Have a press or media inquiry? Reach out

Digital marketing • August 2016

4 Simple steps to creating an actionable data strategy.

Share —

4 Simple steps to creating an actionable data strategy.

Christopher Gardner
This article was contributed by
Christopher Gardner

There’s a sea of information depicting how the power of “big data” (I shudder as I write that buzzword) is revolutionizing the world of marketing, customer experience, and your business. But don’t worry—this isn’t just another data article.

We’ve all heard the stories about how some strategist or marketing department suddenly gained superhuman powers that revolutionized their customers’ world, but let’s get real here. Data is dirty. It’s an endless abyss that can consume you, your department, and other parts of your organization. And if you’re not careful, your “robust customer analytics and data strategy” can become a useless amalgamation of tools, spreadsheets, and sloppy data warehouses that produce minimal results and leave you and your team to doing more guesswork. 

Without the right level of maturity and core operating principles, you’ll continue to hedge your bets with a data and execution model that can handcuff your organization. Your focus needs to turn toward your operational maturity, not the latest and greatest tools. Here’s how:

Step 1: Assess how you got here

Sit back and take some time to think about how you’re making data-driven decisions today. What did you do over the last 12, 18, or 24 months that led you here? What tools did you buy, or inherit? How are you using them, and more importantly—are you getting the most out of them? Who else is using them? What operating principles have you put in place to guide your decisions as a group, department, or company?

And finally, the golden question: where is your data coming from? Can you trust it? How many disparate sources are you pulling from, and can you trust those?

Step 2: Design

Take some time to think about your future mode of operation. What does the process look and feel like when you analyze data, make a decision, and know you’ve hedged your bets so well that winning is the most certain outcome? From here, pick apart the small nuances you see in this process, and begin to reverse engineer. Now, let’s ask ourselves some questions.

Who should be involved in this new mode of operation? We all know IT will come knocking, but who else should we include? How will these groups adopt my strategy? How will they execute? How fast can they transition, iterate, and optimize?

When looking at other groups, it’s always best to have empathy for their operational maturity. They may need some coaching, but the more time you spend ensuring everyone shares the same set of core principles, the more successful you and your company will be.

Step 3: Getting there

How do I put this nicely? You’re going to fail, and if you’re lucky, you’ll fail often. The key to failure in a fast paced environment where customer experience hinges on every move you make, is to iterate quickly, and hone your ability to execute accurately. Customer experience is tricky. Data is tricky. Time isn’t your friend.

But don’t be afraid of failing. Focus on bite-size projects, then take what you’ve learned, re-engineer, and keep moving. Once you’ve got this flow, you’re ready to tackle larger and larger problems.

Along this journey of execution and optimization, it’s a good (and fun) idea to form and document hypotheses about your operating principles, processes, and outcomes as you test. Don’t change your variables too fast. If you change too much at once, you can’t properly track what’s driving the best results. 

Step 4: Governance

You’ve got the tools, your teams are all in sync, and you’ve made your data dream come true. Customer experience is through the roof. Sales, supply chain, and operations are all looking to you and your group to provide the data necessary to keep growing.

You’ve made it! Sort of.

Unfortunately, those white papers and infographics lied yet again. Data strategy isn’t like a George Foreman grill. You don’t set it and forget it. You’ve got to keep a close watch on your SLAs with your vendors, ensure your teams are continually learning, and make sure you’re striving to evolve your data strategy. Without proper governance, you’ll be back in a dark data chasm within a few months, starting from scratch.

To sum it up:

All in all, there’s a myriad of data advice out there. Having this all-knowing power sounds attractive, but you’ll be in perpetual motion of faking it until you make it without clearly designing and executing the core principles that can drive your business, and empower your customers. Start small, mature at scale, always optimize, and most importantly—keep testing with your customers in mind.