Originally Published in Customer Think
Article by Mark Smith
Marketers will struggle to be successful as long as their customer data exists in disconnected silos. Real-time demands and the necessity for a seamless omnichannel experience make a central customer profile a must. This central profile is where all data points can come together, and where a brand can view every interaction across any touchpoint—physical or digital—for every customer.
One emerging method for data consolidation is data virtualization. Data virtualization has been around for years, but it is gaining steam in certain segments, particularly business intelligence and big data. The global data virtualization market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 19.5%, reaching $8.36 billion by 2026. If virtualization can be used on a macro scale for an organization’s data, or allow a unified view of financial data for a faster period-end close, what could it mean for marketers who have to pull data from dozens of places to get an accurate view of their customers?
To create such a comprehensive view of customers, many consultants and some marketers have turned to new platforms for customer data management—customer data platforms (CDPs). CDPs aim to package customer data in a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.
This technology now sits at the top of Gartner’s Digital Marketing Hype Cycle and the hype seems warranted: CDPs are essential when it comes to creating the unified experience customers expect. Still, although this technology can serve as the foundation for well-timed marketing and advertising, not every CDP solution is created equal.
What are the keys to selecting the right CDP solution? A database solution will win only half the battle. Marketers still need the ability to orchestrate the data across channels in order to achieve the desired results. Data aggregation is a complex task—it requires that data be pulled from diverse marketing, sales and customer service systems, normalized, analyzed, and then acted upon. Be careful not to implement a CDP strategy that wastes time and money solving a mess of data alignment challenges that don’t deliver any business value—the time it takes to ensure perfectly connected data creates missed opportunities.
So how do you get started on selecting the right CDP vendor? Here are some capabilities to keep in mind as you’re searching:
- Orchestration: There are more channels than ever, and customer journeys are increasingly complex. Make sure your chosen solution takes the guesswork and heavy lifting out of cross-channel orchestration efforts.
- Integration: How easily does the solution integrate with the rest of your marketing stack? You don’t want to spend time manually integrating your CDP with all of your other systems, so aim for something that is as “plug-and-play” as possible.
- Automation: Once you’ve mapped your customer journeys, your CDP should be agile enough to make automated decisions on an individual basis, making sure every interaction is thoughtful and flows into the next best experience.
- Analytics: You want to be able to pull and analyze data from every system in your marketing and CX stack all in one place. Mapping customer journeys is great, but the real payoff comes through leveraging information about customer behavior to enable every customer-facing team in your company.
- Virtualization: As noted earlier, virtualization skips the hassle of moving data from each data source into a central CDP and relying on traditional data prep or “extract, transform, load” (ETL) approaches. Instead, virtual CDPs sit on top of your tech stack, pulling data from the original sources in real time, minimizing disruption and lowering the barrier to entry.
As you’re considering, also ask if your selected choice is the right match for the problem you are trying to solve and will allow you to do your job more easily. We don’t meet too many companies who tell us that what they really want is another database. What most marketers and business people want is to do a better job of communicating with customers across channels. The mistake is to think that a new physical database is required in order to get the desired improved communications.