June 19, 2008

Effective Use Of Your Database

At some point in the past five years, you probably invested in your customer database.

Maybe you built a series of normalized tables ... elegantly designed in a way that would make any IT professional proud. Maybe you hooked up Business Objects or MicroStrategy to the database, believing that you could answer any question you could think of.

Maybe you integrated your web analytics tool with your centralized customer data warehouse, expecting lightning bolts to appear from the sky about the casual visitor who browsed eight important landing pages before buying something in the store.

Or maybe you outsourced your database to a quality vendor who specializes in said activity.

I'm guessing that you're still dissatisfied with what you have.

You've probably learned the following equations:
  • People > Database Design
  • Database Design > Software
In other words, when crafting your database marketing platform, you focus on people first. One gifted query analyst or statistician means far more than any database you'll ever design. Far more!!

Database design means more than software. You need a series of summarized tables for campaign management. Don't ever let your software vendor or IT leader tell you not to store detail-level data (one row per item purchased, one row per page viewed). Your data expert needs the detail-level data to answer all the questions that cannot be answered by summarized fields.

Once those two aspects of the equation are solved, get good software.

Effective use of a database requires us to realize that people are more important than database design, and that database design is more important that software. This spring, many of you are communicating to me that your organizations view this the other way around ... you are outsourcing your analytical staff to India, you are outsourcing control of your databases, and you are relying on simple BI tools to query against summarized fields that don't adequately answer questions.

Let's turn this trend around!!


  1. Anonymous10:10 PM

    In a slow economy, focus is on lowering costs(i.e. outsourcing to India) vs growing sales. As economy rebounds in 2009 from pentup demand and flatlined or lowered fuel costs, the retailers still reducing costs will be caught off-balance as retailers focusing on growing sales and their channels should capture huge gains.


  2. Could be, we'll see in about a year!

  3. Anonymous11:16 AM


    Thanks for continuing to provide very strong content.

    I was on a plane last night and reading a print out of this blog entry. I was sitting next to an account person, she wanted to take a look, and had a comment. While I understood what you meant about People > Database Design, she countered with if the databsse has been designed and built incorrectly, that can prevent even a solid analyst from getting the required information out of it. That makes sense to me, as that has been an opinion of mine when faced with the "Database is a commodity" argument. Poorly designed ones are (or worse), but well designed ones are still strategic. Do you have any thoughts one way or the other on this?

    S. Topper

  4. Sure, poorly designed databases are a big problem, and will greatly limit the ability of a bright analyst to make insights.

    Over time, I've observed that great analysts take poor data and make sense out of it, getting "what they can" from poor data. To me, this is so important, given that few people really have or can afford high quality databases.


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