Why Marketing, Not IT Should Control the Marketing Database, (Part 2)

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

In Part 1 of this article I made the point that IT departments almost always think they can—and should—be responsible for the marketing database.

I speculated that this is because, when information technology (IT) professionals hear the word "database," they say, "Ah ha! That means a system, and systems are in my bailiwick." But most IT professionals have no real training in the difficult but critical task of rendering the database content—the "stuff" of which a database is constituted—consistent and usable over time.

There are three reasons why it is a big challenge to create high-quality marketing database content:

· Contact information must be aggregated at multiple levels, and the levels linked to each other. For business-to-consumer records, this means going from account-to-individual-to-household. For business-to-business, this means account-to-individual-to-site-to-organization.

· Purchase activity must be consolidated across multiple sales channels such as e-commerce, inbound call centers and brick-and-mortar retail. In B-to-B, field sales and outbound telemarketing are often involved. The data from each of these sources has its own structure and anomalies, all of which must be rendered historically complete, consistent and accurate, and in synchronization with core business concepts.

· A modern database must support—on-demand—any calculation, aggregation or subset that logically can be generated from the underlying data. This requires a mechanism to allow the efficient and rapid re-creation of multiple past-point-in-time ("time-zero" views. These views form the basis for virtually all meaningful analytics, by allowing customers to be classified based on detailed histories only up to the appropriate past-points-in-time.

I have been making the argument for over two decades that, generally, IT should not control the marketing database. I have had little success convincing IT professionals of the merits of my position. However, marketing people—especially those who have had experience working with IT—tend to be much more receptive to my point of view.

For this article, I have decided to use myself as a guinea pig. I have tapped into two compiled databases that are available to anyone with access to Google, and checked out the accuracy of the information provided on "Jim Wheaton." These databases have had to collect and aggregate this "Jim Wheaton" information over time, across multiple sources. This corresponds to the first of the three reasons I provided earlier on why it is such as challenge to create high-quality database content. It illustrates why this work should only be trusted to experienced professionals:

Compiled Database Number One

This represents the genre that scours the Web for biographical information on individuals and then combines it into resumes. Here is what I found that is inaccurate:

  • My name is not "Jim J. Wheaton." It is "Robert James Wheaton, III." I go by my middle name because my father is "Bob."
  • I do not have a relative named "James Wheaton." In fact, that person is me.
  • I have no relative named "Iii Wheaton."
  • I have never lived in Bethel, CT or Juno Beach, FL. However, my parents have. Clearly, my father's information has been combined with mine. Fortunately, he is not a convicted felon or a former associate of Osama bin Laden.
  • Speaking of associates, the database lists 30 who are affiliated with "Jim J. Wheaton." Of the 30, six are people I worked with at KnowledgeBase Marketing in the 1990s, and four worked at KnowledgeBase but did not overlap with me. One was a Wheaton Group client about 10 years ago, and nineteen are people I do not recall ever having met. The 19 mystery associates are particularly intriguing to me, so I selected one at random and did some research of my own. I will call him "Herb." According to Herb's public LinkedIn profile, he went to work for Alliance Data Services in 2002. ADS did a joint press release with Wheaton Group in March 2002, so that is probably why compiled database number one thinks that Herb is my associate.

Compiled Database Number Two

I was not charged by compiled database number one for the (mis)information that I just listed. So, under the theory that you get what you pay for, I plunked down $75.80 to find out about "Jim Wheaton" from Compiled Database #2. However, it contained about the same number of inaccuracies:

  • Two of my three "aliases" —"James Robert Wheaton" and "Robert Iii James Wheaton—are incorrect.
  • I have no relative named "Consulting G. Wheaton."
  • I have never lived in Avon CT, Bethel, CT or Juno Beach, FL. However, again, my parents have.
  • I have never lived at "6707 Winchester Circle, Boulder, CO 80301." However, I worked at Wiland Services for ten years, beginning in 1987, which operated out of that location.
  • I am not Wheaton Group's Webmaster.
  • I was a database marketing consultant, and then a vice president, at Kestnbaum & Co. However, the firm was located in Chicago, not Chapel Hill, NC.

Final Thought

The next time an IT person wants to control the marketing database, try reasoning with him (or her). If that doesn't work, look him up on a few compiled databases. Then, present the errors to him, and ask exactly what in his professional background will help him avoid the same sorts of errors.

Jim Wheaton is a principal at Wheaton Group.

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