A marketing message can only work if it reaches its intended target.

It’s almost as bad sending an ad to an inappropriate person (for instance, a minivan ad delivered to a young, single guy or a snow blower ad to a household in Florida) as sending it so many times to the same person that it’s simply a waste of money.

Research estimates that 30% to 40% of digital display ad spending is wasted, delivering to the wrong targets or sending redundant messages. Complete, verified consumer information can improve results dramatically—doubling click-through rates in many cases.

When assessing the quality of customer intelligence, ask these five key questions:

  • Is all available data pulled together in one place?

Marketers have access to a variety of information about their intended targets—online sales, email addresses, search information, street addresses, phone numbers. These individual pieces of data need to be connected, for instance, taking an email address and matching it with offline information. Those sorts of data matches are crucial if, for example, a customer calls in for information but doesn’t complete a purchase; a follow-up contact can then be made via a postcard or email message.

For marketers, linking this kind of information is essential to maintaining an effective relationship with customers. According to an Ad Age/Google study released in February, 59.2% of brand marketers said better measurement and metrics would increase their focus on engagement with consumers.

  • Is a system in place to verify that customer data is accurate?

Every day thousands of consumers change elements of their digital identities. About 45 million people change their phone numbers each year; another 16 million people move. Others switch phone carriers, change email providers or buy new computers. Each action also changes that consumer’s data record and increases the likelihood that a marketing message will miss its intended target.

This can also be critical to marketers looking to expand their marketing operations. For example, a national wireless carrier wanted to expand its retail stores. By analyzing accurate consumer data and correlating it with consumer attributes, it was able to pinpoint underserved locations as well as those areas with the highest growth potential.

  • Is the customer data being updated as quickly as possible?

Not only does consumer information need to be accurate, it has to be accurate. Customer records need to be updated continuously—ideally in real time—to enable scale and ensure currency.

Santander Consumer USA, a company that provides nonprime auto financing, found that implementing a verification system increased the speed of loan processing by automating the process; linking name, address and phone number provided by the applicant; and so eliminating the inaccuracies of manual data entry and incorrect information while cutting the 24-hour review process. As a result, its verification of applicant phone numbers increased 380%, boosting the number of daily loans processed.

  • Is the individual customer’s identity connected across touch points?

Marketers want their brands to reach the right people across all platforms. That requires linking consumer information and online behaviors to offline sales. The best data management provides not just pieces of information but also the full picture: a 360-degree portrait of consumers that understands who they are in order to send the right offer via the right channel at the right time. In fact, according to a Forrester Research survey done for SAP in November 2013, more than 70% of senior-level marketers surveyed said this kind of personalization “can have a significant or very significant impact on customer retention rates, customer lifetime value, customer advocacy rates and promotion conversion rates.”

  • Are privacy concerns being respected?

The customer needs to be identified accurately across platforms, but addressed in a privacy-centric way. Ideally this happens when consumers are grouped by demographic and psychographic qualities that allow accurate, anonymous targeting without identifying individuals.

Having verified, up-to-date consumer information in hand is the first step in making marketing work. Marketers need to leverage everything they know about their brands’ customers to reach them efficiently as well as to find likely new prospects, using predictive segmentation to create target audiences and optimize the media mix.

Originally published on April 15, 2014 by Advertising Age