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MarTechExec takeaway

"Data is everything. We all know that. But you can't just throw some analytics together and call yourself a data-driven marketer. Collecting audience data just for the sake it, instead of using it to build the single-customer view, is the detriment of modern marketers." – Lana K. Moore, Executive Editor at MarTechExec (@martechexec)


Audience data is information about the audience a business wants to reach. This data helps marketers group customers based on shared traits. Businesses either collect their own audience data or buy it from someone else.

Guiding principles

Short on time? We’ll keep it brief. These are the most important rules to follow in order to master your audience data.

Consider the “hows” and “whats” of your data collection

Customer privacy concerns are only going up, yet data is only becoming more important to marketers. It’s currency to us now, and we need to give customers something worth paying for. Get creative with your lead magnets to make the data-for-content a worthwhile exchange.

Create a single customer view

Data is just 1s and 0s until you give it context. And for marketers, that context is the customer experience. Consolidate your data into a single, 360-degree customer view that tells a story about your customers’ likes, dislikes, and behaviors across all channels and devices.

Work smart — not hard

Technologies like AI and blockchain make audience data and data enhancement so much easier. Pinpoint the issues doing the most damage to your data efforts, then research solutions that can nip them in the bud — either through automation, collaboration or other means.

Terms you’ll come across when talking “data”

If you deal with data on the daily, you should at the very least have an understanding of some key terms. If for no better reason, read up so you have a basis of knowledge when we start really digging into audience data later on.

Here are the most important audience data terms to get familiar with.


I’ll spare you the technical details here and just give you the “Cliff's notes.” Data is pieces of information that make up everything in the digital world — the same way atoms make up everything in the physical world.


Metadata is data about data. I know — It’s a little dizzying. But you’ve likely been dealing with metadata without even realizing it. Examples of metadata include:

  • Time and date that the data was created
  • Who the data was created by (Usernames, device names, IP addresses)
  • Where the data originated from (IP addresses, coordinates, cookie data)

Unstructured data

By default, all data is unstructured data. It’s a heterogenous mix of different information that has yet to be enhanced and added to a database.

Structured data

Once unstructured data has been enhanced, it becomes structured data. It’s laid out in columns and rows that are easy to filter, navigate and — eventually — mine for data insights.

Appended data

When you fill in gaps in your database using third-party data, the result is appended data. This is a form of data enhancement.

First-party data

First-party data is collected in-house using your own resources. Your staff gathers, organizes and analyzes the data either manually or using automation software.

  • Pros: Because the data is specific to the business collecting it, first-party data is considered the highest quality.
  • Cons: Budget and employee aptitude constraints often limit how much data a business can collect on its own.

Second-party data

Second-party data is another business’ first-party data. In most cases, businesses with similar audiences will exchange one another’s first-party data for mutual benefit.

  • Pros: Going directly to the source of the data eliminates the need for a third-party middleman. For this reason, acquiring second-party data is a less arduous and more transparent process than the alternatives.
  • Cons: Business with which you exchange first-party data may not have your best interest in mind -- even if you do share common ground. Most businesses avoid using second-party data due to competitive concerns.

Third-party data

Third-party data is bought from an outside business that sells data in bulk. These businesses aggregate data from a plethora of sources and then offer them to the public as package deals.

  • Pros: The pool of third-party data is expansive and deep. Using this source gives you immediate access to huge volumes of varied data.
  • Cons: You can’t be sure that the data source abided by ethical and accurate practices. Data you purchase from a third-party may not meet your own quality standards.

Inferred data

Sometimes, you can make assumptions, or inferences, about your audience based on what data you already have about them. The result of these inferences, when added to your database, is inferred data.

Our relationship with audience data is broken

Truth is a dish best served cold. So here’s the cold hard truth about our audience data, marketers:

Our priorities are seriously out of whack.

After surveying over 1,100 marketing pros worldwide, Experian found that 77 percent of enterprise marketers are actively working to create an integrated customer experience. And that’s awesome news. But…this is a moot goal for most.

And that’s because that same survey found that the #1 challenge for marketers is knowing customers’ wants, need and attitudes. What’s more, 54 percent of respondents struggle to integrate customer data in real-time. And 49 percent don’t have the ability to integrate multiple data sources at all.

Clearly, something’s not adding up.

How do you give any customer a consistent, integrated experience if you don’t even know who that customer is? Or what they like? Or how they interact with your brand?

Spoiler alert: You can’t.

Marketing’s order of operations starts with data

When you try to provide a data-driven experience without the actual data, you’re basically focusing on the end goal before putting in the work. Or, in other words, you’re trying to find the solution to an equation that you haven’t even written yet.

We need to start working smart, figuring out what we have and how to use it so we can get to that end goal — the integrated customer experience.

360-degree customer view + kick-butt strategy = integrated customer experience

To start, we need to work on the very first and most vital part of the equation: The single, 360-degree customer view, AKA your customer data treasure chest.

The purpose of a 360-degree customer view is to develop a crystal-clear image of each of your customers by consolidating all the data you have on them. Lots. And lots. And lots. Of data.

This infographic from Intense Technologies Limited shows a simplified version of this process.

Why marketers love (and need) a 360-degree customer view

The customer journey simply isn't cut-and-dry anymore. Customers aren’t just finding us in-stores or by typing our business’ name into Google.

They’re interacting with us through dozens of channels — often simultaneously.

Pew Research Center took a look at the top five social media platforms and found that there’s a huge amount of reciprocity between them. In other words, our customers are everywhere, all at the same time.

That also translates to a pretty drawn-out customer journey. According to the Data & Marketing Association, it takes between 7 and 13 touchpoints for a customer to become a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

And what does all this mean for us? It means more audience data to collect, clean, organize and analyze.

Adopting a 360-degree customer view is the only way we can keep up with the fragmented digital landscape and the customers who live in it.

Here are just a few ways that the 360-degree customer view makes us better data-driven marketers.

Audience segmentation

Given what we just covered, it’s not shocking that eMarketer found some issues in our data-driven marketing efforts. Specifically, 15.8 percent of US/UK marketers said they struggle to target their campaigns because they can’t segment their data effectively.

That fragmentation we talked about earlier is just further proof of why we need audience segmentation.

“Audience data will only become more granular as technology evolves. We’re moving past customer profiles in favor of understanding affinity groups, or the segments of your audience that share a common interest or background. These groups tend to be more fluid than traditional buyer personas. The interests of an affinity group change and transform based on trends and events within their area of interest.” – Jen Handley, Co-President and Co-Founder at Fizziology

With a 360-degree customer view, the data is already there. It’s clean, it’s consolidated, it’s up-to-date.

And that makes your audience segments more fine-tuned, resulting in smarter targeting with a higher ROI — maybe even millions more than before, according to some estimates.

Giving the people what they want

The 360-degree customer view provides an arsenal of tools that marketers and salespeople can deploy. All the data they need is at their fingertips, which means the only thing they need to do is put it into action.

“Data plays a major role in everything we do, and as we collect more data it will add to the vast number of signals that are being used to drive personalization and decision making. This will help to accelerate further developments in a variety of automation and digital systems (e.g. voice-enabled technology or recommendation engines).” – Kevin Tan, Chief Executive Officer at Eyeota

According to eMarketer, 70 percent of marketing pros worldwide use the 360-degree customer view for personalization. And Sabre Airline Solutions, which created the infographic below, even called the 360-degree customer view “the foundation of personalization.”

Better customer journey mapping

Here’s a shocking statistic: 30.4 percent of companies worldwide said they can’t track the customer journey, according to eMarketer.

The very foundation of the 360-degree customer view is data integration, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to identify all the touchpoints a customer interacts with. And voila — the customer journey is mapped.

“As advertising platforms and clickstream analysis tools become more advanced, marketers will be able to gain deeper insights into how all touch points are connected and a more complete picture into the entire customer path-to-purchase.” – Brian Jensen, Chief Executive Officer at Congruent Digital

In an article for Big Data Made Simple, Larisa Bedgood called data integration the “key to shedding light on the customer journey,” adding that, “data must be consolidated to understand who you are marketing to and the journey your customers go through.”

This infographic from the article illustrates how touchpoint data and the customer journey go hand-in-hand.

Challenges to creating a 360-degree customer view

According to Experian, 81 percent of marketers struggle to create a single customer view. And it’s not just one thing standing in their way.

Short-term shelf life

Research shows that B2B contact information — like phone numbers, business addresses and email addresses — goes out of date within three months.

Without updated information, the 360-degree customer view is not only incomplete — it’s basically useless.

“Every technology must have good, clean data to work with. In order for predictive technology and AI-enabled tools to offer intelligence, the datasets feeding the algorithms must be large enough and high-quality. Marketing teams must first prioritize comprehensive data management to ensure they have a solid foundation of customer data.” – Sarah Naugle, Content Marketer at DataFox

“Content is measured and updated on the fly today. The aggregation of more data from all these endpoints and IoT interactions will actually enhance the Customer Experience, and that is the worthwhile journey. Engaged customers moving with your brand.” – Michael Edelberg, Co-founder and Chief Digital Officer at Viable Operations / Bespoke Digital Solutions

Comply or die

In April 2017, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in an effort to modernize its data security practices. It will go into effect on May 28, 2018, and the repercussions of the GDPR extend far beyond the borders of Europe.

As SEMRush explains, “The GDPR applies if either the data controller/processor — such as Google — or person whose data is collected is based in the EU. In that sense, it has ramifications for any global company servicing Europe’s more than 740 million inhabitants.”

This is an ironic cherry-on-top for the 21 percent of us who can’t effectively market to an international audience. The GDPR is just one example of how access to customer data — AKA the foundation of the 360-degree customer view — is getting more and more restrained.

“Many companies are still determining their strategies on how they will comply [with the GDPR]. This regulation, future regulation, and consumer expectations around data ownership will present greater complexity for marketers as they navigate this obstacle course of restrictions and regulations and learn to adapt in the new landscape.” – Anil Maharjan, Director of Change Management at Marketsmith, Inc.

Private party

Similar to how the GDPR makes data accessibility more complicated, the growing privacy concerns of our customers do the same.

Research from Kantar TNS found that customer privacy is a concern across the globe. On average, 40 percent of customers are concerned with the amount of personal data that businesses collect.

“Security will be an imperative as the IoT expands. The Internet is still not secure, so we cannot expect that the IoT will be secure without the stringent authentication and encryption necessary to protect not only our businesses, but also our customers.” – Anil Maharjan, Director of Change Management at Marketsmith, Inc.

The future of audience data for the 360-degree customer view

In the next 3-5 years, marketers will place more emphasis on the 360-degree customer journey and the audience data that fuels it.

We asked a group of martech professionals for their own insights into what the future holds. Here’s what they had to say.

AI for smarter, faster data collection

To keep up with the quick decay of our data, we’ll turn to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to collect data at a rapid pace — and with more depth than we could ever find on our own.

“Increasingly, marketers will need to become trained as 'data whisperers' - storytellers who can answer 'why' and not just 'how' and 'what.'” – Eric Porres, Chief Marketing Officer at SundaySky

“Artificial Intelligence will play an essential role in guiding brands about every aspect of marketing and the audiences they are trying to reach. Innovation in AI will provide never-before-seen insight into what matters, what stands out, and what is most memorable to the consumer.” – Jehan Hamedi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Adhark

“Those who can use tech and data together to improve their product offerings and the end-to-end customer experience alike will see sustainable business gains.” – John Steinert, Chief Marketing Officer at TechTarget

Most importantly, these technologies will use the mass amounts of audience data to make inferences we would never be able to see. At the end of the day, that equals more comprehensive customer views with which we can create more accurate audience segments — like these detailed segments on VR users, compiled by SuperData.

Changes to the data market

We can’t change the laws around data collection. That’s a fact. But what we can do is optimize what data collection methods we can still use.

In the next few years, more marketers will use blockchain technology to safely share data. And with open access to data, marketers will be able to bypass data vendors entirely.

“Most marketers are quickly learning that they do not own the access to their data, and that they lack the transparency needed to see exactly how their investments are performing.” – Jason Beckerman, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder at Unified

“It won't happen overnight, but there is a window for up-and-coming data startups to open up the data space in the same way that Jigsaw did more than a decade ago. Email addresses, job titles, and LinkedIn profiles are becoming commoditized. B2B data buyers want more.” – William Wickey, Head of Content and Media Strategy at LeadGenius

“Data and graphs will converge to provide a 360-degree view of a customer's experience with a brand. Currently, marketers stitch together disparate data sources to triangulate this view; as data from ISPs/MSOs open up and more device and social graphs become licensable, we will fill more of the current gaps.” – Gayatri Bhalla, Chief Digital Officer and President at Infogroup Digital/Constellation Media

Cha-ching: Data as currency

With new laws and privacy concerns to think about, we need to change the way we think about audience data entirely. Future marketing efforts will take a “give a little, get a little” approach to data collection. We’ll come to terms with the fact that data is the new currency, and it doesn’t “fall from trees.”

We’ll be paid in data, so to speak, in exchange for providing true value to our customers. The 360-degree customer view will be pivotal in keeping a pulse on what exactly our customers consider valuable, and at what stage of the customer journey.

“One of the greatest benefits of smart technology is the ability to react in real-time to what is resonating with potential buyers and customers. More importantly, if they capture, keep and monitor this data, they can build on the performance year on year.” – Matt Coyne, Technology Engagement Architect at GES EMEA

“As digital tools are helping brands to deliver personalized experiences like never before, it is worthwhile to remember that the end goal is not to maximize the technology but rather to deliver great experiences for our customers.” – Scott Anderson, Chief Marketing Officer at Sitecore

“We spend large portions of our days on social networking platforms, just looking. Because so much time is spent looking, it’s the job of businesses and marketing teams to make stuff worth looking at.” – Elizabeth Giorgi, Chief Executive Officer and Founder at Mighteor


If we don’t take the steps to achieve a 360-degree customer view, we’ll have no way of differentiating one customer from the next

And in an era when personalization is everything, being ignorant to your customers’ unique needs is a death sentence for your business.