Has COVID forced brands to take data cleaning seriously?

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There have been a lot of unexpected consequences to the ongoing COVID pandemic. For example, people seem to be more considerate of others, taking time to let them through doors, moving aside to let them pass and such like. I feel that phones are being stared at less as we navigate the new rules on social distancing. England footballers are chastised not for sneaking girls back to their rooms but for breaking them in to the team bubble. And someone in London even said thanks to me today!

Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pexels

An increase in data quality

At REaD we have seen a data-related unexpected consequence. We have noticed that a lot of the brands we had been speaking to for a long time have picked up doing more work on data quality. And in some cases, even brands we haven’t even been speaking to. It’s not just smaller brands either but some very big household names, as well as lesser known brands and businesses.

Is this unexpected? I’m not sure but I have been surprised. If anything should have spurred people on to look at data quality you would have thought it was GDPR. In all honesty, we were braced for a lot of companies to be under-prepared for managing data quality two years ago. What actually happened was a few people having a minor panic but most organisations felt they were okay. Sometimes this was due to a huge cull in non-necessary data (a good thing) but in some cases I suspect some complacency.

One piece of feedback we regularly get is, “We are very close to our customers, and they would tell us if their circumstances changed.” In reality, the number of brands we actually tell when things change are very few. And as our interactions become more digital, there is every chance that will become even fewer in the future. If all our banking is done digitally for example, are we likely to tell the bank when we move house? Or who we buy our rail tickets from? Will we tell our favourite supermarket when one of our family sadly passes away?

Why keep it clean?

So why now? Is this just some housekeeping while on lockdown, or is it more that brands have realised that having to engage directly – and not having access to customers via stores or branches – means there is a much more compelling need to keep data up-to-date and clean?

From discussions with people from different organisations, I am not convinced there is one particular reason at play but a combination of factors. However, a universal theme seems to be with customers and prospects now much more home-based, knowing where that home is and being sure of that is more relevant than ever. For a while, digital comms have almost ignored home location: mobile means you can be targeted wherever you are. But in times like these, when home is not just where the heart is but the rest of the body too, knowing about that location is useful.

Being able to identify the locale of a customer, to know where they live if you want to send them a mailing, or have up-to-date contact details if you want to email or send a text or know more about the area they live in if you want to tailor digital comms, is now not just useful but essential. And maybe home location is useful even to exclude them from campaigns because that area or postcode is at risk of a local lockdown and knowing that they can’t visit their branch/store/restaurant etc. is really helpful.

A permanently online world

So, will this trend continue over time? One thing is for sure, as we are constantly being told, the world will never be the same again. I suspect when this year’s retail figures are analysed in detail, the ongoing steady progress of digital sales overtaking in-store sales will see a massive change, a massive jump towards the majority being digital. I also don’t see this just being a one-off blip; enough evidence is already in place now for us to conclude that even when stores are open and ready for ‘normal’ trading there are lots of consumers who will now be permanently online.

Key to this are the older customers. These consumers have learned to buy online with the fear removed. The opportunity is for brands to keep them engaged. How do brands quickly stop people defaulting back to shopping or being serviced in-store?

John Lewis, for example, has decided not to reopen all of its stores. That must be because they believe that enough of its audience is going to stay online. They couldn’t afford to lose those customers, so they must believe they will keep buying online. It’s quite a surprising move but they must have the data to back it up. I hope they do.

Which brings us back to data quality. At the end of the day, we know that ongoing, sustainable customer engagement strategies are based on three ingredients: up-to-data and relevant information, easy-to-use and interactive tech, and personalised creative strategies. If one of these is based on poor quality data then it means the others have to work so much harder to engage: why take that risk?

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