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Many businesses are focused on collecting and retaining as much customer data as possible, but without a plan for that data, it often languishes unused because there’s simply too much unsorted information for marketing and development departments to use it effectively. As a result, companies that develop a system for organizing and managing their data will have a competitive edge over those that don’t. Ahead, get three tips to consolidate data for maximum insight.

Cleaning and Consolidating Data

Companies that collect most of their data via customer submissions should pay extra attention to the cleaning and examination phase of data analysis, but it’s still relevant for automated data collection, especially when multiple input streams contribute to the same database. The data cleaning process involves searching for entries that are incomplete, irrelevant, or inaccurate, and consolidating, rearranging, or removing problematic information.

Although data cleaning is frequently the longest part of the analytic process, the excessive noise in data that hasn’t been examined and consolidated can create inaccurate insights, such as over- or underestimating customer demand, manufacturing capacity, or service utilization, creating excess costs and impairing strategic planning. As a result, cleaning should never be omitted from analysis. Most businesses benefit from software solutions for data cleaning, which can guide and improve the process, even for users who aren’t data specialists.

Enriching Data by Joining Sets

With a variety of clear and well-structured data sets, businesses can begin to examine information such as average cost of acquisition, major profit centers, and customer lifetime value. However, to create the detailed profiles that inform personalized customer relationship management strategies, companies will be more successful if they join their own first-person proprietary data with other, related data sets that share at least one common type in the enrichment step of analysis.

Frequently-used comparison sets include email addresses, demographic information, and geographic location, but there are numerous options available to tailor enrichment to current company goals. Typically, the marketing department will benefit most from enriched datasets; adding information like marital status or mean income by ZIP code can allow tech-savvy marketers to generate compelling insights about the customers they’re reaching most effectively and improve targeted advertisements. Comprehensive customer profiles can also shape the efforts of product development teams to research and meet previously unknown customer needs.

Reporting Data With Elegant Visualizations

Even the most insightful data is inaccessible when it isn’t presented in an easy-to-understand format, so visualization is the last step before businesses can consider their data organized. Begin by considering the intended audience: Will the dataset be presented to company executives, used for in-depth analysis across several departments, or maintained frequently by database experts? Each application requires a different level of emphasis on ease of understanding, interaction, and usability. Before settling on a certain visual format, it’s also important to consider whether the data to be presented is primarily qualitative or quantitative, and whether it needs to be displayed sequentially.

Once the type of data on display is clear, reflect on the “story” the data should tell in order to tailor its arrangement for the greatest impact. For example, scatterplots are useful for comparing the correlation of two factors, such as customer age and average amount spent per purchase, but a distribution chart is better for demonstrating how often a value appears within the dataset, such as the proportion of repeat customers who live in a certain geographic region.

Finally, be open to creative options for data visualization; no matter what the dashboard or presentation is for, most audiences are more receptive to attractive, unusual graphics. Imagery should be designed with company culture and usability in mind, but particularly for non-technical audiences, clever aesthetic choices will draw attention more effectively and facilitate recall of important data later. Illustrations, 3D graphics, and carefully chosen photos can all bolster visual impact.

While almost every business now understands the criticality of mining and storing data, fewer are making good use of the information they have. By spending more time on these three key steps for data organization, companies can give themselves an edge over less-informed competitors.