Knowing your Customer from Every Angle: The Marketer’s Guide

Is there a marketing system that truly delivers actionable customer insights in real-time? Marketers have been on an eternal quest for the Holy Grail of Marketing – a system that provides a unified, single view of the customer by consolidating data from the various touchpoints that customers use to interact with a company.

During my hundreds of meetings with marketers, someone on the client team inevitably asks or talks about a complete customer view and, over the years, many MarTech and data-warehousing systems have promised solutions – but with limited success. This need for dynamic customer experiences has led to the emergence of Customer Experience Management (CXM) – an entirely new platform and category that orchestrates and personalises the entire end-to-end customer experience that scales across every channel, in real time.

Going into 2019, with so many technological advances, marketers are still struggling with siloed systems and an inability to get all customer interactions into one database. Take, for example, ad impressions served to a customer. With massive spends on digital, the inability to capture and store this essential data against a customer record makes it impossible to answer fundamental questions, such as: Should I continue to target this customer based on their past reactivity to ads? Am I still advertising to them even after they have become a paying customer?

There is a lag in implementation where marketing and CX technology continues to be fragmented. The latest 2019 Digital Trends Report by Econsultancy and Adobe has found half of organisations (50%) are planning to increase CX-related technology spending in 2019, and only 5% say they plan to reduce it.

With the pervasive influence of digital, it is critical for marketers to have a powerful solution that provides a 360o view of the customer. Here are the top five factors a good solution should have.

1. Unified customer data repository

A real-time customer 360o solution should be able to take in customer data from multiple sources. It should be able to store this diverse data in a way that gives a complete profile of the customer in one place: behavioral, transactional, preferences, loyalty, social media activity with your brand and receptivity to advertisements and campaigns. This repository should not just be a collection of data – it needs to support data governance and adopt an open model, offering seamless integration with campaign management tools, mobile apps and social media.

2. Segmentation and profiling capabilities

Every marketer needs to segment customers based on a variety of traits. A centralised customer data repository contains a rich set of attributes. The customer 360o solution must be able to generate addressable and valued audience segments. And it should be able to do that for a “segment of many” to a “segment of one”.

3. Real-time actionability

The customer 360o system should be able to connect seamlessly with data-management platforms for reaching your audiences on paid channels, an email/push notification service for outbound marketing, and a personalisation engine on your own website. For example, VistaPrint India uses Adobe Analytics to identify real-time metrics such as the point where customers were leaving the platform/website, the pages or products on which they were spending the most time, and the products or offerings a particular consumer were interested in. This is known as actionability – it lets you take immediate action in the moment your customer is engaging with your paid or owned digital channels.

4. Machine learning and data science

To perform advanced data analytics or execute custom machine-learning models on customer data, data scientists face the same challenge as marketers: they first need to stitch together data from various sources. But a true customer 360o system should address this critical requirement by providing artificial intelligence and machine learning services that enable enterprises to develop and execute their own data models.

5. Scalability

India is a high-volume market. Even a mid-size business in India generates a tremendous amount of customer data, so it needs to be able to respond at scale to customers in the few seconds they spend interacting with the brand. Every single aspect of the real-time customer insights solution needs to support the scale that Indian businesses need – from ingesting data to processing it, generating segments in real time and finally driving personalisation across platforms at scale.

Now let’s look at the systems that do not qualify fully as a customer 360o solution

Data management platform

The primary use of a data management platform (DMP) is to serve advertisements, enable retargeting and personalisation using cookies or mobile device IDs that fall into targetable segments. Even though enterprise DMPs such as Adobe’s can integrate with various data sources, they focus more on segments of users rather than individual customers. DMPs are the delivery system for a customer 360o solution, integrating it with digital channels such as ad networks or owned apps.

Customer relationship manager

A customer relationship manager (CRM) comes close to being a customer 360o solution in a business-to-business scenario because a typical business customer engagement is more focused on the sales process than marketing. But a CRM will fail at collecting and storing unstructured digital activity data such as web or mobile activity and digital advertising impressions. CRMs are not known for their segmentation capabilities and they also do not have capabilities for real-time actionability on paid and owned media.

Data lake

Data lakes are repositories of a wide variety of customer data in its native format, be it structured or unstructured. A data lake will have all the necessary data to form a customer 360o view, but lack the tools and processes are needed to manage the data. Data lakes can store complete profiles of customers but will not make the data useful and actionable through segmentation and activation.

Customer data platforms

The customer data platform (CDP) is a new entrant into the MarTech sector and the closest fit for a true customer 360o solution. This system can ingest all forms of customer data – streaming, real-time, batch. They can build a unified view of the customer profile. They are purpose-built for the marketer. This is a relatively new field and, as research firm Gartner says, many of the systems self-labelled as CDPs have yet to settle on standard capabilities.

I have not talked about a number of other systems that manage or hold customer data ( data warehouse or master data management) because these are primarily meant for analysis and reporting rather than real-time actionability. More importantly, they are not designed with marketing use cases in mind.****

Next steps

Every CMO should identify their brand’s “golden customer” profile. Next, understand what digital channels are needed for the brand to engage with this audience. Based on these two fundamental inputs, marketers should identify if any of the existing systems hold the “golden profile” and whether data insights arising from customer 360o data are actionable.

Except for a handful of companies in India, not many enterprises can claim to have a system that provides all of the above capabilities. Marketers need to start evaluating available options quickly. Recent case studies show that a business which delivers an outstanding customer experience gains across key metrics. And the only way to deliver that customer experience is to know who your customers are.