Guest post by Anna Barcelos, co-moderator of #IMCChat.

Many organizations have an abundance of data. The big question is how are they using it to better communicate with customers and prospects? Additionally, some of this valuable information resides outside of marketing, making it a challenge for effective, relevant marketing and communications.

From an integrated marketing communications (IMC) perspective, the best use of customer/prospect data is aggregating it into behavioral groups; for example, aggregating information on existing customers based on how, when, and how often they buy the company’s products and services. This is more valuable than traditional segmentation methods that classify customers into categories according to demographic, geographic, or psychographic types. Once behavioral groups are established, the organization can more effectively tailor its messages to customer/prospect needs. Most importantly, customers and prospects are treated as individuals, not markets. So do marketers have to start wearing pocket protectors? Maybe! Here are five data-driven actions you can take today that will bring you closer to your customers.

1. Take a look at what data is currently available within your organization from various departments (Oh, if it was only centralized!). In addition to marketing data (e.g., campaign analytics, survey results, social data, etc.), work with other departments including service, finance, and sales to learn how you can leverage their information. Come on. You can do this! Chances are most of the data you need is already available somewhere within the organization.

2. Organize data into behavioral groups. It may begin with aggregating current and prospective customers, and then further breaking each down into the behavioral subcategories mentioned above (i.e., how they buy). Once these behavioral groups are established, “traditional” demographic, geographic, and psychographic data can be appended to them if necessary. Data houses Experian, Equifax, and Epsilon provide this information.

3. Visualize your customers/prospects. A great way to gain insight into customers/prospects is through visual analysis and mind-mapping tools. Visual displays of data are powerful because they provide an alternative way of detecting patterns, trends, and sometimes surprises (a.k.a. outliers) you wouldn’t immediately see on a spreadsheet, database query, or report. Another plus is that this information can be presented to upper management in a way that’s easy to understand.

4. Develop an integrated marketing communications strategy based on behavioral groups. Because these groups are based on customers’ or prospects’ past behavior with the organization (or a competitor’s), marketers are able to use the most effective communication channels and relevant messages.

5. Test, measure, adjust as there is no “cookie-cutter” strategy. Marketing today is a laboratory. Constantly test and tweak messages based on responses from your customers and prospects. After all, they are human beings with evolving needs. Marketers and organizations as a whole should always be conscious of that.

How are you using your data for more effective communication with customers and prospects? I encourage you to share your thoughts here.

Anna Barcelos is a 16-year integrated marketer who uses data as the foundation for customer and prospect communications. You can find Anna co-moderating #IMCChat every Wednesday night on Twitter. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or through her blog.