Cheat Sheet: Questions Marketers Should Ask Before Investing in a Data Warehouse

James Hart Alight Insights, Marketing Data Management

A data warehouse is an essential piece of any brand or agency’s marketing analytics operation.

With a warehouse, you can automatically gather your most valuable marketing data — from your web analytics, PPC campaigns, display ads, traditional media, social channels, CRM tool, email service provider — in a single place.

That makes it easier to produce accurate, complete reports on how your campaigns are performing.

But most marketers, even if they know what a warehouse does, might not understand what distinguishes a good solution from one that will ultimately fail them.

If you’re in the market for a data warehouse — either as part of end-to-end analytics software (a tool that can gather and organize data and produce visualizations) or an independent piece of your marketing-tech stack — what kinds of questions should you ask your vendor?

Here’s a quick cheat sheet as you search for the right choice for your organization:

How Will Pricing Work for Your Marketing Data Warehouse?

Different warehouse providers have different pricing methods. Some charge based on how many rows of data you’re storing, while others will bill you on how often you query your database. One plan might offer pay-as-you-go pricing. Another will assess a flat rate per month.

Understanding the particular pricing model is important because you need to make sure your resources (and your budget) are enough to handle the increased demands of new clients or new projects.

Is Your Data Warehouse Built for Marketing Analytics?

Invest in a solution that will serve you well over the long term.

In most cases, you can add storage capacity as your collection of media data grows, especially if you’ve chosen a cloud-based provider. But the choices you make early on, when you’re choose the type of data warehouse you want, could hurt you or help you later.

For example, some providers will offer to build a data warehouse that employs a transactional database model. This type of database is built so it’s easy to “write” — to add or edit individual entries. Your point-of-sale system is a good example of a transactional database.

Setting up a transactional database is a less expensive option. But this style of database isn’t optimized for marketing analytics. Instead of “writing,” with marketing analytics the focus is on “reading” — you’re combing through a huge amount of data to answer a question.

You need a database that’s designed for the kind of work you’re doing. It’s important to make the right choice early because this decision is difficult to go back and fix.

Will Your Marketing Data Warehouse Play Nice?

Maybe you have a favorite tool for building media reports, client dashboards or modeling your media mix.. Everyone in your organization might use Tableau for building visualizations, for example. Whatever solution you use, make sure it’ll be able to access your marketing data warehouse. Start by asking the company that makes your BI tool if it will connect to the data warehouse vendor you’re considering.

Will Your Data Be Secure?

Ask your vendor how your media data will be encrypted and what the vendor’s team will do to make sure your information is stored securely.

See if you’ll be able to create “roles” for the people using your marketing data warehouse — that is, give different levels of permission to different individuals. Some people on your team might need to make edits and have access to all the data, while others (like your agency’s clients) should have access only to smaller, more specific datasets.

Who’s Going to Manage Your Marketing Data Warehouse?

Even if you have an IT team with the expertise to set up your marketing data warehouse, do they have the time to keep up with the constant maintenance and make sure your data is prepared for analysis?

Your warehouse needs to be set up so that all your marketing data — which might be coming from dozens or even hundreds of media channels — is in a common format. That way, you’ll have the ability to make true, apple-to-apple comparisons. Your IT team will need to be experienced in media data terminology to create common keys between the sources. This can be tough since an “open” in an email may need to be grouped with a display ad “impression.” It isn’t as easy as managing traditional business financial data that has standard terminology and structure.

Additionally, not all of the 3000-plus marketing data sources have straightforward APIs, or APIs at all. To get the data into the marketing data warehouse, your IT team will need to build import process to work with flat files directly from vendor systems, or import Excel spreadsheets for TV buys or publisher-served media. The ongoing upkeep associated with pulling the data will require a significant amount of IT resources so be sure you are staffed up appropriately.

If this sounds like more than your internal team wants to take on, platforms like ChannelMix can manage the marketing data warehouse for you.

Are You Really Buying a Marketing Data Warehouse?

A marketing data warehouse stores a huge amount of information that can span years, collected from multiple sources. It’s an authoritative, historical record — but one that you can search with relative ease. A true marketing data warehouse is built with the long view in mind.

It’s different from day-to-day, operational databases, such as your point-of-sale (POS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Those tools are constantly being updated. They weren’t created to hold years’ or decades’ worth of data.

That hasn’t stopped some providers from billing themselves as marketing data warehouses. Even if they possess the ability to store your company’s ever-growing mountain of media data — which isn’t guaranteed — they might not handle queries as efficiently as a marketing data warehouse will.

Another pitfall to look out for is the ability to get data out of your marketing data warehouse. If you want to change warehouses or even use a modeling tool like R or SAS, you don’t want your data warehouse to just create another silo of data. Some end-to-end analytics software locks your data up so you can only use it within their tool and can’t ever get it out. All that hard work you did to clean up your data, apply business rules and fix errors will have to be redone when you switch systems if you get stuck with one of those tools.

There’s a lot to consider when your marketing team invests in a data warehouse. But the benefits — in ease of use, in capacity for analysis — are ultimately worth the time you spend on due diligence.