Written by Lisa Skinner
As Aristotle wisely stated, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In business, to create that whole requires a catalyst that cohesively connects different teams around common goals. Data has the power to be that catalyst, aligning diverse teams with a common understanding of customer insights and business goals, but only if a strong strategy has been developed to guide it. Thus, a great data strategy — which ultimately uncovers and deepens customer understanding — will work in a supporting role to the overarching business strategy.
When an effective company data strategy that is closely aligned with business strategy has been thoughtfully developed, the path to achieving business goals is illuminated with powerful insights. The outcome of these efforts has multiple benefits as improved data quality means, for example, richer customer insights (better customer engagement and retention), clear priorities (better marketing ROI), and a clear picture of cause and effect across all departments.
What happens when you don’t align data strategy to support business strategy?
Think of it this way: data strategy is the foundation of your business. If the foundation is cracked or broken into pieces, everything built on top of it will be compromised, such as:
- Misguided decision-making across all business units
- Ineffective marketing
- Poor customer retention
- Inability to accurately forecast
- Lack of competitor insights
- Missed revenue goals
- Unnecessary costs accrued company-wide
The current data system may not produce accurate insights or it may be challenging to access the data needed. Redundant applications drive up costs, as do individuals accessing and storing duplicate data. Most importantly, without a unified system for producing business-aligned insights, it may be impossible to develop one accurate view of customers and revenue.
Aligning across the business
Achieving alignment means working closely with business leaders to gain an understanding of the top challenges currently faced by the company. A good data strategy will first and foremost help to solve those challenges through a system of technology infrastructure and clearly defined processes.
This level of clarity will help create a focused strategy leveraging only the data the company actually needs. If business outcomes aren’t kept in mind from the start, it can be easy to boil the ocean.
The side effect of this level of alignment will be building strong working relationships with company leadership. Developing a new data strategy is not an overnight (or cost-free) process and their buy-in and support will be necessary throughout the journey.
Begin by defining desired state, then identify gaps
Many companies today approach data in a disjointed and reactionary way. It’s often stored, accessed, and leveraged in different ways by different teams in the company, inevitably creating inconsistent and inaccurate insights. In this environment, data is not living up to its’ true potential.
Data’s purpose within a company should be to support and ultimately drive business goals forward. This can only be achieved by developing a strategy for collecting, organizing, and leveraging data that supports the goals of the company rather than the individual goals of each team. A good data strategy does not, and should not, stand on its’ own.
To underscore an important point, the only way to achieve the desired state of the company is by working with fellow business leaders to understand the company’s short and long-term goals. What is the desired state of the business in 6 months? One year? Five years? How can data help achieve those goals? The key is to think beyond what data is currently doing for the company and aspire to embrace what data can potentially do for the company to more readily reach their business goals. This defines the desired data state.
Once the desired state is clear, it’s apt to begin analyzing the current data ecosystem within the context of the newly defined business goals. In this analysis, identify all the current sources of data, how they’re being stored and accessed, and how data insights are being developed and used. The objective of this exercise is to identify the gaps in the current data “strategy” as it relates to the desired state. This will help inform the changes that need to be made while developing the new data strategy in terms of technology and process.
The new data strategy should have the power and breadth of insights to help drive business goals forward.
We live in an increasingly dynamic world. As such, it’s important to be nimble and opportunistic, iterating on the data strategy as more is revealed about customer preference and/or the needs of the business change.
Real-Life Example: Budget hotel chain Red Roof Inn’s marketing goals strive to be agile and contextual – to better connect and engage with customers around positive experiences. The hotel chain realized that adverse weather conditions offered them an opportunity to increase last-minute bookings among stranded travelers, but only if they could figure out a way to capitalize on dynamic weather changes. To achieve their goals, they aligned their data strategy to help predict and inform when inclement weather may cancel flights at certain airports with nearby Red Roof Inn properties.
With an estimated 2-3% of flights cancelled daily, this means an estimated 500 planes do not take off and 90,000 passengers get stranded. Red Roof Inn uses that information to target those stranded customers via mobile advertising campaigns with personalized messages designed to drive digital bookings like, ‘Stranded at O’Hare? Check out Red Roof Inn.’ The ads provided a timely and contextual offer—showing up at the right micro-moment in time for each recipient.
There is no compromise for quality data, mined for insights, aligned to support business goals and thoughtfully leveraged with specific objectives in mind. Data has the power to help answer questions, resolve uncertainties, and ultimately drive business strategy and goals confidently forward. It is our responsibility to develop a data strategy that aligns with and complements the overarching goals of the company, ultimately unlocking the transformative power of data.