A New Architectural Approach to Building a Unified Customer Profile in Today’s Ever-Changing Big Data Landscape

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In recent years, growing expectations for relevant, timely, and engaging customer experiences have enterprises in all industries seeking technologies to help them meet that demand. Delivering real-time personalized experiences to their customers depends on enterprises having a truly unified profile that continuously weaves together behavioral and attribute data to create a 360-degree view of the customer.

Customer data is the key ingredient to building an unified profile, and the ability to leverage that data is critical to providing the best customer experiences. Yet, despite the ever-growing abundance of customer data, enterprises today still struggle to fully leverage all the relevant data they have to deliver personalized experiences.

In order to build a 360-degree view of the customer, enterprises need the ability to consistently and proactively recognize consumers interacting with them through both online and offline channels. However, with the proliferation of information technology systems, an enterprise’s customer information is often fragmented across disparate sources hampering its ability to fully leverage its power. Enterprises must look beyond many of the current solutions available for a more holistic approach to developing the holistic customer profile necessary to deliver the best customer experiences at every touchpoint, including one-to-one marketing, customer support, sales, and advertising.

A view of the current solution landscape

Delivering the real-time personalized experiences that today’s consumers demand starts with building a holistic understanding of the customer, a unified profile. Many traditional and new technologies have evolved in the market to address at least part of the challenges inherent in delivering personalized experiences, including customer relationship management (CRM) systems, data management platforms (DMP), customer data platforms (CDP), email service providers (ESPs), demand-side platforms (DSPs) personalization engines, and customer analytics tools (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The current solution landscape for enterprises seeking technologies to help them provide personalized customer experiences in real time.

Many of these solutions have overlapping capabilities. Some offer only a minimal notion of customer profiles while others focus more specifically on them (e.g., DMPs and CDPs). However, none have all the digital components necessary to create the full understanding of customers at every step in their journey with a brand.

A holistic customer requires a new architectural approach

Building a holistic customer profile requires a new approach that combines all the digital components businesses need into a single platform. This platform would need to be designed to overcome all the difficulties associated with pulling data together from disparate sources, including online and offline data and data from both known and anonymous users, and capable of stitching that data together into a unified profile. Figure 2 illustrates all the digital components necessary to build the unified profile necessary to deliver personalized customer experiences in real time:

Figure 2: Adobe Experience Platform offers a platform architecture built to provide the Unified Profile enterprises need to deliver personalized experiences to their customers.

A system capable of ingesting all your data

Enterprises today have more data than ever before but still struggle to use it effectively. With big data getting bigger by the second, Adobe Experience Platform architecture is designed to provide scalable data ingestion. Adobe Experience Platform Pipeline supports the ingestion of first-party and third-party data, as well as data from various enterprise repositories in batch formats, as well as streaming data to support real-time use cases (Figure 3).

One of the most significant challenges to combining data from different sources is that they all have their own unique data model. With Adobe Experience Platform, enterprises can use the built-in Adobe Experience Platform Edge or Adobe Experience Platform Launch with various other industry-standard tools to provide the ETL logic necessary to convert all incoming data into Adobe Experience Platform Experience Data Model (XDM), a single model that unifies the data to unlock its full potential.

Figure 3: Adobe Experience Platform’s architecture for data ingestion.

Solving the customer “identity crisis”

Each data source has its own definition of customer identity for each record. Identities are simply fragments of a customer profile that are created through all of the customer’s different interactions with a brand. In order to build a holistic customer profile, these fragments must be stitched together (matched) (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Identity resolution is the matching of profile fragments from all the interactions a consumer has with a brand.

Adobe Experience Platform resolves the customer “identity crisis” with a combination of traditional methods for matching data (e.g., deduplication) from offline sources with deterministic and probabilistic algorithms (e.g., cookie matching techniques) in order to match both known and anonymous identities. Once identity matching is complete, all the interconnections of these identities can be displayed as an identity graph, which can be used to stitch customer profiles across disparate sources into one unified profile (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Adobe Experience Platform resolves the customer “identity crisis” by stitching together disparate types of identities into a Unified Profile that provides the 360-degree view necessary to deliver personalized experiences.

A profile store built for every use case

Enterprises need a current and complete profile data store that allows enterprises to target consumers with personalized cross-channel experiences at the right time, based on behavioral insights and customer attributes, and meet other important use cases. And it must be easily accessible and “queryable” by all systems of activation within an enterprise.

In order to handle real-time streaming workloads, the profile store must be physically located near the point of action with the ability for real-time synchronization to continuously update the profiles as new data flows in. With Adobe Experience Platform, real-time activation is accomplished through a large and geographically distributed network of decision-making nodes that we call the “Edge” (Figure 5). Edge activation use cases require only a subset of Unified Profile data for their decision process for a specific point in time, which allows us to create smaller smaller “Activation Profiles” with new computed attributes based on the specific activation use case, while a loose consistency model keeps the activation profiles consistent with the main unified profile.

A profile store also requires a well-crafted data model capable of handling several different types of operational workloads, such as segmenting customers into audience groups for more relevant messaging (one of the most common workloads for profile stores). Segmentation is usually performed as a batch job that executes queries, generally, about every 24 hours. While this frequency appears to be the industry standard, it results in lost opportunities because new data that enriches the profiles for better personalization isn’t picked up by the queries until the next batch. For example, marketers always want to put users that abandon their carts into a segment and send them an email right away. However, when those users aren’t added to the abandoned cart segment until the next batch job, it is often too late to attract them to come back and complete their purchases.

Real-time segmentation through Adobe Experience Platform eliminates these delays by allowing enterprises to perform segmentation on streaming events that contain behavioral data. This process unlocks the opportunity for enterprises to act immediately when they receive new data.

Strong and seamless data governance

As enterprises begin combining their data for use across all their different activation channels, strong data governance becomes crucial to ensuring they do not annoy their customers or violate privacy laws.

Adobe Experience Platform provides a strong layer of governance for the use of unified profiles in the ever-changing landscape of consumer privacy expectations and regulations. The governance system built into the platform is based on the Data Usage Labeling and Enforcement (DULE) framework, which defines a set of metadata and the associated permissible values for each XDM data schema, defines rules for combining data, and provides guidance on how the metadata can influence data usage decisions.

Adobe Experience Platform also provides an API-based framework called GDPR Central Service to help enterprises navigate GDPR regulations. Both the Unified Profile and Identity Service achieve GDPR compliance by implementing this API.

A Unified Profile architecture

The most successful enterprises are those that are able to provide the best customer experience. With the rise of digital technology, proactively understanding a customer’s interests has been a key approach for businesses seeking to deliver personalized experiences that engage and delight their customers. Customers expect this today. They have come to expect relevant material across all their interactions with a brand that optimizes their experience before and after the sale. To meet these growing expectations in the market, enterprises must start thinking beyond the traditional relational database to new and innovative approaches to technology now available to build a truly unified profile.