers may start the day reading about your latest offers on their smartphones and end it making purchases on their laptops. Simply put, you need your platform to work cross-device and cross-platform, connecting every customer touch point into a single view.

With a unified database in place, marketers are in a better position to act on the data, capitalizing on it to build personalized marketing messages that can be delivered in real-time.

This is the first step -- and often the hardest, but afterward, marketers can then adopt marketing automation solutions that drive personal content experiences for your contacts at scale, regardless of the channel or medium.

Title image by Konstantin Yolshin (Shutterstock)