By Mark Kersteen - July 14th, 2014

Last week, we collaborated with over two-hundred marketers to find out how they planned to use their customer data.

(If you’d like to join our pool of marketing insiders, head here)

We asked them to rank the following five priorities—1 being the highest, 5 being the lowest—to find out what they were looking to do with all the data they’ve been collecting. Our results were surprising; less for what marketers made a top priority, and more for what they didn’t.

This is what marketers said were their top priorities for their data programs:

Top Priorities

Marketers' Top Data Prioriti

34.63% Getting a deeper understanding of their customers.

24.68% Finding actionable insights.

16.88% Securing and protecting their customer information.

16.02% Measuring the ROI of their marketing.

7.33% Sharing and integrating customer data across their organization.

It’s not exactly a shock that marketers primarily want to use customer info to learn more about their customers. We'd imagine this is the ultimate goal of all data collection and analysis. What we found more surprising was how few marketers put measuring ROI at the top.

Why Aren't We Seeing More Measurement?

We’ve consistently been seeing more and more data move into the hands of marketers, as well as the responsibility for that data (and the accompanying budget). Marketers are approaching the point where they can definitively show how much profit they can bring in. Being able to justify what they’re doing now means they’ll be able to experiment with even more exciting technologies and methods in the future. In that light, one would expect this to be a much higher priority. Measurement is the only way marketing (and marketers) can make progress.

After looking at what made the bottom of the list, we were left with even more questions.

Bottom Priorities:

Marketers' Bottom Data Prior

5.19% Getting a deeper understanding of customers

7.36% Finding actionable insights

37.66% Securing and protecting customer information

15.15% Measuring the ROI of marketing

28.02% Sharing and integrating customer data across the organization

We Don't Feel Secure.

That’s right, 37.66% of marketers said that securing and protecting customer information was their fifth-out-of-five concern. 56.27% had it as either their lowest or second-lowest priority.That’s embarrassing, frankly. This makes our earlier warning even more urgent. Marketers who aren't paying attention: this data is so valuable, and your customers put so much trust in you to take care of it (often, without even realizing it). As a consumer, I’m upset and frightened by the thought of such a significant amount of marketers putting my privacy and safety so low on their lists. We know it seems like customers don’t care about their info—that they’ll tell you anything for free shipping, that they were blithely unbothered by Heartbleed. We refuse to buy it. Big data is just as unregulated and rife for a crash as the banks of 2008. Marketers: police yourselves, or something will happen that will force consumers and their representatives to do it for you.

We will give these marketers the benefit of the doubt. These numbers might be lower because it’s seen as IT’s job to manage security at most organizations. Still, marketers let the data pass through their fingertips when it comes in and as it goes out to a third party, like an agency or developer. As far as we’re concerned, the data buck stops at whoever’s soliciting it in the first place. Even though IT makes the networks and erects the firewalls, marketers have a vested interest in data security, and they should be very interested.

Also, we won't downplay that an admirable 16.88% of marketers had securing data as a top priority. Let’s hope they meant it, and weren’t just telling us what we wanted to hear.

Share and Share Alike.

While the response for security was bad, sharing data—with an average ranking of 2.40 out of 5—had the lowest overall priority on our list. This is dismaying. Integration and working with other departments is something marketers have told us is important to them at every event we’ve done. Customer data is the most powerful tool any company has towards becoming customer-centric, but it’s being wasted if it’s not shared outside of the marketing department. Perhaps it’s not a top priority because most marketers have become so good about sharing their data with everyone? Yeah, we didn’t think so either. Perhaps when marketers talk about working with other departments, what they really mean is that they want other departments to cooperate without having to do anything in return?

So what do you think? Are marketers really hogging data and leaving it unprotected? Might they have valid reasons? Are you as worried as we are?

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You can collaborate with us and get exclusive access to information like this here! You can read all of our other posts on data here. To hear discussion about tough questions like these, check out our panels on content at Incite Summit East

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