Sizing up the data challenge

Harnessing customer data can help membership organisations grow, but too often its potential is overlooked, says CPL content strategist Martin Bewick

The beginning of a new decade always brings with it a host of predictions about the future. In content marketing, it’s no different.

Here at CPL, our inboxes and timelines are full of crystal-ball-gazing reports on the potential impact of 5G and (mentioning no names) who’s going to deliver it; or how businesses can get ahead with the latest developments in machine learning; or competing assessments of whether the rise of automation will put us all out of jobs.

All this innovation and change is set to be powered by data, and lots of it. More of it, in fact, than there are stars in the observable universe.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), which has been analysing trends in data since the 1960s, an estimated 463 exabytes of data will be created globally every day by the middle of this decade.

What’s an exabyte? One quintillion bytes, or a billion gigabytes – and as the digital world grows, so do the numbers. One thousand exabytes equals one zettabyte. There are going to be lots of those, too. Are you ready for the truly big data of the zettabyte world?

It’s enough to make your head swim.

Practical challenges of data

Coming back down to earth, the questions over what to do with data are usually set out on more tangible, practical grounds. For many organisations in the coming years, the more localised trends in data use are still widely predicted to be:

  • How to organise data in cloud-based software
  • How to plug the data skills gap within an organisation
  • How to comply with data privacy, protection and governance regulations
  • How to reach the end-goals of your business’s digital transformation
  • How to grow sales and/or membership with a data-driven content strategy

Does all that still sound challenging? If it does, you’re not alone.

Although many organisations are fully aware of the power of data to achieve an array of communications purposes, far fewer are using it strategically to transform their business.

Part of the problem is that collecting more and more data can be easy, but using it purposefully towards a particular end is more complex.

You may gain data every time a transaction is made, a new member signs up, or your social media is engaged with, but – in its raw form – the data is little more than a collection of values: alphabetical characters, numbers, and so on that hold little intrinsic meaning. Only when they are processed do they become the type of information that people can read, understand, and use to good effect. That processing – the collating, sorting, interpreting and producing of relevant analytics – is what takes time and resources.

You need to use your data to make it worth anything

Data and membership growth

How, for example, are membership organisations using their data? Are they using it purposefully for growth?

In summer 2019, CPL and Ashridge Communications asked a range of membership bodies – of different types, sizes, and from across industry sectors – to participate in an online survey about how the content they produce connects the organisation and its core audience.The results were published in The Content Connection, a research report that assesses membership bodies’ effectiveness in using content to grow and retain members.

One key takeout from the research was that customer data could be playing a much greater role in how organisations gain new members, and in the content created to support that growth.

Of the 37 respondents, 25 (68%) said they had a content strategy, and 26 (70%) said they had a content schedule or plan for the next six months. Only three, however, were actively using data to identify members likely to respond to particular content, or to focus retention activity on those most likely to leave.

Almost one in five respondents to the survey said their membership data is ‘rarely shared’ across the organisation, and fewer than half have access to data ‘whenever they need it’. As we summarised in the report, rigorous interrogation of data seems to be the exception among the 37 organisations we surveyed.

Essentially, the old adage about money being like manure can also be applied to data: it’s good if it’s spread around; if it isn’t, it just stinks. You need to use your data to make it worth anything.

When it comes to using data strategically, there is no one size fits all – but getting more from it should be a target for all membership organisations, whatever their size or sector. Place data at the heart of a communications strategy and it can play a much greater role in how organisations gain and retain members.

Download a copy of The Content Connection here.

Martin Bewick – CPL Content Marketing Strategy
Martin Bewick
is content strategist
at CPL

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