Data integration can be a confusing topic, particularly if you’re not a Data Solutions Architect or someone who has practised or studied the art of data integration. So if you’re a marketer (like me), a business person, or just someone who wants to get an overview of the topic, then you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, I aim to explain data integration in marketing in a way that is clear, understandable and non-technical (as much as is possible!).
Let’s get started.
What does data integration mean?
Data integration, put simply, is the process of consolidating data from various sources into a single data set - offering a unified view of the data and efficiently managing it, making it accessible for those who wish to utilise it. Or, as TechTarget puts it:
“Data integration is the process of combining data from multiple source systems to create unified sets of information.”
There is no one-set purpose for data integration; its uses range from business processes, applications, marketing procedures like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and various other digital functions. The goal of data integration is typically similar across the board - to provide users with a consistent view of, and access to, consolidated data.
For companies to accurately and effectively perform business tasks, they must be able to access and process large amounts of customer, user and/or transactional data. There isn’t a universally accepted approach to data integration, either. There are, however, common features and practices.
According to OmniSci, there are 6 primary data integration techniques:
- Extract, Transform, Load (ETL): datasets from different sources are gathered, combined and loaded into a data warehouse or database
- Extract, Load, Transform (ELT): data is loaded into a system and transformed at a later date for particular analytics purposes
- Change Data Capture (CDC): identifies changes in real-time and applies them to a data warehouse or other repositories
- Data Replication: data is replicated from one database into another/others to synchronise information for operational purposes and backup
- Data Virtualisation: data from different systems are unified virtually rather than being loaded into a new repository
- Streaming Data Integration: different streams of data are continuously integrated into data stores and analytics systems in real-time
Whilst these different techniques are important when it comes to data integration, let’s not get too bogged down in the nitty-gritty details. Here’s how data interaction works [simplified]...
How companies integrate data
Typically, data integration will include a network of data sources, a master server that pulls data from these sources, and then a business, for example, accessing the now unified data on a master server for a particular purpose or function.
Source: Forrester & Google
Now that we’ve briefly covered how data integration works, let’s explore its purpose when it comes to marketing.
Data integration in marketing
For marketers, operating in what is now a predominantly customer-centric world, gaining a comprehensive view of your audience is essential. How can you target your ideal audience at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way if you know nothing about them? In order to effectively communicate with customers and prospects, you need to collect their data. But collecting this vital information is just the beginning. For marketers to be able to successfully deliver relevant customer experiences, boost marketing efforts and accelerate sales revenue, integration is the key. The integration process unifies customer data to give you a total customer view.
From apps and your CRM system to multichannel campaigns, automation software and, well, basically anything in your marketing stack, most modern marketers, whether they're working in large or small marketing teams, will have experience dealing with an overabundance of data that are stored in separate systems, often in different formats. We call this a data silo. Data integration allows marketers to access organised data all from one place.
Source: Walker Sands
Side note - data silos
Just like silos that are used in agriculture, data silos are large structures that contain materials in bulk with the purpose of isolating the products that they contain. Whilst agricultural silos store things like grain, data silos store information.
The problem with data silos is that they don’t allow for the unification or sharing of data, which is bad for businesses for a number of reasons. Take different departments within a company, for example, it’s hugely beneficial for some sectors to work together - like sales and marketing. Without shared access to company data, each department has a limited view which restricts collaboration, opportunities, productivity, and the ability to implement a single customer view. Encouraging departmental collaboration in this way improves customer experiences and streamlines business operations.
As data integration produces a unified view of a company’s information, business intelligence applications can be used to access the data and provide actionable insights based on the entirety of an organisation’s assets. This means that marketers are able to effectively utilise the analytics of their audience to produce targeted content and messages that are highly personalised and relevant.
As well as giving businesses and marketers a deeper understanding of their target audience, data integration can also be used to inform and analyse marketing efforts in the form of KPIs, metrics and conversions.
Research by Forrester shows that, when managed adequately, data integration has real financial value. More than twice as many marketers who claim their marketing analytics tools are well-integrated outperform their revenue goals by over 10%, compared with those marketers who struggled with integration.
As a marketer, you will likely have numerous tools, platforms, campaigns, strategies, etc. Each of these elements will create and collect their own data, and all (or most) will be from disparate sources which, as you probably know, can get messy. So having the ability to decipher this important information all from one place enables sophisticated marketers to measure the efficiency of tools within the marketing stack, conduct A/B tests and utilise website analytics for improved performance.
Businesses globally are implementing data integration to make better choices based on a deeper understanding gained from their digital information.
Benefits of using data integration
The benefits of data integration will, of course, differ depending on the sector you work in, the company that you work for or the business or application that you own. Nevertheless, organising and decluttering your audience data will enable you to have greater control over your marketing activities, guiding your actions and facilitating an overall clearer picture of your customers and prospects.
Here are the 3 primary benefits of implementing data integration in marketing:
- Reduces errors
When data is gathered and analysed manually and separately, a lot can go wrong; taking into account every user, database, tool, etc., means that aspects are often overlooked and information is left out, even when people double-check. Errors of this kind lead to incomplete data sets, especially when it comes to adding new data sources. Data integration improves the organisation of data, identifies issues automatically and uncovers anomalies, therefore reducing errors. All of which optimises the decision-making process for marketers.
- Improves business intelligence
Data integration allows for a deeper comprehension of information which streamlines analysis. With improved business intelligence, organisations can easily view and understand data in order to gain actionable insights across departments and within the company.
Source: Econsultancy & Google
- Saves time
Having all of the data you need in one centralised area means that you don’t have to spend time trying to access data from multiple, disparate sources. Data integration offers a unified view of the data that’s needed to perform particular functions, make decisions or action processes. Companies waste a lot of time collecting data and connecting data points and often miss out important pieces of information. Integration boosts efficiency, accelerates analysis and can even lead to new discoveries.
It’s the marketing team’s responsibility to attract, engage, convert and retain audiences and prospects as they experience various touchpoints. Data integration provides a centralised platform with which marketers derive powerful customer insights and evaluate marketing performance, i.e. campaigns, content, social media engagement, ads., and so on. These insights lead to more effective marketing performance and outcomes. The amount of data now available to marketers means that you have so much more to work with and utilise. But understanding this data is key. Once you utilise data integration, you will find it easier to personalise customer touchpoints, achieve a customer-centric marketing strategy and make the most out of your valuable customer data.
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