Research Roundup: New Surveys Shed Light on Customer Data Platforms

December 12, 2016

flashlightSeveral recent surveys touch on Customer Data Platform issues.  Each has its own focus but all address the relationship of unified customer data to unified customer experience – a topic that isn’t as simple as it might seem.

Myths of Marketing Survey from BlueVenn (download here).

BlueVenn polled 202 B2C marketers about their use of customer data.   Marketers said they were in charge of data at 60% of the companies, compared with 27% who said it was managed by IT.   They also reported that customer data comes from many systems (40% have more than 20 data sources) and takes a lot of time (nearly 30% spend more than half their time on analyzing data).  That answer helps to explain why time was the most commonly cited obstacle to creating more targeted campaigns (41%), followed by data cost (34%), data access (28%), data skills/knowledge (27%), and other data-related issues.

BlueVenn’s major conclusion was that marketers are spending too much time on data-related work and that better systems are the cure.  In their words: “We here at BlueVenn believe that the perceived skills shortage as a barrier to achieving a Single Customer View, real-time omnichannel marketing and customer journey analytics, is in fact the BIGGEST myth of marketing. It is not the fault of the marketer that they cannot achieve their strategies –the blame should in fact lie at the feet of marketing technology providers.

Regarding unified data vs unified experience: 28% said they had connected all channels to create an omnichannel experience while just 18% reported having unified all data sources into a single customer view.   This suggests they either have direct connections between systems or share identities without a complete customer profile.  So, if you’re thinking the single customer view is a prerequisite to omnichannel experience, think again.

The State of MarTech and AdTech: Customer Journey Investments in 2017: The Agency Perspective from Kitewheel (download here).

Kitewheel asked 134 agency marketers about their use of marketing technology.  Key findings were that agencies see great demand for customer journey projects and 75% are investing in technology to do them.  These investments are despite the fact that respondents already have more tools than they use (just 6% use all their existing tools weekly while 72% use fewer than 40% of their tools weekly.)  By far the largest barriers to tool use were lack of expertise and training (66% combined).  The gap is preventing nearly two-thirds of agencies from delivering projects their clients want.

In Kitewheel’s words: “Agencies are cautious in their ability to build the capabilities to deliver a customer journey in 2017.  64% don’t expect to be able to deliver real journeys until 2018 or later.  Primary reason for this caution is the lack of skills and tools (54%)

On unified data vs. experience: 46% said they can currently do omnichannel personalization while just 12% said they could do adtech/martech unification.  So, even more than before, we see cross-channel treatments without unified data.  Respondents did rate adtech/martech unification as the top capability needed for journey programs, while omni-channel personalization ranked fifth.

The Impact of CRM on Customer Experience from Usermind (download here).

Usermind surveyed over 500 people who either had personal super-admin access to a CRM system or supervised an individual with super-admin access.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this group concluded that CRM had the greatest impact on customer experience than other systems, including data warehouses/other customer data platforms, marketing automation, social and Web traffic data, or third party data.  Less easily explained away are conclusions that companies with more satisfied customers (as reported by the respondents) were more likely to use CRM as their primary customer system of record, to have a dedicated customer experience team, and to have fully digitized business operations or a digital transformation strategy in place.  This group also uses many systems: 33% reported having more than 20 systems impacting customer experience.

The survey also found that companies implementing customer journeys with workflow tools inside each application were much more likely to report very satisfied customers than companies using internally developed solutions or “integration platforms” (which Usermind did not define).  On the other hand, the capabilities needed to improve customer experience covered a wide range of cross-system functions: data mapping to identify customers across all applications; adaptive system and data integrations; automated workflows; defined customer journeys that span applications and teams; and, a unified view of customer data”.  So the respondents feel that a siloed CRM isn’t enough.

Usermind’s advice seems to be that companies should use existing tools to build better experiences instead of waiting to build a unified view.  This is why resources like dedicated customer experience teams have more impact than a data warehouse or CDP.  In Usermind’s words: “Traditional integration approaches create challenges for your team, and roadblocks to delighting your customers. Point-to-point integrations don’t pass valuable customer context along with your data. And whenever your source systems or schema change, your integrations will break.  Data alone won’t deliver a better customer experience — your analysis needs to be translated into action.  If you use a customer engagement hub or journey orchestration to deliver a one-to-one, real-time customer experience, you can avoid the pitfalls of traditional, labor-intensive approaches.

Regarding data vs experience: 64% of respondents said that data mapping to identify customers across all applications would improve customer experience, compared with 51% who cited customer journeys that span applications and teams and 38% who cited a unified customer view.   Again, respondents are saying they can deliver coordinated experiences without assembling a central database.

From Theory to Practice: A Roadmap to “Omnichannel” Activation from Winterberry Group (download here).

Winterberry spoke with more than 100 executives at advertising, marketing, media and technology companies.  The topic was audience (i.e., customer and prospect) recognition in particular and omnichannel strategies in general.  Key findings were that 73% saw recognition as a moderate or higher priority but only 9% were able to recognize customers across all channels.  Fewer than 7% were satisfied with their ability to leverage customer data across channels.   The survey distinguished cross-channel recognition from omnichannel marketing programs, but found for both that technical improvements such as integration were more important than organizationsl issues such as collaboration, priorities, or staff skills.

In Winterberry’s words: “What’s the next frontier of omnichannel marketing? Panelists said the next great leap forward would be driven from the inside, with the potential alignment of internal business processes and technology infrastructure likely to do more to advance their omnichannel efforts in the years ahead than any other initiative.

On data vs experience: the survey found that 40% felt they did cross-channel orchestration extremely or fairly well while just 32% said they do audience recognition across all or most channels.  Once more, we see that orchestration is apparently possible without the data sharing that recognition makes possible.

Final Thoughts

Each survey offers useful insights related to its primary topic.  But, for me, the most important message is the one they all share: omnichannel programs can be delivered without building a central database.  That may seem an unlikely conclusion for the Customer Data Platform Institute blog, but let’s be clear.  It doesn’t mean that central databases are unnecessary.  It only means you can do some omnichannel work without them.  One intermediary step is cross-channel customer recognition, which requires building cross-channel identities (presumably in a central system) and sharing them with experience-delivery systems.   The next step is to expand the central system by adding more data and sharing it.  This can be an incremental process as the central system gains access to more sources and as marketers find uses for additional pieces of information.  A complete customer view is still the long-term goal because it enables the richest marketing programs and deepest analysis of customer behaviors and program results.

Centralized orchestration may be another intermediate step. An orchestration engine needs a unified customer view, which it might create for itself or read from a separate customer database.  Either way, the orchestration engine’s role is to provide execution systems with consistent customer treatments.  This replaces relying on each execution system to make its own decisions.  Although orchestration is not part of CDP definition, it’s important to recognize that many CDPs do include such functions because they add value for marketers.  And value to marketers, not conformance with a definition, is what really counts.