Remember the good old days when your customer only used a few channels to make a purchase? Collecting customer data back then was relatively easy. Now with the addition of websites and an explosion of social and mobile channels, is it any wonder that you’re scratching your head over how to manage and glean insights from customer data over these multiple silos?

Marketing, according to Wikipedia, is the process by which companies determine which products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. To do marketing right, marketers need to know their customer as well as they can. That's the only way to determine which products or services might be of interest to them.

To accomplish this, marketers try to accumulate all customer data into a silo. This was relatively easy to do 20 years ago. Since customers didn't use much besides the telephone and physical stores, marketers could store all the pertinent information inside one large database.

Customer Data Silo Challenges

When new channels were added, first websites and then other new channels, springing up all over the place, marketers scrambled to get decent insight into their customer database. Because every channel has its own characteristics, technology and possibilities, many marketers tried to solve the problem by creating a new customer database for each channel.

Doing the right thing for the long term and at the same time for the short term is important. However, sometimes, especially in the face of ever increasing competition, it is more important to do the right thing for the short term than for the long term. This is not only caused by marketers, but also by software vendors and IT; the technology isn't there to create one large customer silo supporting all those channels, and technology is moving too fast to accommodate that.

The problem with this trend is that customers are increasingly switching between channels during their customer journey. For example, customers use the Web to assemble information, use a mobile device to find the store location and then buy the chosen product in the store. In this example, the customer data is now spread over three customer silos. What's the effect of multiple silos? Marketers are starting to lose valuable insight into their customers, and they are less able to determine which products or services are of interest to them.

One could argue that there is a simple solution: just create one very large customer silo and put everything you know about the customer in it. While that might seem like a good idea, the fact is it is too simple. Going that route would mean a massive disinvestment in the already existing silos and technology behind them. There is also an important reason why multiple silos exist: every silo is completely and effectively tuned for the specific channel in order to create the most value per channel.

Smart Profile Synchronization Layer

A better solution would be to create a layer on top of the multiple silos which synchronizes relevant profile data across all silos and accumulates the most important data. Because all the silos are constantly updated, this cannot be done in “nightly batches” but rather should be done 24/7 in real-time, updating silos on demand per profile. By using a layer on top, all silos can (re)use relevant customer data from all the other silos and thereby benefit from the synergy and become much more effective. This layer can then be used to gain insights over all the channels.

This solution, which I would like to call a Smart Profile Synchronization Layer, will solve the multiple silo problem -- not by denying the need for multiple silos, but by embracing it and spreading the synergy value over all silos.

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