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Is your data better than Google’s? If not, rethink your marketing now

Having been kicking around customer publishing for a couple of years, I’ve come into contact with a lot of agencies. Web agencies, DM agencies, marketing agencies. PR agencies, consultancies, and viral specialists. You name it – there’s an agency for it.

One of the characteristics of almost all of the agencies that I’ve come across is a desperate desire to not give the client any kind of bad news. That doesn’t just mean telling them that a project is late – although being honest about deadlines and what’s achievable in a given time frame is also far too rare – but telling them, up front, that some core aspect of their business is a hindrance, not a help, and is ultimately costing them money.

Take, for example, the thorny question of data. Data always sounds technical and complicated, but what it means fundamentally is simply this: having enough information about your customer to be able to talk to them in a way which is relevant, and not waste their time on stuff which doesn’t matter to them.

The best companies know how important this is: Google, for example, is creaming it because it understands that important of knowing what’s interesting to someone.

Yet I’ve come across many examples of agencies who are simply not prepared to tell the client straight that their data is not good enough to support what they want to do. Few agencies seem to be prepared to tell clients that they are pissing money away by sending excellent material to the wrong people, or people who don’t exist, or via print to people who really want email.

Worse yet, every time you send someone something that’s inappropriate for them, you run the risk of just irritating them and damaging the brand. And, as customers get used to seeing ads which are more interesting to them, because they’re contextual, material which is inappropriate will start to stick out like a sore thumb.

And yet, few agencies appear to want to tell this to clients. Few agencies appear to want to go through the process of pointing out to the client that an upfront data acquisition campaign will be more valuable to them in the long term than a tactical piece which goes out to the wrong people.

Within a few years, there will be a single question about data which every company should be able to answer: do you know more about your customers than Google does? If you don’t, you need to rethink your data strategy, quickly.

Why? Because if Google knows more than you about your customers, then so do your competitors. Although Google isn’t going to be selling that information to them, it will be selling them ads which will appear next to content, and those ads will be better targeted than your marketing. Think Google ads couldn’t do brand-building campaigns? Think it’s only going to be about products? Think again. A Google ad can just as easily link on to other content which provides a brand-awareness experience. If they understand your customers better than you do, then you’re in trouble.

But surely, you might be saying, Google’s data isn’t that good. And in part, you’d be right – but it’s important to ad a single word to the end of your sentence, which is “yet”. Google’s modeling of customer behaviour improves every time someone does a search, and clicks on the link. How many times is your data being improved? Not as often as Google’s.

So if you have data, take an honest look at it. And, importantly, if you’re an agency and your client has bad data, start telling them the truth – because if you’re not, and you’re not helping them get better data, then you’re not doing a good job for them.

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