South African companies that are serious about making a shift towards customer-focused marketing need to put in place systems and processes that will enable them to gather and make sense of unprecedented amounts of customer data being generated, in an integrated fashion.

That’s according to Acceleration director Richard Mullins, who says that the growth of digital channels have prompted marketers around the world to rethink the impact that data has on the way they run their entire businesses. Mullins is commenting ahead of the Acceleration Digital Ignition Symposium for 2014 to be held in June, where the country’s top digital marketers will gather to hear about the latest trends and developments in the digital marketing landscape.

“Knowing and understanding the audience is key to successful customer engagement—and data unlocks your knowledge of and insight into your audience,” adds Mullins. “For that reason, we’re seeing organisations worldwide look closely at their customer data—what customer data they collect, where and how they collect it, and how they put it to work.”

Mullins says that most marketers have been gathering customer data from digital channels and tools for years, including their Web analytics, ad-serving, email and search platforms. They used it for basic optimisation of their digital marketing, benefitting greatly from the measurability that digital channels offer in the process.

Now, however, they are thinking about data in a deeper manner as they seek to build out more personalised and relevant engagements with their customers. They are seeking to integrate data from digital channels with data from point of sale, contact centre and customer relationship systems to get a more complete view of their customer.

And they are also looking to achieve a more granular and detailed understanding of customers’ needs and behaviour. “As you build a deeper understanding of the audience, so you become able to use each touch point and each piece of content to deliver more meaningful engagements and influence with your audience,” Mullins says.

Mullins says that against this backdrop, organisations need to start thinking about data in a more strategic manner. This means they need to put in place enterprise architectures that allow them to map out the sort of data they need to collect to meet their customer acquisition and retention goals, as well as the tools and technologies they will use to do so.

“Marketers need to learn how to mine audience data across different channels and media,” he adds.

Mullins says that owning and understanding data is really about ownership of the customer—which is why publishers, marketers and agencies are racing to build audiences with the hope of controlling the associated data.
“Companies who collect the cleanest, most relevant and most up to date audience data will be able to monetise this data and grow their revenues,” he adds. “Those that don’t will start to pay a premium to third parties to access data about their own customers.”

Acceleration’s Digital Ignition Symposium in Franschhoek in June 2014 is themed “Know your audience”. The Symposium will provide digital executives with practical insights that will help them to create successful marketing, publishing, mobile, social and app strategies for their organisations.

Steve Pimsoll, who is responsible for Mindshare’s global technology and data vision, will be one of the international keynote speakers. He will be joined by another legend in the digital marketing industry, Jeff Eales. Eales is Director of Systems & Development at BSKYB and is a TV advertising veteran of nearly 40 years.

Devon Tighe, vice-president of Data Strategy and Operations at The WPP Data Alliance will also take part in the Symposium this year. Devon has more than 10 years of experience in the colliding worlds of media and analytics. Prior to joining The Data Alliance, Devon was a research director at The New York Times where she focused on business strategy and customer analytics.

Local speakers will include Mike Stopforth, CEO of South Africa’s social business authority, Cerebra. Stopforth speaks locally and internationally on social media and its impact on business, and is recognised as one of South Africa’s top thinkers and experts in this area.