Pretty much every month, as regular as clockwork, I get a short message service (SMS) text from the same organization. This organization is located in a city that is a several-hour drive from where I live but believes that it needs to remind me that I should really drop by to see its latest stock. I don’t open the SMS; I delete it. A month later, the whole exercise plays out again.

About six years ago, I walked past a car dealership in my hometown, and seeing something mildly attractive, I popped in and inquired on some of the details. In the process, I gave them my mobile phone number so that they could contact me about a test drive. When they did call, I informed them I was no longer interested–the flighty consumer that I am–and that was the end of that. Or rather, it wasn’t, for it is they who contact me by SMS every month.

Now, the law concerning this sort of communication in the United Kingdom (UK) requires an opt-out, and indeed, at the bottom of each SMS (well, there certainly used to be before I stopped even opening them), there are the details of how to unsubscribe from the missives. Why don’t I do this? Is it simply to store up an anecdote for a blog post such as this? No, it’s simple, bloody mindedness on my part. At what stage is someone going to look at the data and decide that I no longer represent a well-qualified lead for such an effort to be made? I know that in my heart of hearts, that day, of course, will never come unless the dealership goes out of business or I eventually lose the battle of wills, snap and uppercase my unsubscribe reply to them. For them, the low cost of sending a pointless SMS is cheaper in real terms than having someone actually go over the data to judge recency of lead in a case such as this. As such, that data remains a feted pool.

There needs to be the same approach toward this sort of record [customer data] that we would take with a traditional "records management" project in having a well-understood approach and set of standards for retention and disposal.

On each occasion now that I return to my hometown to see my family, I like to spend some time in my parent’s garden, admiring, in particular, my dad’s collection of interconnected ponds. The first he dug when I was only just a teenager, and so keen was he to ensure that the conditions were perfect for the fish that he intended to buy, he expended a great deal of effort in learning everything there was to know about pond pumps. Far from a temporary concern, as the number of ponds, waterfalls and streams he's constructed has increased in number, so has both the number of pumps in operation and his knowledge of each. Seriously, if I knew of an analyst company who wanted to pick up coverage of pond pumps, I’d recommended him for the job in an instant.

For those of you from non-pond families, the pumps are required to circulate the water to ensure that it remains oxygenated. Without this process, the water becomes gradually more stagnant and unable to support many forms of life, especially those fish that my dad intended to stock in the pond. His planning went very well, and the first of his ponds was a great success; however, the primary beneficiary was the local heron who ate every single last fish he introduced (the plastic fake heron that was subsequently deployed as a decoy only served to provide the real heron with a better perch from which to decide which fish to eat next).

Setting aside for a moment that it is unlikely that herons are going to eat many (or any) of your potential customers, having their data reside in a repository that is able to be freshly oxygenated is a vital and often ignored consideration when you’re considering attempting any form of a "single view of the customer," as I discussed last summer. There needs to be the same approach toward this sort of record that we would take with a traditional "records management" project in having a well-understood approach and set of standards for retention and disposal. Such an approach ensures that we have a continual process of review for the data that we hold, allowing a clear focus on those which meet the right criteria for continued outreach and those which do not.

This process of oxygenation will not be unfamiliar to adept digital marketers, especially those who have been utilizing contemporary marketing automation technology, where this will likely form part of the way in which segmentations are built. However, as 451 Research’s ChangeWave buying survey continues to reveal, those sorts of marketers are still small in number—the January 2015 survey pegs only 17% of the organizations polled (with 59% suggesting that they had no plans to do so). For those who have yet to undertake that process, it is vital that they assume a deal of careful deliberation in how they coalesce this data before they start to address their customer in public.

Matt Mullen is a senior analyst of social business for 451 Research, where some of his primary areas of focus are digital marketing and social media technology. Follow him on Twitter @MattMullenUK.

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