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Gathering data is one thing, but deriving insights from that data – and then applying those insights – is another. There’s a reason, after all, that US marketers spend more on data activation solutions than data itself. Nonetheless, a new report from Econsultancy finds some improvement in marketers’ ability to act on insights derived from customer data.

The study, produced in association with IBM Watson Marketing, reveals that 6 in 10 brand marketers surveyed in 2017 claimed that their company’s ability to act on customer data-derived insights was either excellent (11%) or good (49%). That’s a solid improvement from 46% surveyed a year earlier.

Only a minority of companies, however, are able to thoroughly leverage customer data for important objectives. Companies are having the most success in using data to understand customer needs and behaviors and to optimize marketing mix decisions. Leveraging data to automate tasks required to create personalized experiences is proving more of a challenge, though. (Separate research indicates that data quality is the biggest personalization challenge faced by marketers.)

Along with a better ability to act on insights derived from customer data, marketers are also feeling more confident in their ability to understand the customer journey across channels and devices. About 6 in 10 rate that ability as advanced (12%) or intermediate (47%) – meaning that they have at least a good understanding of the customer journey. That’s up from 43% claiming that level of ability in 2016.

Interestingly, B2B marketers are slightly more likely than their B2C counterparts to rate their knowledge of the customer journey as advanced or intermediate. But a higher proportion also say they have no insights at all into the customer journey.

Understanding the customer journey has long been a priority for B2B organizations, and as the Econsultancy analysts points out, “a focus on high-value transactions and a more targeted approach can make it easier to get greater visibility into the customer journey, tracking customers and prospects individually, and as part of an organization.”

B2C organizations, instead, may have to deal with more complexity arising from a greater number of interactions and touch points. Separately, survey respondents said that the biggest barrier faced in trying to build a joined-up view of the customer journey is the complexity of the customer experience and the number of touch points (46%). Other leading challenges include difficulty in unifying different data sources and poorly integrated marketing technology.

Despite these obstacles, marketers seem to be making some headway…

About the Data: The results are based on a global online survey conducted in August and September 2017 among 1,026 client-side brand marketers.

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