Working at the dirty end of data doesn’t win you awards

04 Jan 2017  |  by Mike Fox

It might not be glamourous, but working at the dirty end of data keeps everything running smoothly for big brands.

Marketing data became an industry in the late 80s and early 90s.

That’s not saying people, businesses and organisations weren’t doing incredibly smart stuff with data long before this – but it wasn’t until the tail-end of the decade that brought us Wham and the Sinclair C5 that marketing data became a ‘thing’ in its own right. And like every discipline, the annual circus of accolades and recognitions was soon to follow.

Over the years, the glamour , lights and awards have most commonly found their focus on the analysis and insight areas of the data industry. This is where the gifted kids get to play.

These gifted kids, having cut, sliced and diced the transactional data with owned and third-party feeds, tease out nuggets of wisdom through a mix of FastStats mastery and a dash of commercial intuition. Then beautiful omni-channel campaigns wing their way to consumers, tugging at emotions, changing behaviours and encouraging recipients to dig deep.

Judges pontificate how the segmentations, insights and personalised comms helped agency X deliver target Y for client Z in less time, at lower cost and with greater customer satisfaction. Then crowds gather in glitzy London hotels, get tipsy and gaze in bleary-eyed wonder at the winners.

And meanwhile, back in a basement in the Midlands, a team of data professionals mumble something about high quality, accurate data being the unacknowledged critical foundation of all this success.

Then they get back to their spreadsheets.

OK, we’re not THAT bitter; in fact, sometimes we go along to the Awards, sponsor a table, take a few friends and have a lovely time – but what we don’t do is win Awards for the work that we do at the dirty end of data. Because nobody wants to talk about it.

Our client base spans almost every consumer-facing sector; from Market Research to Finance, from Utilities to Charities. Some of our traditional customers are international names. None of them want to do case studies or award entries – because even if you’ve cleaned the database up now, it clearly wasn’t clean before.

This highlights a perceived lack of care towards customer data, or worse still for Plcs and Charities, it suggests budgets have been wasted – and nobody wants to admit to that.

This year we will have been smashing our metaphorical pick axes against the data coal-face for a quarter of a century.

We’ve seen it all - and some of it would make grown data managers blush. Records captured then locked away in dark corners of a SQL database for years before being led out, blinking into the light and expected to perform; segmentation models that include ‘Ford Cortina driver’ as a definition; files of responders, long forgotten, now full of movers, changed numbers and deceased records.

Oh, the deceased records. We see dead records, everywhere.

The unavoidable truth is that without clean, accurate, high quality data as a basis – we’re talking names, contact details, ages, localities and profiles here - all of the insights and creative efforts are wasted, pointless, moot.

For years we have built a successful business on cleansing and enriching this dirty data, establishing a position as an independent data management specialist who provides impartial advice on which suppression and enhancement processes to run and in which order they should be applied.

We have built a market leading data management platform, released an API to integrate our cleanse and enhance services, created white-label tools for others MSPs and our bureau team’s efforts have underpinned some major award-winning campaigns.

Crumbs, even our initial aim with FastStats was to help our clients analyse and understand where their data management budgets would have the greatest impact.

Suffice to say, now fully equipped with our own team of gifted kids, we’re doing a little more with the Apteco software these days and developing the insight side of our business with an exciting and diverse range of analysis, modelling, segmentation and visualisation projects. Who knows, we might even start picking up the odd accolade or two.

One thing that is guaranteed: all of the necessary dirty work is done and all of our insights are based on accurate data.

And, as cliched as it might be, our work is reward itself.

Explore the latest hot analytics topic - Best Next Offer. All the gifted kids are talking about it!

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