Friday, April 17, 2009

Why the Contact Washing Machine must be In-House

As B2B marketers, we all deal with the same reality; we receive a continuous stream of dirty data, but yet realize that success requires us to work with clean data. I wrote some time ago about the Contact Washing Machine concept, a data cleanliness program that standardizes and normalizes data within a B2B marketing platform.

Since that time, however, I've had a lot of conversations where marketers have suggested that they don't need to establish the discipline of the contact washing machine to keep their data clean, as they have a service (either a tool or an agency service) that they send their marketing data to once in a while to have it cleansed.

The challenge with this approach is that the data we are dealing with is continually being used, and continually being added to and edited. Every source of data that flows into your marketing data base has an opportunity to dirty the data that is within it. Whereas you may be able to control some sources of data, many you cannot, and if a data source is contributing dirty data, very quickly your marketing database will soon have a percentage of data that cannot be relied upon.

The sources of data to most of today's B2B marketing platforms are quite varied, and many of them either are not, or cannot be, rigorously controlled in terms of the data they pass into your platform.

CRM systems and data marts will have their own data rules and data standards, and may contribute data of varying qualities. Event registrations may be provided to you by third party vendors and thus have non-standard ways of collecting data. Web forms may allow free-form text fields for titles, industries, or address fields, and in doing so contribute dirty data. List uploads, whether purchased, or from legacy data stores are often of dubious quality, and any integration with your sales team's desktop email environment means that they will be contributing data as they chose to type it.

In short, the variety and breadth of data sources in most marketing environments means that we cannot control what data is coming in, and thus, our data quality begins to degrade as soon as we have finished a bulk data cleansing process.

The only viable solution, and the concept behind the Contact Washing Machine, is to bring it in house. In order to have clean data in your marketing platform, you must have your data being continually cleansed at each touch point. Each time that data is sourced or changed, it should be put through the cleansing process of the Contact Washing Machine in order to remain clean and standardized.

Whereas bulk data cleansing can offer additional cleaning to what the automated standardizing, cleansing, deduping, and normalizing that a Contact Washing Machine can provide, both are necessary. If you think of clean data as being like the oil that keeps your marketing engine running smoothly, you can think of bulk data cleansing as being like an oil change, and the Contact Washing Machine as being like an oil filter within the engine. An oil change may do more to clean the oil, but you won't get far from the mechanic's garage if your engine does not have an oil filter to keep things continually cleansed.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar