Data Management

Master data management: The forgotten foundation of marketing technology

In the past 25 years, digital marketing capabilities have evolved from batch and blast email and static banner ads, to triggered messages, dynamic & programmatic bidding, website personalization, predictive learning via AI and much more – all with the goal of delivering truly unique and informed customer experiences.

While this focus on customer experience has led to a great set of new tools for marketers, it’s interesting that all of these new tools and solutions rely on data, but none of them focus on the disciple of master data management (MDM).

To be clear, I mean real data management – completion, augmentation, merging, purging, correcting inaccuracies, identity resolution – the hard work that makes data useable.

The Blind Spot

This blind spot became evident while I was viewing a demo of the campaign management capability of a Forrester-recognized email service provider. As they demonstrated how a customer experience is created and served for email purposes the client asked the obvious question:

Where does the customer data come from?”

“From an API call of course,” was the immediate answer.

The astute client followed-up:

“Where does the API call? How often is the data requested? Where does it live? How are you sure data being used is accurate?”

The demo engineer was stumped.

The truth is that most of the flashy execution technologies use your data to make decisions, but they do not *truly* manage that data. From an attention and investment standpoint, we have somehow forgotten the importance of MDM in our maniacal focus to serve better, easier, cheaper, and more compelling messages.

All of us, as consumers, have gotten the wrong marketing message at some point; one that makes no sense and beckons the question if the brand knows anything about the person they’re talking to. How does that happen?  Somewhere along the way the execution engine got inaccurate, incomplete or no data at all.

Master Data Management: The Missing Focus

Proper MDM ensures the cleanest, most accurate, up-to-date, and complete data is available to all execution systems. So how can you build and strengthen that connection between data and execution?

1. Make sure you have a true Master Data Foundation

Ideally that is a single database location, one that contains all information about your known customers, aggregated intelligence about your unknown prospects, and as complete a history as possible of behaviors, actions, preferences, engagements, purchases, feedback, etc. This is where the elusive “golden record” of the customer lives. It is the first place that needs to be ready for the call to action when employing the newest rocket science marketing technology.

2. Create strong connections.

Look carefully at how your master data connects with execution channels. Find ways to make that a direct, two-way, real time conversation. Avoid making API calls to any other location, instead default to integrating that data into your MDM process and master database location.

3. Expect your master database location to do more.

Allow your master database to act as a true central source of truth. That means if you can write the rule in a centralized location to create a customer segment, do it. Avoid replicating logic and rebuilding at the execution level. Sure, those solutions can do it, but only when data is centralized can your ESP know what your database service provider (DSP) is doing. Brands that have cracked this code can even connect call center and in-store experiences, again by pointing to the master data source.

4. Select the highest organization level possible to host your master database.

This means if you have complementary brands, host a single cross-brand master data location. Reach out to other groups like analytics, consumer insights, and R&D to see what they have, need, and use. Err on the side of data inclusion in your master database. If you are worried about who sees what, technology can easily provide user level restrictions. It’s a lot easier to restrict access to data you don’t need, than connect and integrate data you don’t have.

5. Design for accuracy.

Go old school here, MDM by definition includes data hygiene, resolving conflicts in data attributes, correcting fat-finger mistakes, and augmenting records by connecting the dots and filling in the blanks whenever possible. Even when storing unknown customer data, focus on the attributes that have been proven by your execution channels to be the most important and predictive.


While it might not be as cool, new, and blogged-about as the latest experience platform, master data management is imperative for effective marketing program execution. Talk with all your partners openly and honestly about data management and data reliance. Then, design a data ecosystem that provides the best possible fuel to power your newest solutions.

When in doubt, find a strategic partner that can help guide you through solutions options, one that knows data management and can help you build a framework that can be the rocket fuel for all your marketing implementation.

William Sears
SVP Solutions Architecture

William Sears, SVP Solutions Architecture, translates client business challenges into solutions that leverage leading Marketing Technologies. Specific areas of expertise include: Data Management, Consumer Analytics, Platform Planning, and Adoption. Vertical expertise include: Consumer Packaged Goods, Automotive, Financial Services, Travel, and Retail. Bill leads the Technical Sales Support Team provide Marketing Transformation via sales enablement and technology solution design for consumer-lead organizations. Bill has broad market experience as an applied leader in marketing technology, consumer analytics, shopper marketing, digital marketing, and market research. He has delivered results and led on-site teams at more than 20 global brands. Participated in the design and application of the ‘Liquid Data’ platform in cooperation with IRI and IBM and has been providing digital marketing applications for the past 7 years. Recognized with multiple partner and innovator awards from his clients, Bill continues to challenge the boundaries of technology enabled data collection and application to drive marketing results for his clients. Personal Detail: Bill holds a BS in Marketing from Ithaca College, and a Ducktorate Degree from the Walt Disney University. He and his family are proud puppy raisers for Can Do Canines Assistance dogs (, having graduated seven dogs with two more at home today.