Data HQ’s complete guide to building and maintaining a state of the art marketing database

Data cleansing
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By Tim Holt 9 min read

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Building a comprehensive list of marketing contacts is just the first step in the journey to truly effective lead generation and nurture. Database marketing can be incredibly successful, when done right. Today’s wealth of data means you can know your customers more intimately than ever, and target them accordingly. But it also means their expectations are higher.

According to Hubspot, 86% of business professionals prefer to use emails when communicating for business purposes, so your email marketing lists really should be the foundation of your outbound communications. With email at the heart, you can branch out to create broader multi-channel campaigns that meet your prospects and customers wherever they need your company or your content.

From outreach, through engagement, to optimisation - and the automation of each element - read on for Data HQ’s complete guide to the best practices and processes needed to build and maintain a high quality marketing database that generates genuinely engaged leads.

Building your marketing database

The first step in your database marketing strategy is building your database. And that starts with establishing a thorough understanding of the data you’ve already got.

The first task is to gather whatever disparate data lurks in the far corners of your organisation, bring it together, and then establish its quality. No matter what business or industry you’re in, data decays quickly, so you need to make sure what you have available is current and complete.

Once you understand what you’ve got available, and the standard you’re working with, you can begin to supplement any areas of weakness by buying data. The mailing lists you purchase should be built from trusted and reliable sources should be built from trusted and reliable sources to maintain the database quality you’re working towards. Keeping quality front of mind throughout your whole data management process is absolutely critical, because it will have a huge impact on campaign results and your business’ reputation.

You will purchase mailing lists according to particular customer segments. according to particular customer segments. Data can be split and profiles can be built by segmenting data in a number of ways, such as by industry or contact type. Profiling is becoming increasingly sophisticated, though, and you can know customers increasingly intimately, profiling them with almost pinpoint accuracy. And with more data available on your prospects, it becomes increasingly important to manage it comprehensively.

Data management and maintenance

You probably already hold a lot of customer data on file. Many organisations find data can end up siloed and unstandardised, sitting in spreadsheets on sales managers’ computers. It’s essential to bring it all together, standardise it, and obtain a clear overview of everything that’s available to you. This helps to build a complete view of your world of contacts, a complete single customer view (SCV).

Creating a Single Customer View

An SCV is a database where all data sources from around an organisation are stored and standardised, so that a complete picture of all prospects and customers is available through a single dashboard. In this era of big data, this ‘at a glance’ view is incredibly useful.

Disparate systems, which are often managed and maintained by different parts of the business, typically have no clear data link, which is a disaster for understanding customers wants, needs and behaviours. An SCV is increasingly crucial in terms of both outreach and data analytics. Allowing data to remain siloed in different parts of the organisation creates fragmentation and holds your campaigns back: if you don’t understand the complete picture of your customer, you simply can’t convert them as effectively.

An SCV draws in data from multiple sources, and matches it using different matching technologies, such as in-depth fuzzy name and address matching, name and email matching, household matching, and core ID matching. The SCV then uses the results to create more detailed individual customer profiles.

From here, all relevant data is linked to create the SCV database. This database allows you to see all your customers comprehensively and examine their previous actions against their profiles and areas of interest. With this level of detail, you can create determine which actions are best to take for each customer, not just a generic customer segment. Creating detailed pictures of your customers in this way will improve your data quality overall, and with it, your conversion rates.

Data cleansing

From time to time, you should look to refresh and update your marketing database by undertaking a data cleanse.

You should begin evaluating the quality of your data. You can do some or all of this in-house, or work with a specialist third party to plug any skills gaps you may encounter. Many vendors offer a free assessment to help identify areas where data quality can be improved, what types of data may be missing, and other problems that may be affecting optimal data performance.

If you’re keen to start this process yourself, here are some simple steps you can take:

  • Ensure consistent formatting for data entry
  • Make clear the importance of precise and accurate data entry to any staff involved
  • Combine and de-dupe files based on email address or another unique reference within the files.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you might want to start thinking about consulting a third party who can help you maintain your database in more rigorous detail. Consistent attention to your contacts in key. It might be tempting to try and manage everything in-house, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a niche B2B mailing list should be updated by phone three or four times a year. Obviously, most businesses have neither the time nor the resources to commit to this, so it pays to bring in the experts.

All data deteriorates over time, so it’s important to maintain your database through periodical reviews and cleanses. While there’s no set in stone time period for database review, six months is a good rule of thumb for any organisation.

Periodical, planned data cleanses and strategy reviews will ensure your marketing efforts remain compliant. Compliance in your marketing database is a critical consideration: you must adhere to GDPR and other relevant standards. Getting consultancy on the elements you’re unsure of and buying relevant data can be a real time saver and offer reassurance in an area you really don’t want to get wrong.

Marketing automation

So, your datasets are clean and complete. Now what? In a world where data is growing exponentially, businesses can enjoy ever deeper customer insights. But with such a breadth and depth of data available, it can be overwhelming even just knowing where to begin.

Understanding the customer journey, and developing a data and automation strategy that aligns to it, is key to building and maintaining effective customer relationships. Automating the process that your customers go through ensures you will reach the right people, at the right time, with the right messages.

To create a consistent, and consistently positive, impression among customers, your communications should be relevant. They should meet the customer wherever they are: that means on whichever channel they’re using (email, social media, industry media, for example) and wherever their level of informational need is (are they looking for solutions to quite generic problems? Or are they specifically searching out your products and looking to understand its benefits?).

The content you put out should be developed with an eye on the issues your customers are having in their day to day working lives, it shouldn’t concentrate entirely on ‘selling’ your product. Meeting your customers at their point of need in their broader role will create a positive impression of your company and keep you front of mind when they are in buying mode.

Understanding customer profiles: analytics and BI

Building your marketing database is one thing. Getting to know your customers intimately is another thing altogether. Understanding their digital behaviour, analysing how they react to campaigns, and using this data to refine future outreach is how to ensure you’re constantly improving, and consistently bringing them closer.

Data can be segmented and used in different ways to achieve different business goals. That’s why it’s important to approach your strategy with clear objectives in mind. Undertaking a customer insights process is a good place to start in developing a clear picture of who they are and how they behave.

Customer analytics and business intelligence, aligned to your unique business strategy, will create targeted insights: tailored to your challenges and objectives. Once a campaign has concluded, engagement data can be reassessed to create an even clearer customer picture and refine the approach next time.

From knowing them well, to anticipating their next move, customer profiling can now be more complex than ever. You can understand their profile fit and their behaviour, and cross-reference the two to create really impactful marketing communications.

Understanding customer behaviour: propensity modelling

Propensity modelling is a key part of customer profiling. It identifies the most compelling prospects, by ranking contacts on their likelihood to respond or behave in a specific way.

You’ll discover which prospects are close to purchasing and, conversely, which are unengaged and likely to churn. This helps to fuel your customer journey and automation strategy, because you can send the right messages at each stage. This helps to keep your communications relevant and improve engagement. It also helps you save budget and time, because you’ll have a much clearer idea of when not to promote certain products to certain contacts.

Getting the skills in place

To build, manage, maintain and refine a state of the art marketing database, you need to acquire certain skills - either in-house, or by working with a specialist consultancy. The skills you need can generally split into three categories.

Customer journey strategy: you’ll need a contact strategy expert, to understand your customers and the data you have available on them, and devise a multi-channel campaign to meet each customer segment in the most effective way.

Data management: you need data specialists in place to be able to accurately gather, standardise and analyse your data. These are time-consuming tasks, when done properly, so it pays to have someone committed to this.

Technology expertise: you need to have someone that can administer and supervise the technology you’re using to host and manage your database and automation strategy. Someone that can build your campaigns and pull the results.

Accurately understanding customers helps to build stronger relationships, boost brand loyalty, and ultimately increase sales. The ever increasing reams of data available to organisations create compelling opportunities to understand them better - but also creates more complexity. It’s critical to manage it proactively and comprehensively to glean the most from it.

If you have questions on any of the stages of best practice database management, Data HQ can help. For more insights, explore our Knowledge Hub, or get in touch with one of our friendly experts to discuss how Data HQ can supplement your in-house skill sets, or our strategic data solutions can help you and your business.

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