Even as marketers continue to complain that they have a hard time managing their growing repositories of data, both keeping up with and mining them for insights, they are increasing the amount of data they take in. According to Salesforce.com’s “State of Marketing Survey” (Sixth Edition), based on the responses of 7,000 marketers around the world, instead of simplifying their data gathering, marketers are making it more complicated.  

In 2019, Salesforce.com respondents reported drawing from a median of 8 data sources. In 2020, that has risen to 10 sources. By 2021, that is expected to rise to 12 sources (14 in the United States). Not surprisingly, only 37% of respondents say they are “completely satisfied” with their quality/data hygiene, and only 34% say that they are completely satisfied with their data’s timeliness, integration, and consent management. Slightly less (33%) say they are happy with their ability to handle identity reconciliation.

Regardless of how happy (or not) marketers are with how their data is handled, they are drawing from similar sources. While the order changes by country and industry vertical, top data sources being used by marketers include:  

  1. Transactional data
  2. Declared interests/preferences
  3. Known digital identities
  4. Offline identities
  5. Anonymized digital identities
  6. Second-party data
  7. Inferred interests/preferences
  8. Non-transactional data
  9. Third-party data

To be effective in their communications, however, marketers have to analyze and apply their data in an accurate, timely, and “permissible to use” manner. The challenges, marketers say, are data unification and activation, and this has to do with the data environment as much as it does volume. It’s difficult to get a handle on the top issues when your data management is becoming increasingly fragmented. In 2018, marketers used an average of three data management tools to handle all of their data. Today, that has risen to six, including CRM, email management, and marketing automation platforms.

Notes the report:

As we found in 2018, no clear winner among many competing solutions has emerged. Today, marketers are turning to even more complex combinations of data management technologies to build a cohesive understanding of their customers.

Even once this data is sourced, integrated, and managed, the next challenge arises: turning it into insight. With the volume of data available, gaining true, actionable insights is nearly impossible without the use of something that few small and mid-sized marketers have—artificial intelligence (AI). Use of AI among Salesforce.com respondents, for example, has rocketed from 29% in 2018 to 84% today. Top uses include building personalized experiences in individual channels, developing improved customer segmentation/lookalike modeling, gaining surfaced insights from data, driving next best actions (e.g., offers), and creating automated customer interactions. But not every marketer has access to the same level of opportunity.

Add to this complexity privacy, compliance, and transparency. Even as marketers try to manage all of that data, they are increasingly mindful of balancing personalized experiences with customer comfort levels (i.e., transparency in data use), as well as compliance issues. In 2018, 51% of survey respondents said they were “more mindful” of creating this balance than they were two years ago. Today, that has risen to 81%. The percentage going beyond regulations/industry standards has risen from 44% to 57%.

The takeaway of all this? Personalized, relevant communications and the ability to build positive customer experiences on a larger scale isn’t going to happen with simple demographic data (or even psychographic targeting) anymore. The omnichannel environment and increased customer expectations keep raising the bar. How are you prepared to help?