Well 2012 is fast approaching and yet we are being told to batten down the hatches, prepare for the economical storm that will be and even the banks are being told to not pay bonuses!

So should this be our only worry? Well if you are a business leader, CMO or just work in marketing, then I think there are four challenges we are all facing right now (whether we realise it or not!) that we all need to consider when engaging with the customer. Why do I think these are real challenges? Because over the next few years, they will add massive complexity to everything we do, not just in marketing, but also right across every business.

So what are these big hairy arsed challenges that we are all facing? Well I have labeled them: The Data Revolution, The Demographic Shift, The Social Generation and Smart Connectivity.

I remember when us marketers spent far too much money trying to obtain data, I don’t mean lists, I mean insight, intel, knowledge! However today, we are inundated with this. With the rise of the internet, social channels, CRM (or is it now CEM?) businesses realising that as long as the product works, it’s how you look after them that counts, we are collecting more and more information and data every single minute of the day. This is great I hear you say, what is the problem? Well the issue marketing teams now face is how do you extract the value from all of this? What are the little golden nuggets that will make the difference?

The volume and variety of the information we have at our disposal today is unbelievable, in fact for a closet data freak like me it is quite exciting. But for those of you are normal, what should you be doing?

Well there are many ways to do this. There are some fantastic data agencies that can do a great job in helping us see the wood from the trees and there are some forward thinking businesses that realised this and went and hired some exceptionally talented (and very clever) people to do just that!

But what if you are an MD, CEO, CMO or just a plain old marketing bod working for a company that doesn’t have a budget that can stretch to outsourcing or purchasing expensive licensed based software packages (another bug-bear of mine!), or you work for some of the leading brands that have these great people/teams but don’t even use them? What do you do? How do you extract the meaningful insights that are sitting there undiscovered?

Well the first step is to realise the problem. You may sit there reading this thinking I don’t have this problem at all! Well you do, you just don’t know it, as what is worse, is the fact you are missing out on so much vital information that will help you do things so much better.

The second step is to look at what you are doing now and change it. How many of you currently run a monthly/ quarterly survey? What questions are you asking? My favorite one is always ‘how satisfied are you? One a scale of blah, blah, blah…! OK great that you scored a 5% increase in overall customer satisfaction this month over last, but do you know why? Have you thought that if you asked the question differently and gave them the option to give open, fluid feedback rather than picking somewhere on a scale, you may actually find out so much more about your customer, what they really like and actually what they also don’t like about the same thing!
Your customers are screaming out to be treated and engaged with differently! How much do you know about them, do you even realise they are humans, not marketing packaged acronyms or just another stat in the monthly board presentation!

A good friend, and a very clever data guy I know, used to say (quite a bit actually) there is such a thing of paralyses by analyses. This is very true for some, but if you look at it or approach it differently, ask the questions in an open not closed way, give them the chance to tell you something useful, then you may even like what you find and therefore get exited about it! Look at what you have now, what can you tell from it, how are you collecting it, who is giving you what and allowing you to do what with it and then try something that you would never dream of doing in the business you are at, we like to call this testing ;o), and look at the people sitting behind this data and engage with them in a human way. Ask human questions, try to understand something about their lives, because only then will you be able to see the value in what you already have. You never know, it could be that little something that helps you achieve that big horrible 2012 target!

How important is data to you, are you struggling, have you found a solution or do you think it will only get worse? Would love to know your thoughts.

p.s. my reference to anyone taking a liking to data as being a freak is solely my own opinion and is just of myself, but anyone who could be viewed the same remember this: you hold the magic key to any successful marketing team, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.