Customer Data Platforms: Striving for a Single View of the Customer

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Customer data platforms are hot.

CDPs, although not new, have received increasing attention in recent years as marketing technology providers adopt the title, promising businesses the single customer view that will let them deliver the desired customer experience.

To marketers trying to swim through a flood of disconnected customer data, a CDP can look like the life preserver needed for them to stay afloat. And if it is the real deal, it can be. There continues to be confusion about what a CDP is, though, and part of that confusion is created by how various software providers have evolved. Some CDPs started on the digital AdTech side, and some CDPs started on the PII (personally identifiable information) MarTech side. As a result, there are differences in both their strengths and weaknesses.  

As longtime practitioners in this field, we recognize the essence of a successful CDP:

“Software that provides a single view of the customer, with a unified identity system that is used to generate actionable insight and enables marketers to take coordinated action across all touchpoints and channels.”

That’s the heart of the matter—and it’s not just theoretical. But it’s a truth that needs to emerge from the swirl of CDP claims out there. Understanding that confusion, and the plight of marketers trying to sort it all out, here is a look at the CDP field today:

1. Digital

Digital solutions are largely driven by identifying and tracking customers via cookies and pixels as they navigate across the web. The customer’s digital wake is then used to identify the best advertising sources, to drive personalization, and to make product recommendations. On the web, these technologies definitely work and provide benefit. But it’s a myopic view of the customer. The brand cannot have a complete view of the customer without PII.

Without personally identifiable information, marketers cannot support direct marketing, clienteling in the store, and service in the call center. Most importantly, without the complete single view of the customer, marketers cannot provide the mechanism for privacy and consent that consumers are now demanding.

We break digital solutions down into two categories: point solutions and cookie aggregators:

  • Many point solution providers, offering personalization, rules-driven triggers, and product recommendations, now refer to themselves as CDPs. But they are talking about controlling content at one touchpoint, triggering one channel. Again, these products are lacking the complete single view of the customer, and so the marketer ends up with multiple point solutions and multiple views of the customer.
  • Some cookie aggregators are now also trying to position themselves in the CDP world, primarily as the unified identify system. Due to the nature of their businesses, they have developed large identity graphs, consisting of a giant cross-reference of cookies linked to a single digital identity. This is clearly not the complete view of the customer, and requires integrating multiple solutions, which can be challenging. Not to mention the fact that with new privacy regulations now defining cookies as PII, they are now lacking the required mechanism for consent.

2. PII

First-party data has evolved out of database marketing, direct marketing, and email marketing. Although direct marketing has always had its “Do Not Mail” and “Do Not Call” lists, email marketing created what we now call “permission-based marketing.” With laws and legislation such as CAN-SPAM, marketers were introduced to rules and best practices for consumer marketing. Marketers then learned to handle additional laws from countries like Canada and states like California. The European Union’s GDPR took these requirements to a new level.

Two common technologies that deal with PII are CRM systems and email service providers (ESPs):

  • CRM systems often provide a robust view of the customer by consolidating data across multiple channels with transaction history. This foundation then enables customer segmentation, purchase behavior, and marketing behavior. It provides the necessary view for direct marketing; however, it lacks the connection to the digital AdTech world, so these systems cannot create a consistent treatment across all touchpoints and channels.
  • Many ESPs also claim to be CDPs. However, their email-centric data architecture limits the view of individual consumers and households. The temptation to try to force-fit all of the offline customer and transaction data into the ESP should be avoided. Although ESPs do leverage cookies and pixels to track online conversions, they do not provide the full connection with the digital AdTech world.

3. CDP 2.0

CDPs need to evolve and break down the barrier and connect PII and digital, especially now that cookies are considered personal information. In addition, CDPs need to provide a functional consumer preference center, a point of interaction to enable brands and consumers to manage permission and consent across all touchpoints.

Now that the business or brand has a customer’s consent, the CDP can create the complete single view and enable the marketer to take action with relevant personalized customer treatment across all touchpoints. That is the role of the true CDP: providing a single point of control for the brand to create the best customer experience.

Trusted Brand Promise

At the heart of every brand is a promise and value proposition to customers: The brand provides value to a customer, and customer provides revenue to them. In a trusted relationship, this dictates the customer experience, which is best when consistent. A CDP is the tool that enables this consistent experience, many times over. The CDP enables marketers to have the insight to act on delivering the ideal customer experience and follow through on that brand promise.

A foundational part of this relationship is allowing customers to manage their ongoing contact with the brand—to grant permission to speak to them and consent to track their behavior to create a better experience—but not sell or share without their permission.

A true CDP should take a customer-centric view of the relationship. They always focus on PII, connecting online and offline, giving marketers the “holy grail” ability to reach customers at the right time in the right place with the right message. Not only should CDPs ask for customers’ permission to reach them, these customers value the message because it answers their needs, now and in the future.

And that’s the crux of the CDP issue because, when you think about it, shouldn’t something called a customer data platform have the genuine customer at its heart?

Augie MacCurrach is the CEO of Boston-based Customer Portfolios, a marketing technology leader that uses insight and analytics to increase customer value. You can follow Customer Portfolios at @CustPortfolios on Twitter.

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