“Shouldn’t we collect all the data we can?”

I was sitting on a panel recently discussing data management and how to use your data for measuring engagement. An audience member asked the following: “Because we can’t know what data we might need in the future to analyze for engagement, wouldn’t it be safer to collect all the data we can now?”

Data storage is cheap these days, and it’s easy to ask for data from our members and customers. While it is tempting to collect more and more data “just in case,” there are a number of reasons I would discourage my clients from taking a “let’s collect it all” approach.

  1. Not only does collecting additional data require extra effort on the initial data collection, in order for the data to maintain its value, it must be actively managed going forward. For example, suppose a trade association wants to capture how many employees each member has. If that data is captured now but not used for three years, and not updated in those intervening years, the data becomes essentially useless. In order for the data to have value, the data must be actively managed and updated, which requires additional resources from the association.
  2. As you measure engagement (or use your data in any other manner), you should be continually analyzing the effectiveness of the data and its usage. Over time, your needs and objectives for using the data will change, which by definition means you’ll be collecting data now that you won’t use later. Adding more data to the mix will only confuse things, not add clarity.
  3. Over-collecting data can make your members and customers sensitive or even paranoid. There is a growing trend in the US for better protection of data. Between the NSA revelations and the credit card breaches at major retailers, consumers are becoming more wary of over-sharing information. You should always explain WHY you need the data, and if you’re collecting data “for future use” that probably won’t be good enough for many of your members.
  4. Collecting data can interfere with the sales process. Too often my clients will say “While we’re asking them to join or renew their membership, why don’t we just ask for a bunch of demographic data, too?” The problem is that every question you ask your customer that does not pertain directly to the sale is an opportunity for the customer to walk away. Collecting more data during the sales process will dampen sales.

A better approach is to collect only the data you are going to use now or expect to use in very short order. As you review your data analysis effectiveness and find new needs, begin collecting that data and/or supplement it with third-party data to get a good jump start on it.

Just don’t collect data you don’t need.

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