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Most marketers know by now that customer data—collecting and applying it—is central to generating positive results for the business.

As always, though, the devil is in the details: It's not enough to collect data, put it into a database, and hire some data scientists (if you can find them) to make some sense of it.

Recent research in the Harvard Business Review enumerated some of the misconceptions about customer data. The authors noted some hidden challenges:

  • Having beautiful databases on customer purchases and online browsing behavior isn't optimal if they can't be cross-referenced to show whether certain browsing behavior was predictive of sales.
  • And, experimentation, not big data analytics, is what really helps marketers move from showing correlations to making reliable predictions of customer behavior.

The point is this: Customer-data strategies require deep thinking, multiple strategies, and patience. Even if the latest, greatest analytics system was on your wish list, you'd only just be dipping a toe in the water.

For 2017, you should consider the following tactics to get more value from the customer data you are collecting.

1. Reconcile the data

Increasingly, companies don't suffer from a problem of having too little data. The greater challenge is how to qualify and simplify the right data and then make it actionable.

Companies have many systems housing customer data, all with different structures, functions, and owners. At some point down the line, someone created an Excel file (or 20) about customers, dumping in data sets from different systems, such as CRM, customer service, and order management. Although Excel is useful as a band-aid for integrating data, it's completely inadequate to support real-time marketing campaigns.

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image of Cory Munchbach

Cory Munchbach is VP of marketing at BlueConic, a customer data platform.

LinkedIn: Cory (Madigan) Munchbach

Twitter: @corinnejames