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Customer Data Unification: The Art and Science of Knowing Your Customers

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In modern marketing, customer data is like oxygen—it’s absolutely necessary to survive. Businesses depend on customer data to understand consumers’ needs, fears, and desires at every step of their journeys, which they then use to create personalized campaigns and messaging that guide them toward a purchase.

But as more data is generated and gathered over time and across channels, this task becomes exponentially more complex. Customers might see an ad, visit the website, sign up for emails, download a coupon, and then visit a physical location. To make sense of—and effectively act on—all that data, businesses need to be able to follow that individual customer from point to point.

That’s why customer data unification is so important. By assigning data from multiple sources to an individual customer, the process organizes disparate touchpoints (which may themselves be siloed inside different databases at a company) into a complete, unique journey. This single “golden profile” combines physical and digital data to support a complete view of individual customer journeys across all channels. Being able to see those journeys and mining them for insights ultimately powers marketing activities that are more meaningful, relevant, and effective.

Here’s how to create that “golden profile” and how CDP technology can help.

Creating a Single Customer ID

Following customers across various touchpoints requires an identification system that can be used at each one. There are two methods for creating single customer IDs:

  • Deterministic matching uses first-party data like email addresses, phone numbers, and user names. This method offers a high level of confidence in matching data points to a single customer.
  • Probabilistic matching uses artificial intelligence to assign identifiers such as browser type, IP address, device type, and operating system to a customer by calculating the statistical likelihood of a match. While this method is limited to online touchpoints, it is an invaluable supplement to your first-party data.

Ideally, marketers use both methods to increase accuracy across the journey at scale, but the approach depends on each business’s needs and goals.

Single customer IDs are necessary to attribute the multiplicity of data points customers encounter throughout their journey, enabling businesses to map them across the physical and digital landscape. Without accurate attribution, it’s nearly impossible to know which factors are contributing to customer conversion—and that means a potential waste of marketing dollars investing in touchpoints that may not be very effective while giving short shrift to the ones that are.

Consolidating multiple customer interactions under a single ID also helps organizations track consumer behavior for analysis. By examining the full customer journey as an experience rather than many seemingly unrelated interactions, businesses can use the resulting insights to create campaigns that are personalized to each customer, such as special offers that reflect their purchase history and buying habits.

Most importantly, identity resolution increases the efficiency of marketing efforts both by clarifying attribution and by enabling organizations to focus on the most valuable customers and prospects. By homing in on these high-value factors and individuals, marketing organizations can create targeted campaigns and outreach activities that optimize time and resources and result in a better return on investment.

Consolidating data across channels and databases to assign it to individual customers is not as overwhelming as it may seem. CRM and DMP systems offer many useful resources. But customer data platforms (CDPs) have grown in popularity because of their ability to easily ingest multiple types of data streams, both structured and unstructured, from a variety of sources—website interactions, in-store purchases, mobile apps, CRM, customer service calls, and more.

Get to Know Your Customers Better—Much Better

Using automation and intelligent machine learning capabilities, CDPs can quickly sift through and assign millions of data points, as well as update customer profiles with new data, in real time. It’s also important to note that the built-in protection for PII (personally identifiable information) such as street addresses, emails, and phone numbers allows CDP users to ensure customer privacy. As data privacy issues and legislation to protect data gain more traction, these features are crucial to maintain control over sensitive data as well as to nurture trusting relationships with customers.

Customer data unification takes data analysis to the individual level, bringing insights that present new opportunities as well as ways to optimize marketing spend across customers and channels. With this detailed visibility into customer behavior, habits, and preferences, organizations can modify and adapt their marketing activities to support more improved experiences, greater loyalty, and more purchases.

Customer data unification is just one way to transform customer data into insights that can drive more effective marketing.

Tom Treanor is the chief marketing officer at Treasure Data, where he drives awareness for the company’s enterprise CDP (customer data platform) solution. Prior to this role, he defined the product road map for Alexa Internet’s marketing and SEO software suite. Before that, he was the director of marketing for Wrike, a leading project management and collaboration software solution. Treanor earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, as well as a Master of Arts in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @RtMixMktg.

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