The Holy Grail. Originally a title given to the cup used by Christ at the last supper, which has been much sought after but never found, this term has come to represent something extremely difficult – perhaps impossible – to find or get. For many years, marketers around the globe have been attempting to realize their own Holy Grail of ‘real-time, cross-channel marketing’, yet many have failed in this quest. Now, a marketing tool has emerged that promises to make this dream a reality: the Customer Data Platform.
A Customer Data Platform (CDP), by definition, ingests data about your customers from many sources and unifies it all to create a Single Customer View or SCV (i.e. one matched, cleansed and de-duplicated record for every customer, with a memory of all brand interactions tied to that unique record). It then connects each unified record with any system that needs it (commonly marketing execution, personalization and BI tools). For further reading, you can also check out analyst definitions of a CDP from Gartner and the Customer Data Platform Institute.
When every platform promotes real-time capabilities, why is achieving them such a Holy Grail?
Real-time, cross-channel marketing is nothing new and has been discussed in the MarTech world for some time. If you operate across two or three channels then you can probably achieve your requirements, but with consumers now interacting with brands across an average seven or more channels, particularly when those channels are both online and offline, it can be difficult to create a consistent experience. Different execution platforms each hold different fragments of data about your customers, and have different underlying database structures that can make it hard to achieve consistency with a promotion or message. Similarly, they do not always share data with each other easily, and marketers are often limited to ‘out-of-the-box’ integrations that do not take account of the nuances their brand’s customer journey.
Your Email Service Provider (ESP) might be able to offer “real-time” triggers, but usually only for the delivery of an email message or SMS. Similarly, your personalization tool and eCommerce solution might provide “real-time” content delivery across email systems and the web, but not real-time triggers and campaign management.
Instead, they will rely on the email platform to trigger that personalized content. Without the rich history of offline activity and purchases being fed into the personalization platform, it can only go so far when it comes to crafting personalized recommendations.
Equally, if your call center or customer service teams don’t have the most up-to-date view of recent customer interactions, they will likely provide out-of-date recommendations or miss the chance to up-sell/cross-sell to the customer.
So how can a CDP impact real-time, cross-channel marketing?
Right now, some marketers are hailing the CDP as the key to a bright new marketing era, while others are denouncing the technology, having themselves failed to reap its fabled benefits. So what can CDPs actually do, and how can marketers join the number of worthy souls who have harnessed their true potential?
There’s no doubt the customer journey has changed over the years. A standard customer journey can involve many channels (including websites, social media, eCommerce platforms, mobile apps, call centers and physical stores). So, it has never been more important to be able to unify the customer touchpoints to create one, holistic data set that can be shared between all the channels and ensure that each activation platform or direct marketing channel (both online and offline) is triggered using that same consistent dataset.
As well as unifying data from many sources, a CDP can enable you to analyze that data to produce insights and actively drive campaigns. This functionality is made possible through real-time connectors to your chosen email, marketing cloud, SMS, personalization or mobile app providers. Regardless of the channel, assuming your chosen execution systems can feed back data in real-time, the CDP will act as a hub to enable customer interactions on any channel to trigger actions on other channels as part of a campaign or customer journey.
For example, Space NK has seen massive benefits from implementing one. The retailer first identified the need for a CDP because it was having to send customer data to a 3rd party agency for cleansing, deduplication and segmentation for email and brochure selections. It took days or weeks to gain answers to data queries, and any resulting queries would result in the whole process starting again. Implementing BlueVenn helped the brand to bring in new sources of data, and it can now analyse the records held in mere hours and minutes.
Further down the line, Space NK implemented BlueVenn’s cross-channel marketing automation software to coordinate with the Single Customer View, as they wanted to be able to roll out real-time, personalized campaigns across many disconnected channels. Connecting its loyalty card platform, advocacy platform and social media channels allows the company to offer incentives, in real-time, to customers making purchases online or in-store using the N.dulge loyalty card, or to those leaving reviews and referring friends. The resulting loyalty points can be redeemed then and there, providing an inducement to make additional purchases.
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The real-time data also gives the marketing team a view of what pages customers are browsing, what their points tally looks like and whether they are chatting on a particular platform about their purchases. This allows the delivery of appropriate push communications, such as a “thank you” for leaving a review, advertisements, such as a picture of an item left in their cart, or even a reminder of points remaining without having to log in, to maximise engagement. Space NK has succeeded in ensuring that 70% of in-store purchasers swipe its loyalty cards, resulting in a new flood of data, and has achieved as many reviews in the first five months of the scheme as in the previous five years.
Beware the CDP hype and myths
Just as there are millions of ordinary cups in the world that have not been drunk from by Christ, not all CDPs will offer the bi-directional flow of quality, real-time data between platforms that marketers have long dreamed of. Equally, many CDPs promote their activation capabilities as core to their CDP definition. Unfortunately, the CDP market is flooded with vendors that have as many differences as similarities, therefore caution is advised when selecting vendors that can support your ‘real-time, cross channel’ requirements.
Most CDP vendors will enable you to create segments of unified profiles and send them to your activation platforms and tools, which is half way to the Promised Land, provided they can do so in real-time. At the time of writing however, just a handful of RealCDP certified vendors (including BlueVenn) provide a built-in customer journey orchestration engine within their solution.
This true orchestration capability goes a step further, enabling the CDP user not only to send the chosen segment and data fields but trigger the execution of an email, SMS, personalization content block, CRM update or similar action within the same workflow. This effectively removes the requirement for campaign workflow builders in your email or marketing automation platform, and enables you to use the CDP as the hub for all decisions, across all channels, for true multichannel customer journey orchestration.
You’re almost there! It’s time to grasp that blessed cup…
In summary, while your channels and operational systems are great at being real-time in their own environments, they are not always great at instantly interacting with each other. However, a CDP with real-time, bi-directional connectors can become the central hub for the immediate flow of data back and forth from one channel to another, whilst also providing you with a single source of truth for trustworthy analytics and a complete picture of the customer journey.
So, a CDP really can deliver the Holy Grail of real-time, cross-channel journeys, but only if you choose the right one. If a business thinks carefully about what it needs the CDP to deliver, then looks for a vendor capable of meeting all of its requirements, it won’t be disappointed in the results.
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- Use predictive analytics to make real-time decisions that positively affect the customer journey
- Improve targeting of campaigns using customer segmentation and RFV analysis
- Use real-time personalization to better engage customers
- Integrate online and offline channels into the BlueVenn Customer Data Platform to create a true Single Customer View