Good data governance blends people, processes, and martech: A Q&A with Scott Brinker

February 9, 2022 Chuck Leddy

Scott Brinker, the renowned martech thought leader who’s been writing about the marketing technology landscape since its inception, has been thinking a lot about the importance of data governance. The number of martech vendors, the sheer volume of customer data collected (and used), and the need for good data stewardship has grown over the last few years (GDPR, anyone?). So has the imperative for good data governance, which might best be defined as “the rules of the road” for who can take what action, upon what data, in what situations, using what methods.

Sojourn had the chance to chat with Brinker about data governance, and what follows is an edited version of our conversation.

Why is good data governance so important now?

Brinker: All businesses today are being driven by data, and the volume of data they're processing and basing decisions upon is simply massive. Data governance is ultimately about ensuring the quality of all that data, so that the conclusions drawn from it are accurate. Data governance is also about taking responsibility for the stewardship of data, living up to the promises we make to our customers around managing their data, as well as driving compliance with data privacy regulations.

As with managing martech, data governance blends people, processes, and technology. And like martech, the people and the process side of the equation are far bigger factors than the technology side.

The process side is incredibly important because data governance is only effective when it has visibility into all the data you have. If some of your data is sitting in silos outside the purview of your governance structure, you can’t have good data governance. Getting those processes right and getting all your people trained and enabled is such a big part of good data governance.

What could go wrong in the absence of good data governance?

Brinker: Most obvious would be all the bad outcomes resulting from poor data quality, such as making bad decisions, not giving customers the right experiences, liability for being in violation of data privacy regulations, and an inability to work across your organization in fully data-enabled ways. 

How have changes in tracking cookies and data privacy regulations impacted data governance?

Brinker: The arrival of GDPR a few years back was definitely the triggering event for most marketing organizations to get serious about data management and data governance. While many marketers were initially unhappy about having to take on that compliance responsibility, most of the ones I've spoken with recently are actually happy it happened because average data quality has risen tremendously. That increased data quality ended up improving the outcomes and effectiveness of marketing campaigns and the level of customer engagement.

Marketers actually got a lot more benefit out of GDPR than they originally expected, and I suspect it will be the same with the looming death of third party cookies. As marketers invest more in first-party data, they will get more value out of it. 

How can an organization begin to set up a good data governance program?

Brinker: The answer is largely a function of the scale of your business. As I said, data governance only works if you’re governing the entire data landscape across your company. Larger companies typically have larger data landscapes, which increases the likelihood that there will be pockets where data is either trapped in some application or within some outside service provider or in some other data silo scenario. 

Start by investing in an audit of your data landscape, and then use those audit results to inform and begin implementing a good data governance program.

You need to understand the structure of what you have today and then understand the target state you want to reach with your data management and data governance.

What is the role of marketing operations in developing and running an effective data governance program?

Brinker:  The marketing operations team is the owner of marketing’s data management and the technology stack for marketing. So they should be marketing’s interface with the organization’s higher-level data governance team and program. Marketing operations people should be able to talk the language of data governance, understand the program requirements, and help implement the relevant data governance policies within the martech stack.

Due to the evolving and complex nature of marketing operations and marketing technology management, it’d be impossible for anyone to know everything. Even though marketing operations are responsible for holding up marketing's end of the data governance contract, most of the team would likely need support in terms of training and enablement around data governance.

Your company needs to invest in its marketing and marketing ops people in order to implement a good data governance program.

What are the benefits for marketing of having effective data governance?

Brinker:  It raises the bar for the quality of marketing data. But it also creates a bigger opportunity for having a global data governance infrastructure within a company, making quality data available to all teams and all departments. That creates a data ops environment where there's so much more data available to marketing and to everyone else – data from the sales department, from customer service or customer success, and from other departments. Marketing can feed all that data into customer analytics and customer segmentation, as well as personalization. 

What is the role of technology in good data governance?

Brinker: That technology would extend beyond martech: most people would probably call it something like data ops, a data layer, or a data stack. That being said, marketing teams should look at this technology like they would any other piece of martech – it's something they need to understand how to use, it needs to play well with other tools in their martech stack, meaning you don't have any data silos.

Data governance needs to be baked into how we think about marketing technology, both for vendors who are creating products and certainly for marketing practitioners.

So marketers should be considering data governance when they're purchasing martech, and marketing operations would be helping them with an evaluation process that addresses the growing importance of good data governance.

To learn more about improving your data governance and overall data quality, reach out to us. You can also hear more insights on martech and data governance at Scott Brinker’s chiefmartec blog

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