When designing a building, an architect starts by making a blueprint. The blueprint lays out the design and answers any questions about what’s being created, providing direction for the builders on the ground.

The lesson of Experience 2017, powered by Rakuten Marketing, an event held in New York City in October, was that just as buildings need blueprints, so too do businesses – for their data strategy.

In a panel session titled “The Key to a Data Strategy Blueprint,” a group of startup founders and data scientists discussed the kind of blueprint that is necessary, and the kind of talent needed to make it.

Paul Gu, Co-Founder of Upstart, a company in the Rakuten Capital portfolio, kicked off the conversation by highlighting the long-term nature of data strategies. “Collecting data is a starting point. You first have to start collecting just for the sake of collecting data, to help inform the decisions you will have to make later on.”

Jason Burby, Chief Customer Success Officer at Domo agreed. “A data strategy blueprint must be forward-looking,” he said. “Once the initial data is collected, then the data strategy blueprint can begin to take shape.”

Data beats biases

An effective data strategy blueprint, explained Molly Dufner, Vice President of E-Commerce & CRM at bareMinerals, can help company leaders “read through biases.” For example, a digital marketing director who hires an “influencer” will want to see how well they perform. The influencer might offer an engagement report, but it’s likely to be biased to reflect what they want to highlight. So the digital marketing director will need to work with a data scientist to develop a blueprint that can be used to show the true influence and engagement of the influencer.

Even with biases worked out, companies are complex. The data strategy blueprint must be created with this in mind. Who is looking at the data? Do they need figures, charts and graphs? Or do they require a narrative? After all, data does tell stories. Any company will have short- and long-term goals, and looking at the numbers could help make those achievable. But the data narrative will also help you understand how the company can reach its ambitions, added Dufner.

For that reason, Burby argued, it’s essential to involve a variety of people in the blueprint-creation process. “You must have decision-makers in the room too,” he said. But even then, it’s still important to designate one person to lead on data collection and communication. “Every company needs a data champion who can shift the company culture on data. They’re the driving force that gets executives looking for more data to help them make decisions,” Burby argued.

With data collection comes responsibility

Another important part of the data strategy blueprint is the customer relationship. Neil O’Keefe, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Content at the Data & Marketing Association, explained that “if you’re using data to optimize your customers’ experience, you’re doing the right thing. Data is the communication between the brand and customer.”

Gu added a warning to brands to clearly articulate to consumers why they collect data and how it’s used to benefit them. “Be clear that data collection can make it easier to acquire customers and that drives down costs, which is a consumer benefit.”

While the group agreed on the impact data can have on an organization, Gu cautioned that data can be over-hyped. “Be careful with data,” he warned. “Data without scientific rigor can be misused. You can find things that aren’t true and you might make the wrong decisions based on misleading data.”