Why You Need an Enterprise-Level Marketing Taxonomy
Marketers today benefit from a wide range of data available to them literally at their fingertips. Theoretically, that data should provide them with insights to help improve their marketing efforts and maximize profitability.
But data can be misleading, and the decisions made based on that data can be flawed.
As technology has advanced and more companies have been able to adopt systems to help them gather, analyze, and make a wide range of decisions about the data to which they have access, they’ve recognized the potential value of making that data more broadly available than it might have been in the past. For instance, human resources information systems contain a lot of information that can be helpful to managers as they oversee employees; CRM systems can be valuable not only to marketing and sales staff but also to research and development teams.
As this recognition has emerged, companies are increasingly referring to the democratization of data—the idea that, by making data more widely available, the company can benefit from diverse insights and perspectives. Rather than maintaining data ownership among small groups, making data broadly available can provide big benefits. The goal is placing access to needed data at points in the organization where that data will be used by employees to do their work and make decisions.
However, as that democratization occurs, everyone accessing the data must be defining it in the same way—they all know what information they’re seeing and what it means, and they know that that meaning will remain consistent across the entire enterprise.
The larger the organization and the more people collecting, inputting, categorizing, or coding data, the greater the potential for error. As a result, in many organizations it’s quite possible that decisions are being made based on flawed, incomplete, or inaccurate information.
A marketing taxonomy can help.
WHAT IS A MARKETING TAXONOMY?
Taxonomies, which can also be referred to as schemas (both big words that can be a bit off-putting), simply refer to ways to categorize and organize data. Taxonomies are used to organize information through metadata tags in a consistent manner so that apples can be compared to apples and orange to oranges—and so marketing leaders can have confidence in the Big Data assets they now have available to them.
As Nathan Hughes, marketing director at Diggity Marketing, describes it: “Marketing taxonomy refers to the categorization of the various touchpoints of marketing. These include the elements of marketing and advertising initiatives, such as creative, placement, keywords, publisher, and more. Each marketing team has a different marketing taxonomy because every business has different business lines, marketing channels, and campaign objectives.”
Matt Raad, CEO of eBusiness Institute, a company that offers digital training courses, says: “Marketing taxonomy refers to the classification of marketing data into various subgroups; it also includes defining the characteristics of these subgroups. Enterprise-level marketers benefit greatly from organized data, simply because it saves them the hassle of going through unnecessary files and folders. Think of huge piles of customer/potential customer data gathered from all the visits on your website. It would be great to have a system to classify all of that in accordance with your marketing goals, right? That’s what taxonomy is all about.”
Importantly, though, marketing isn’t the only function in the organization that will rely on the data that a marketing taxonomy defines. It’s important that any marketing taxonomy feeds into and aligns with enterprise-level taxonomies.
Data integrity platform provider Claravine describes an enterprise-level taxonomy as “the scaffolding of the entire marketing ecosystem—a structured framework that teams on multiple levels and business units of your organization can choose to rely on when they track, structure, manipulate, or create metadata.”
“Marketing taxonomy helps improve the communication and synchronization of the team members at the enterprise level,” Hughes says. “It helps to observe the search-related problems and improvise the analytics.”
It’s a structure that supports not just marketing needs but the needs of business units across the entire organization. And, in fact, different teams might have their own taxonomies or naming conventions. But that’s where problems can emerge. Unless all areas of the organization are referring to various data elements in the same exact way and categorizing these data elements consistently, the reliability of that data can quickly become suspect—whether they know it or not.
DO YOU NEED A MARKETING TAXONOMY?
According to Claravine, there are five signs that your organization might need an enterprise-level marketing taxonomy:
- Information is out of sync in different systems.If different parts of your organization are referring to campaigns, communication assets, or communication channels in different ways and using different terms and terminology, your data is out of sync.
- There is redundant information in your dataset.This can occur when two different areas of the organization are entering the same information, but it is stored in different places—e.g., a CMS and a human resources information system, for instance—and the two systems don’t talk to each other.
- Your users are having problems because of errors in tagging or the naming of content.
- When users (e.g., employees) are having problems with search.They can’t find the information they need using the words/phrases they find familiar because the information is labeled with different words and phrases that others might find familiar, and the two don’t overlap.
- Downstream analytics platform issues are emerging, causing users to question the validity and reliability of the data they’re using to make decisions.
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, chances are good that your company—and the marketing function in particular—could benefit from adopting an enterprise marketing taxonomy to help better tag, categorize, and store data so that it can be readily found by those searching for it; so that all users understand what the data refers to; and so that decisions across the organization can be made with confidence based on reliable information.
HOW TO USE MARKETING TAXONOMIES
Emir Bacic is cofounder of Pricelisto and a marketing expert with more than eight years of experience in business management and five years of experience in internet marketing. Marketing taxonomies, he says, “help marketers deliver improved customer experiences by knowing exactly when and how they want information—by categorizing every term, phrase, and keyword, marketers can work with customers to generate highly targeted campaigns.”
Marketing taxonomies are also helpful in terms of content development, Bacic says, “because marketers can map out their customers’ journeys in each stage of the buying process.” Marketing taxonomies, he adds, “help create multiplatform messaging, which creates a more fluid experience across every customer touchpoint.”
Bacic points to a number of vendors that offer marketing taxonomy software, including:
- Concept Inbox;
- Autonomy (acquired by HP in 2011);
- Crimson Hexagon;
- Sysomos MAP; and
Claravine, which offers its own pioneering tool (The Data Standards Cloud) to manage marketing taxonomies and Classr.io, a tool specifically for taxonomy building, works regularly with clients to help them develop and implement taxonomies that will work for them. One of the first questions the company asks clients, says Alyssa Riley, director of product marketing at Claravine, is “Do you have a marketing taxonomy in place?” Many don’t, even though the concept isn’t really new, she says. But, she adds, “I think the use and recognition of its value has evolved a lot.”
At Claravine, “we’ve seen a lot more recognition from customers, even enterprise organizations, that [a taxonomy] is something that really makes sense for them to put some real time and effort into,” Riley says. The reason, she explains, is that they’re experiencing one or more of the issues described earlier. “The problems associated with not having [a taxonomy] are starting to become the major issues that I think are bringing this to the forefront.”
Customers don’t typically come to Claravine saying, “We need a taxonomy,” Riley says. Instead, they come in presenting problems they have related to data. The need for a taxonomy emerges from there.
It’s a process that requires foresight, an understanding of data needs across the organization, and collaboration to agree on the ways that data will be organized and tagged.
BEST PRACTICES FOR USING TAXONOMIES
One of the first steps marketers need to take as they consider an implementation or standardization of a marketing taxonomy is to bring together a separate team. “Marketing taxonomy is a crucial link between your data and the people who use it,” Riley says. “If you’re ignoring the people who use it, you’re ignoring the value of that language.”
While marketing is obviously a major player here and stands to gain the most, and even though you might refer to your taxonomy as a marketing taxonomy, marketing is not the sole owner, nor should it be the sole driver of the process.
By pulling together the right people and taking a broad and inclusive approach to developing a marketing, or enterprise-wide, taxonomy, marketing can achieve exceptional results while minimizing the time previously required to do data analysis of various types.
Under Armour is a Claravine client. The company had previously tracked campaigns from Excel spreadsheets and documentation but wanted to be able to automate that process. Consolidating their data into one place has provided a single source of truth for all users globally.
That is really the desired outcome when creating a marketing or enterprise-wide taxonomy: creating a single source of truth, where anyone in the organization can go to easily find the data they need and to have confidence that the data will be accurate and consistent regardless of who is accessing it. Under Armour points to flexibility, operational efficiency, and scalability as three key benefits it has gained.
But to best reap the benefits from a marketing taxonomy, some additional best practices are absolutely critical, according to experts. They include the following:
- Communicate the taxonomy broadly across the organization to all staff, and very specifically to those staff who will either be tagging or using the data.Consistency in naming conventions for storing data, as well as search conventions for accessing the data, helps to ensure consistency and reliability.
- Make changes to data across the organization to ensure that it follows the agreed-upon taxonomy.
- Review and update the taxonomy regularly.The world changes, both within and outside of your organization; your marketing taxonomy needs to change too.
- Keep communicating.Help keep your taxonomy alive and ensure accuracy by continually referring to it, updating employees on any changes, and reminding them of the value that consistent use affords the organization.
Doing this well can offer insights in minutes rather than days or even weeks.
As the pandemic has pushed more companies to digital environments, the recognition of the need for a reliable way to capture, analyze, and use data has become increasingly apparent.
The possibilities are endless for what a marketing taxonomy can do, Bacic says. “It all depends on what your business needs and how you want to use it. The important thing is that it provides a structure for data so that marketers can easily find information and make decisions based on insights they’ve gathered.”
Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer who writes for various business and trade publications. Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends, and more.