In case you didn’t know, there are two kinds of data: Structured and unstructured.

When most of us think of data, we tend to focus on the structured stuff, such as customer records in a database. Everything there is organized by fields and values (name, location, company size, annual revenue, etc.) and it’s easy to work with.

Of course, marketing and sales relationships cannot thrive on isolated data points alone. They require nurturing interactions that take place via email and phone calls and are captured in meeting notes. What’s more, customers call the contact center, send queries to customer support, and even talk about your company (and themselves) on social media.

Since a lot of this stuff takes the form of written, natural language – and may even take the form of images and rich media – we call it “unstructured.”

The Whole Picture

Taken together, structured and unstructured data can give you a very detailed picture of your customers and your business.

Unfortunately, creating that whole picture is easier said than done. By it’s very nature, unstructured data needs to be prepped, parsed, and processed in order for it to be useful. That is, it needs to have some kind of structure imposed on it (or teased out of it).

As hard as it might be to do that, however, Aberdeen’s Mike Lock shows in his recent report, Data Diversity and Cutting-Edge Insight for Sales and Marketing (free registration required), that it can be well worth the effort.

For example, as you can see here, companies reporting frequent use of unstructured (or multi-structured) data enjoy several key benefits:


Mike also found that, in addition to increased data accuracy, companies making frequent use of unstructured data also tend to enjoy a higher percentage (90%) of “complete” data records and a reduction in time spent searching for data.

Tear Down the Silos

Looking at the chart above, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone saying, “Shorter time to market doesn’t matter to me” or “Our operating profit is fine where it is.”

At the same time, I can easily imagine someone saying, “Yeah, those benefits are impressive, but how are we ever going to get there. Our data house is a mess!’

The good news is, there are steps that can be taken to realize the potential of unstructured data, and the most important one is getting rid of data silos. Mike writes:

Perhaps the biggest issue that data-driven marketers face is that they need to utilize data from a variety of different functional areas (e.g. sales, finance, supply chain), but typically don’t have access to what they need. Best-in-Class companies are twice as likely to report having an open exchange of information across business functions, but they are also more likely to put processes in place to secure, oversee, and govern that data. Sharing data responsibly helps companies build more robust analyses and make more confident decisions.

Getting there, naturally, requires executive-level support as well as technical know-how. You need to change your organization’s behavior around data. That sort of thing takes time and commitment.

Of course, as marketing and sales become more and more data-driven, and as the amount of unstructured data that customers spin-off and companies accumulate continues to grow, what executive can afford to leave its potential untapped?

Read Mike Lock’s whole report, Data Diversity and Cutting-Edge Insight for Sales and Marketing.

Image Source (Creative Commons): xlibber.

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