We’re all out to create the most compelling and relevant content possible for our industries. But without a thoughtful approach to getting your content in front of your target audience, all that work goes out the window.

Distribution is key to the success of any content and you have various channels at your disposal: social, email, mobile push, and SMS are some of the most common and most effective in terms of attracting eyeballs.

But batch-and-blast approaches, which have driven excellent results during the past decade, are getting less and less effective as consumers become more sophisticated. A quote I refer back to a lot is from Brendan Witcher at Forrester:

Each time a consumer is exposed to an improved digital experience, their expectations for all digital experiences are reset to a new higher level.

In other words, your consumers not only hold you to your own standards, but to the standards of your competitors. When consumers see a company like Under Armour utilizing Movable Ink to render emails live on open, tailored specifically to that consumer’s location, store preference, and up-to-the-moment product recommendations with updated inventory and prices, they’re going to expect that level of personalization from you too.

Personalizing your messaging strategy is crucial for driving traffic and conversions via your content—and that means data is the new king. But it doesn’t matter how much data you have or even how accurate and useful it is if you can’t access it when you need it. In this article, I’ll look at the challenges facing marketing teams and how you can best structure your data for effective personalization.

The technology makes it hard

As technology enables broader and deeper levels of personalization, the problems many marketers encounter become more acute. At MessageGears, our recent survey showed that 34 percent of enterprise marketers have moderate to significant difficulties personalizing messages across email, push, and SMS. The problem seems even more pronounced with push and SMS, with more than half reporting difficulties in the newer, more emerging technologies, as opposed to 27 percent for email.

Bringing your messaging teams together, and building a cohesive multiple-channel messaging strategy that’s aware of both itself and the consumer, is imperative for success today. You can illustrate the importance of this by looking at fraud alerts from banks. Few messages will have a higher open or engagement rate with consumers, and few are more essential to reach the consumer in a timely manner. They can be stressful and panic-inducing, but the consumer is glad the bank is paying attention—if they’re coordinated correctly.

Imagine receiving a fraud alert via email. You immediately open and click to view the information, confirming that you weren’t responsible for the charge. You call the bank, get the card canceled, and a new one on its way. It was just one charge, and the bank made the process simple. Breathing a sigh of relief, you go on about your day. But the bank’s messaging teams were pulling data from various sources and coordinated separately. Half an hour later, you receive a push notification alerting you to fraud again. Is this the same problem from before, or a new one? Your heartbeat picks up, and you drop everything to check your account once again. You’re still not certain of your account status, so you drop everything to contact the bank again, waiting on hold for several minutes only to find out it was the same alert, but the push team wasn’t aware you’d already been emailed. What could have been a top-notch customer experience has turned into a negative one because the bank didn’t have their teams and data in sync. And the technology, in most cases, isn’t helping.

The platforms many marketers use to build their messaging campaigns haven’t evolved to meet the standards of the new multiple-channel world. If direct mail and email are the “legacy” channels just based upon how long they’ve existed, mobile push, SMS, and social are among the new guard that’s really become a content marketing force in the past decade. Marketers need technology today that enables them to build messaging campaigns that are interactive and responsive across all channels, but that’s been difficult to find. Our survey showed 57 percent of enterprise marketers have to build each channel in its own UI and 74 percent said their cross-channel teams are all or mostly siloed.

In many cases, technology vendors are very large marketing cloud email service providers (ESPs) that bought separate smaller companies to provide services on these channels. Often the ESPs will have bolted their acquisitions onto their existing platform. The components don’t work together because they weren’t built together.

For instance, Salesforce’s marketing cloud ESP used to be ExactTarget, a startup purchased by Salesforce in 2013. That same year, Oracle bought Responsys to serve as their ESP. Both companies had to integrate their acquisitions as well as possible into their larger ecosystem. This inevitably leads to teams and strategies being cordoned off into the various channels, which, in turn, results in an email strategy being built separately from mobile push strategy, and mobile push strategy being conceptualized by a different team than the social strategy.

Yet, in many cases, your consumers are receiving your content on all of your channels. And when that message isn’t consistent or when it leads to repetitive, contradictory, and unwanted communications, you can cause immense damage to your brand.

Data needs to be consolidated

To get your content in front of the right people, you need to have a strategy that takes into account what you know about them. But you can’t do that consistently if your data is divided up in a million places or is inaccessible by your teams. Any marketer who’s worked on personalized messaging campaigns with a large database will know the common pain points: working through your IT team, having your ESP cut lists, adding another field to use for better targeting and so on. That experience itself can be enough to frustrate you to the point that you just throw up your hands in defeat. In these cases, most marketers keep their personalization simple and give up some targeting potential for the sake of their time and sanity.

But options do exist for making the process easier. Thirty-six percent of those in our survey said they’re using a cloud or modern data warehouse to consolidate, organize, and access their data. Over one-quarter said they’re using an in-house database. This is a good sign because it suggests more large companies are taking their data needs seriously—and that wasn’t always the case. Hadoop was one of the first companies to begin substantially addressing this problem about 15 years ago and they didn’t really take off until around the beginning of this decade.

An organization’s data needs typically only growing over time, and there’s no reason to think that trend is going to change. Yes, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has had some effect but one look at your inbox will prove that companies are using data just as much as ever. After all, as long as you actively opt in, there’s little danger for them. And you’ll probably happily do so if the companies use it both responsibly and to deliver a better experience. But there are still too many companies with data scattered between their own database, CRM, and ESP cloud.

What’s the solution?

Fixing siloed data is difficult. It requires taking a hard look at your tech stack and evaluating if the technology you have is standing in the way of making this change. You need to take concrete steps in order to start taking control of your personalized messaging strategy.

If you can’t build the channels in the same platform, that doesn’t necessarily mean your teams have to work separately. Make sure their strategies are syncing with one another and everyone knows what’s being sent from each channel. That means communicating constantly. Setting up daily standups between the various teams is one step you can take to help everyone better understand the full scope of the multiple-channel strategy that’s being employed, even if those teams have to be separate for the time being.

Long term, your goal should be to integrate your teams as fully as possible, ideally finding a solution that allows you to build campaigns for each channel within the same platform—and hopefully within one fluid journey.

Ultimately, you want to create one holistic strategy across all channels, taking into account customer preferences and interests as much as possible. This is where customer data becomes so important. Understanding your customers’ behavior, on an individual basis, and being able to apply that knowledge to your messaging strategy is how all of this can come together. Make recommendations that make sense within the context of a customer’s location, demographics, and buying behavior, sending messages to the channel that makes the most sense for that particular message.

For your data, seek out a solution that will give you direct access to all your data, live and on demand. For companies without too much data, your ESP’s marketing cloud may be sufficient. But if you go beyond the limits of what that can provide, look into what modern data warehouses and on-premises solutions can do to help you keep your data in one place and at your fingertips.

If you decide you need to partner with a data warehouse solution, there’s a variety of factors to consider and test, during the evaluation period. Obviously, cost is a limiting factor. If a service is beyond your budget, there’s not much you can do. You should also consider your security needs. How sensitive is your customers’ personally identifiable information? What level of encryption do you need? How easy is the data warehouse to install and configure? To what extent is cloud database administration necessary? Will it support your current analytics tools? If not, what changes need to be made in order to transition seamlessly?

This isn’t a process to enter lightly, but it’s one that has the potential to change the way your marketing team executes, and greatly increase efficiency.

Building better data systems

You’ve put in a ton of work to create the content that fits your vision of what your customers want, and how you want your company to be viewed. And you want it to be seen, read, and to generate business. The only way to do that is to distribute it smartly, efficiently, and relevantly to the people who will read it, and on the channel where they’re most likely to do so. Getting your data right is the path for making that happen.

The Author

With 20 years of experience in journalism and writing, Jeff brings an expertise in producing impactful content, identifying audiences, and writing in a way people will want to read. At MessageGears, he’s focused on helping businesses better understand who it is they’re talking to, and helping them reach those people via the power of words.

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