The relationship between brands and consumers has shifted. Where once brands could define the message and pre-determine the pathway of the customer journey, the consumers’ embrace of multiple devices as interaction points has eliminated the simple journey model. The journey is still a real requirement to build and understand, but now it is a multi-dimensional, omnichannel journey. This new omnichannel journey means customers can appear at any time and in any channel – the path to conversion is owned by them. It always was, really, but technology just limited the possible touchpoints.
Customers expect their experience with your brand to be the same, or at least similar, regardless of channel. The fragmented technology stack most marketers contend with makes that all but impossible because you can’t react at the speed of the customer across all channels. A fragmented technology ecosystem also leads to fragmented customer data, further complicating the goal of providing a consistent brand experience to the omnichannel customer. There’s never been a greater need to connect data from all touchpoints to a single platform, where each customer’s personal journey can be accommodated, typically in real time and with in-line analytics. In the age of the always-on consumer, the traditional linear customer journey, where marketers could direct the pathway from awareness to sale, is largely dead.
A customer data platform (CDP) counteracts the fragmented marketing stack and the resulting channel-specific data silos. CDPs integrate data across functional and channel-specific silos into a central location, allowing you a single point of data control and visibility to make better decisions about providing contextually relevant interactions to customers at the point of engagement. The data integration capabilities of a CDP will be even more vital in the coming years as more channels arise and the customer journey becomes even more complicated.
How CDPs help you engage with the always-on, omnichannel customer was the topic of a recent webinar I participated on with Brandon Purcell, senior customer insights analyst at Forrester, called “Orchestrating Optimal Interactions: Implementing a CDP to Get Moving Forward,” hosted by the CMO Council.
A CDP is purpose-built to accept data inputs from a variety of online and offline engagement systems, such as Facebook, CRM, email, ecommerce, data management platforms (DMPs), call center, and in-store POS – among other sources of customer data. What the CDP does is enable you to blend all this data into a unified customer profile, also called a “golden record,” and use that knowledge to provide more relevant marketing messages to customers at the moment of engagement.
Because of how a customer data platform integrates data into a central location, they are often conflated with enterprise data warehouses or more generic data lakes, but the reality is that CDPs differ in that they are customer-centric. One of the hallmarks of a CDP is that it makes customer-centric data accessible to business users from across the enterprise. Because it is designed this way, it allows greater freedom to create data models than possible with a centrally managed data warehouse or data lake.
Think of a CDP like the “brain” of your customer data ecosystem. Solutions that interact with customers, like a DMP, CRM, or social media tool, collect separate yet equally valuable data about customers within their defined sphere. The problem is that each of those point solutions locks the customer data it collects within its defined scope and doesn’t “talk well” with the other customer engagement solutions. A CDP sits at the back-end, ingesting data from all those point solutions, combining it, allowing you to view all the data that each solution collects about your customers – kind of like how your brain collects data from your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and fingers to tell you about your environment.
When the CDP ingests all this data, you become able to leverage customer data the same way your brain accepts dozens of inputs about the environment and determines the best course of action. CDPs are relatively new, but they are poised for success because of their core promise. In fact, Purcell said that he expects CDPs will really hit their stride within one to three years as more companies begin to understand that CDPs can reduce friction in their customer interactions, increase revenue, and enable more efficient marketing.
The future of marketing lies in being able to understand your customers wherever and whenever they appear. Customer data platforms enable that capability, resulting in better customer interactions that increase loyalty and allow your marketing to be more efficient. Understanding this simple fact can make the difference between companies that succeed with the new omnichannel customer journey and those that struggle.