10 minute read

How Customer Data Platforms Power Amazing Customer Experiences at Scale

Delivering amazing customer experiences is no easy task. Customer data platforms (CDP) make it a lot easier.

Introduction & Overview

Ask any marketing professional, and most will agree that there is more customer data available now than at any other time in their careers. This, of course, is an exciting opportunity, but it is one that often becomes profoundly frustrating as they navigate legacy systems for managing — and gaining insights from — the data. The sheer volume makes identifying and using the right data feel like finding a needle in a haystack.

Customer touchpoints are everywhere: online via websites, multiple (and ever-changing) social media channels, ecommerce, and apps as well as offline via in-person interactions, point of sale transactions, kiosks, call centers, and more. The internet has made it possible to know a staggering amount about customers’ interests and behaviors, but the current data landscape makes it nearly impossible to create an actionable, personalized experience. Rather than making customer behaviors clearer, the deluge of data often makes customers’ behavior even more opaque to marketers. Gaining actionable insights is further complicated when much of the data is controlled by third parties--siloed off from other data--making it difficult for nontechnical marketers to access. Pulling together a single customer profile can involve finding and reconciling data points from more than a dozen different sources. This is nearly impossible to scale.

But there is a solution: the Customer Data Platform (CDP).

What is a customer data platform?

A CDP is marketing technology that brings customer data — both online and offline — into a single location, streamlining analysis, testing, targeting, and other marketing-related activities. It provides the right data at the right time to provide personalized experiences across channels and interactions.

This is achieved through a five-step process: the capture, collection, and analysis of data; creation of unified profiles; segmentation; prediction and testing; and activation/personalization. Together, these provide a seamless customer experience.

Data collection: Right now, marketers are dealing with silos of data located in numerous places — Google Analytics, Facebook Business Manager, Twitter, email, ecommerce, point-of-sale systems, and more. A CDP can aggregate these sources and more into one place, along with offline data, such as in-store interactions. Having the data collected in one place, without having to integrate multiple spreadsheets from a variety of places, allows for more straightforward analysis. It allows marketers to separate actionable information from the rest of the noise of the data.

Profile unification: Much of the marketing data that is currently available is generalized. That means it is not connected with a particular customer. While this can be helpful in creating generic marketing personas, which have historically been the go-to tool for making assumptions about customer behavior, they are just that — generalized assumptions. They are not specific to any one user.

In the circumstances where data is specific to a single customer, small differences — such as a slightly misspelled name, inclusion/exclusion of a middle initial or suffix, title/position or multiple addresses/phone numbers/emails, social media handles —can spawn new records. This creates both frustration for the customer and a challenge for marketers as it yields incomplete and confusing profiles. A CDP streamlines the process of reconciling these broken profiles into a single customer record, allowing for nuanced understanding of specific customers, as well as generalized personas.

Segmentation: Once data is gathered and cleaned up, it can more easily be segmented into various audiences. This simplified process allows for the development of more specific communications and advertising plans.

Prediction + Testing: Hand in hand with segmentation is testing. Data that is more quickly and easily segmented makes for a much more streamlined A/B testing process. This straightforward process allows marketing teams — without the assistance of IT or other technical teams — to experiment in real time with offers and promotions that can help cement a customer relationship. This level of testing extends beyond offers and promotions. It is possible to test images, image placement, content types, button locations, and more. Every interaction offers an opportunity to see what resonates best with your customers.

Activation + Personalization: With detailed, granular behavior information, the CDP enables marketers to activate customers across channels and develop personalized experiences. Customers will receive the best next interaction to meet their needs — perhaps personalized content specific to their interests, or a coupon that will lead them to click “purchase” rather than simply saving items in the cart for later.

Why use a customer data platform?

There are three main reasons why a CDP is a good choice for any business: it is a purpose-built marketing tool that allows even non-technical marketing staff to engage with data; it will prepare your website for data collection changes that will arrive with the loss of third-party cookies; and it will meet or exceed the expectations of increasingly sophisticated customers.

A CDP is a purpose-built marketing tool. Unlike earlier methods of gathering data from legacy systems, the CDP is all about converting data into actionable experiences for customers, whether it is serving content, providing a discount, or remembering their purchase history through the lifetime of the customer relationship. It is not numbers for numbers sake, but for helping customers and earning their ongoing loyalty.

Third-party cookies are already on the decline with the inclusion of “do not track” technology on iPhones, and Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox’s stated intention to stop supporting them as of next year. These data trackers from outside domains provide information on engagements, customer behavior, and analytics that have traditionally been critical to making decisions on how content and products are positioned online. While third-party data comprises much of the siloed, hard-to-interpret data that marketers currently encounter, it will still need to be replaced to accurately understand customers.

Consumers are more sophisticated and expect better. The seamless digital experiences of giants like Google and Apple have changed consumers' expectations. They expect the same seamless interactions from government, nonprofit and small business websites. It is the new norm for how the web works.

Benefits of a customer data platform?

A CDP can prove beneficial to both internally and externally. Within the business, time saved on currently-arduous data collection, organization, and interpretation processes and/or on tasks like profile reconciliation can instead be spent on analysis, testing, and personalization — all activities that can have a direct impact on the bottom line.

It is this opportunity for personalization that provides the clearest external benefit. According to Boston Consulting Group, “Two-thirds of [survey] respondents said that they expect at least a 6% incremental annual revenue lift from personalization with companies in several sectors...anticipating increases of 10% or more.”

Personalization has such a strong impact because of the individualized experience it offers customers, generally along two paths: recognition and help. Recognition includes things like knowing who the customer is, what their past interactions and purchases have been, and what they value. This kind of personalization is increasingly becoming a norm, though one that can be time-consuming to achieve without a CDP.

Help-based personalization is the next phase of the relationship-based customer approach that a CDP helps achieve. The kind of help a CDP can help provide includes direction to relevant products, new information, and targeted special offers. This attention to past interactions and focus on individualized value boosts customer confidence.

In the words of Kartik Hosanagar, a professor at the Wharton School, “We find that personalization systems can change who are the winners and losers in terms of the market share battle.”

Next steps

As customer expectations for a consistent online experience and data privacy continue to grow, a CDP is increasingly going to become standard for customer-facing websites across many areas of business and government.

With roughly a year of lead time before the end of third-party cookies, and marketing data as it has always been, the time to explore a CDP is now, to avoid lapses in information gathering as support for third-party cookies goes away.

Making a switch of this magnitude is, of course, daunting, but the benefits of developing a streamlined marketing program will prove worthwhile. Marketing teams can spend less time downloading and organizing data and more time activating customer relationships. Technical staff will spend less time focused on supporting marketers, allowing them to take on other priorities. Strengthened customer relationships, bolstered by seamless transactions and data transparency, will have a noticeable impact on ROI.

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