Building a Marketing Data Team for Success. Go Far with Aligned Skills, Focus, and Structure


Now more than ever, marketers need access to data and customer information to engage and re-engage with customers. Customer data platforms help marketers understand who their customers are, anticipate what they are likely to do next. 

A challenge for most organizations is that they use different systems for each customer engagement channel. Therefore, valuable customer data sits fragmented in different systems, and teams are not connected to an overall cross-channel strategy.

“Only 33% of all marketing organizations believe they have achieved mastery in data-driven marketing.” — Gartner, 2019/2020 CMO Survey Spend 

The Actionable Data in the Customer Data Platform

A customer data platform (CDP) is a starting point to address silos. The CDP Institute defines a CDP as “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” CDPs help address fragmented data challenges, where customer information resides in different systems, like a DMP managed by a third party, email tools, mobile platform, or a disconnected marketing database.

At Cheetah Digital, we are excited that the CDP Institute recognizes the Cheetah Engagement Data Platform (EDP) as meeting the definition of a CDP. The Cheetah EDP has all of the features expected in a CDP, as well as most of the distinguishing features that meet the need for today’s marketer that desires to make meaningful connections. 

Having an actionable view empowers marketers, drives a better understanding of customers and helps anticipate what they are likely to do next. That said, for many organizations, this requires a shift in team structure, roles, and skills. This shift brings together different roles, skills, and objectives, as well as people from IT, data science, and marketing, to drive revenue and competitive advantage. Separate teams working in silos inhibit cross-channel success as much as data silos do.

Bringing Together Different Teams and Roles

If you think about the African proverb, “if you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together,” it applies to bring together different teams and roles. While it might be easier for an analyst to run a model in isolation, a data wrangler to load data from a source system, or a marketer launching a list-based email campaign will be more beneficial and rewarding long-run to collaborate. The question is, how do I start? While there isn’t a one size fits all answer, there are some starting points and considerations. 

When considering a dedicated team for managing marketing data, you might have many questions. Is it an IT or marketing function? What team structure or skills are required? What are the team goals? These are all great questions, and while there is no one size fits all approach, there are considerations.

Because historically data is managed by different teams in silos, having a dedicated team requires change management, and organizational structure changes, so it might be more of an evolution. The evolution could start with a decentralized team, comprised of many roles, but aligned with common objectives and KPIs, evolving to a more centralized, focused team; or a combination of both. Either way, it will be an evolution. For example:

  • De-centralized team. In this structure, roles like IT, marketing, architects, and strategy are brought together in a shared environment; think of this as a "pod" of experts, roles, and skillsets, and aligned by goals, KPIs, and measurable outcomes. The upside is maximizing existing resources, but the downside could be strained resources due to demands from other teams.
  • Centralized Data Team, or “center of excellence”. This is a structure where the technology is centralized, but teams as well, where there is a single source of truth for marketing data, that flows to the business and customer touchpoints. Having a centralized data team can lend to long term focus and evangelizing marketing performance and adopt an agile approach to change and new projects.

The Necessary Skillset

With either approach, you need to consider key competencies for your data platform team and assess where you might need to fill gaps. In the Gartner report Build Stronger Marketing Analytics With Cross-Training they touch on the need for business acumen, technical, and analytic skills to keep pace with the expectations of today’s marketing. As you consider skills and competencies for your team, it is useful to look across your marketing data team members and assess the following areas Gartner outlines:

  • Technical and IT skills: Knowledge and experience with source systems and infrastructure, as well as how to access and transform data, to make it useful for marketing. This includes how to access source systems in batch and real-time, and ensure data is available for decision making, analytics, and personalization. 
  • Marketing acumen: Understanding of customer behavior, marketing priorities and strategies that drive customer engagement and business outcomes. This includes communicating marketing strategies and goals to team members, so as to gain alignment on outcomes.
  • Analytical skills: Ability to create and manage models and machine learning, as articulate outcomes, course corrections, and new opportunities. This includes marketing measurement, reporting, and optimization.

In today’s climate, there is an even greater need for a marketing data team. In a rapidly changing environment, it is critical for individuals across IT, architecture, marketing, and strategy aligned, to prioritize requests and opportunities, as well as deliver insights across the organization quickly. 

Seeing gaps? We can help

As you assess the current data team structure, roles, and skill sets, there might be gaps that a partner can help with. At Cheetah Digital, while we are excited about our technology offerings, we have a services team that can augment or complement your existing team. In a recent post, my colleague Caitlin Riordan outlines that an augmented team ensures an organization can realize their vision faster and drive outcomes and value from their technology investment swiftly. In the post, she recommends “the first step is identifying the right technology partner to get you there, the second is making sure there is a team behind the tools driving towards the outcomes or all ambitions will fall flat.”

Ultimately, the team's mission will be to help support or even formulate a strategy that drives engagement, identification of new opportunities and sources of revenue, and on-going measurement of marketing programs. Getting the right team, structure, and alignment will allow your team to go far with a data-driven approach that drives engagement.