Data is becoming increasingly valuable to marketers.
In fact, 63% of marketers report spending more on data-driven marketing and advertising last year, and 53% said that “a demand to deliver more relevant communications/be more ‘customer-centric’” is among the most important factors driving their investment in data-driven marketing.
Data-driven marketing allows organizations to quickly respond to shifts in customer dynamics – to see why customers are buying certain products or leaving for a competitor, for instance – and can help improve marketing ROI.
But data can only lead to results if it’s clean, meaning that if you have data that’s corrupt, inaccurate, or otherwise stale, it’s not going to help you make marketing decisions (or at the very least, your decisions won’t be as powerful as they could be).
This is partly why data cleansing – the process of regularly removing outdated and inaccurate data – is so important, but there’s more to the story than you might think.
Here’s why you shouldn’t neglect to clean your data if you want to use it to power your business.
Why Clean Marketing Data Is Important
Marketing data is most often used to give marketers a glimpse into customer personas, behaviors, attitudes, and purchasing decisions.
Typically, companies will have databases of customer (or potential customer) data that can be used to generate personalized communications in order to promote a particular product or service.
Outdated, inaccurate, or duplicated data can lead to outdated and inaccurate marketing – imagine tailoring a marketing campaign for customers that purchased a product several years ago that no longer need it. This, in turn, leads to missed opportunities, loss of sales and an imprecise customer persona.
That’s partly why cleaning your data – scrubbing it of those inaccuracies – is so important:
Clean data also helps you integrate your strategies across multiple departments. When different teams work with separate sets of data, they’re creating strategies based on incomplete information or a fragmented customer view. Consistently cleaning your data allows all departments to work effectively toward the same end goal.
It’s important to note that data cleansing can be done either before or after it’s in your database, but it’s best if data is cleansed before being entered into a database so that everyone is working from the same optimized data set.
What Makes Data “Clean,” Exactly?
But what exactly does clean data look like? There are certain qualifiers that must be met for data to be considered truly clean (in other words, high quality). This criteria includes:
- Validity – Data must be measurable as “accurate” or “inaccurate.” For example, values in a column must be a certain type of data (like numerical) or certain data may be required in certain fields.
- Accuracy – Customer information is current and as up-to-date as possible. It’s often difficult to achieve full data accuracy, but it should have the most current information as much as humanly possible.
- Completeness – All data fields are filled in.
- Consistency – Data sets should be consistent, but there may be times where you have duplicate data and you don’t know which values are correct. Clean data contains no duplicate information.
- Uniformity – Data values should be consistent. If you’re in the Pacific Time Zone, for example, your time zones will all be PT, or if you track weight, each unit of measure is consistent throughout the data set.
Your data should also have minimal errors – the stray symbol here, spelling error there – and be well organized within the file so that information is easy to access. Clean data means that data is current, easy to process and as accurate as possible.
How to Clean Your Data
While some companies have processes for regularly updating their database, not all have plans in place for cleansing that data.
The data cleansing process typically involves identifying duplicate, incomplete or missing data and then removing those duplicates, appending incomplete data where possible and deleting errors or inconsistencies.
There are usually a few steps involved:
- Data audit – If your data hasn’t already been cleansed before it enters your database, you will need to sift through your current data to find any discrepancies.
- Workflow specification – The data cleansing process is determined by constraints set by your team (so the program you run knows what type of data to look for). If there’s data that falls outside of those constraints, you need to define what and how to fix it.
- Workflow execution – After the cleansing workflow is specified, it can be executed.
- Post-processing – After the workflow execution stage, the data is looked over to verify correctness. Any data that was not or could not be corrected during the workflow execution stage is done manually, when possible. From here, you repeat the process again to make sure nothing was left behind or overlooked to ensure fully cleansed data.
When done correctly, successful data cleaning should detect and remove errors and consistencies and provide you with the most accurate data sets possible. Some companies choose to clean their data in-house, while others outsource the process to third party vendors.
If outsourced, it’s important to provide your data-cleansing vendors with the constraints of your data sets so they know which data to look for and where discrepancies may be hiding.
Of course, if you’re regularly collecting data from an external source, you want to make sure that data is clean before it comes into your database so you have the most accurate data from the start.
This is why we’ve developed programs like our Knowledge Graph, which enables us to create clean data sets when we gather data from multiple sources. This keeps our records as accurate (and useful) as possible.
It’s important to remember that data cleansing isn’t a one-time process, since data is constantly in flux.
It’s estimated that around 2% of marketing data becomes stale every month, so you want to make sure that the data you’re bringing in is as accurate as possible (to minimize the amount of cleansing you have to do later) and that you clean your data regularly to maximize your marketing efforts.
Continuous cleansing of data is necessary for accuracy and timeliness, and for ensuring that every department has access to clean, accurate and comprehensive data.