Data Governance for Marketers: A brief guide with your questions answered

November 19, 2021 Chuck Leddy

The term data governance can sound vague and a bit off-putting, so we’ve decided to answer some basic, foundational questions about the concept. The questions and answers below aren’t intended to be comprehensive, nor are they tailored to meet the specific data governance needs of your particular organization (we don’t know you that well, not yet). They’re meant to give you a clearer understanding and a starting point for more research. 

What is data governance? Data governance defines the rules for who can take what action, upon what data, in what situations, using what methods, according to the Data Governance Institute. Data governance has become increasingly important for marketers because of recent changes around data privacy. This includes regulations such as GDPR and CCPA (California’s data privacy law), as well as changes by big data players such as Apple and Google that offer greater protections for customer data.

Why is data governance important for marketers? Data governance can be viewed as the “rules of the road” for how marketers handle customer data. At its foundation, data governance doesn’t just protect customer data, but also protects organizations from legal liability triggered by data breaches and other forms of data misuse. It also protects a company’s reputation, because bad data governance and data breaches are potentially embarrassing and can negatively impact brand goodwill. All of that impacts marketers and how they work.

The Essential Guide to Data Governance explains the importance of data governance as follows:

Data Governance is required to ensure that an organization's information assets are securely, legally, functionally and efficiently managed throughout the enterprise to secure its trust and accountability. It drives the legal and ethical standards of the business and represents to its shareholders the strict guidelines to which the business adheres to both to its customers and the wider community.

Where does data hygiene fit in? Data hygiene is essential for data driven marketing, making sure your data is clean and therefore usable for marketing efforts like lead scoring, segmentation, and personalization. For organizations without good data governance, forms might be created in an ad hoc, ‘as needed’ way with little consideration for data hygiene. When different marketers create their own form fields, your CRM and marketing automation platform can get clogged up with hundreds of custom fields, duplicate fields and open text fields without any structure. 

This ad hoc approach doesn’t “lead” to easily usable leads and quality customer data, but creates an un-hygenic mess of data spaghetti that will need to be untangled someday by someone (alas, likely be a marketer). Good data governance prevents this data hygiene nightmare from happening.

What are the benefits of data governance? There are many benefits, but here are four of the most critical for marketers:

It ensures quality data. A vigorous data governance program keeps your data updated and clean. Data management can be painstaking, monotonous work, but the process can be made more efficient if your data management team keeps everything up-to-date and relevant by following good data governance.

Effective data governance enables organizations to maintain information it can use and decreases ROT (redundant, outdated, and trivial information) and data spaghetti. When dealing with multiple data entry points, for instance, some data will typically be duplicated and input incorrectly. Good data governance enables you to eliminate these data discrepancies from the source (e.g., the field form) in order to create a single source of truthful, high-quality data marketers can leverage.

It clarifies and defines roles and expectations. Identifying who in the organization will have access and responsibility/accountability for managing data helps you outline specific roles and the legal expectations inside each role. Requiring anyone who accesses certain levels of data to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) around data adds an additional layer of clarity and security. 

It improves decision making and planning. Data has become an essential driver of marketing and business decision-making. Good data governance enables authorized users to access the same data, thus eliminating data silos within an organization. IT, sales, and marketing teams work together across functions, sharing data and insights, saving time and resources while driving value as they “sing from the same hymnal.” 

It improves compliance. Good data governance makes it easier for your organization to be fully compliant with the latest data privacy regulations, including GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), and more. In addition, data governance software can provide masking as a data protection technique, allowing organizations to become compliant more easily. 

How can my organization build a good data governance strategy? Building a good data governance strategy will require the following steps, as described in The Essential Guide to Data Governance:

Step 1. Define who is responsible for data governance planning. While the IT department is important, you should build your data governance team with people from across all functions that use data. “Organizations should consider electing a data governance board, data trustees and cross-business functional heads to lead the discussions,” advises The Essential Guide.

Step 2. Identify Data Access. Map roles and responsibilities, access and security levels, which will guide how your organization handles data governance. Creating a data access agreement provides a clearly documented layer to your strategy, describing security levels and identifying which roles have what responsibility for stored data.

Step 3. Scale data systematically. Data tends to grow and become more complex over time. You’ll need tools and processes that enable you to scale and standardize data collection and storage systematically. Forms and interfaces for inputting data should be user-friendly and automatically feed into your single source of truth.

Step 4. Be flexible with evolving data privacy changes. A good data governance strategy and infrastructure has the in-built capacity to flex, to adapt and change along with evolving regulatory changes as they impact your data infrastructure. Good data governance is never a “set and forget proposition” -- it must be built to adapt.

Step 5. Maintain quality as you grow and go. You’ll need a process to audit your processes, your data, how your people comply with your data governance regime, and more. Good data governance is a constant process that takes an ongoing quality assurance mindset.

Want to learn more about good data governance? We’re experts in data, data management, and good data governance. Reach out to us for a conversation tailored to your organization’s needs, or learn more about how we work to help solve your data challenges. 

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