Spending time as analysts do -- closely watching the vision that digital marketing vendors extoll to their customers -- it is difficult at times not to be caught up in the art of the possible. Watching demonstrations of customer interactions that cross desktop and mobile, SMS and email, and digital campaigns that effortlessly meet goals with barely a moment of manual intervention, can make for compelling viewing.

Not only do these demonstrations present a full implementation of an extensive technology set, but also presuppose that organizations have the maturity to support the vast underpinning of design, content and process required to realize such a vision.  The demonstration of a technological vision is what customers buy into when they establish a relationship with a vendor. Big annual conferences are designed to allow vendors to demonstrate the extent of the vision, often by revealing R&D as much as a genuine shippable product.

Looking Under the Hood

If we are to look at the guts of a contemporary technology stack designed to deliver a unified view of a customer, much of it will be highly familiar: repositories of customer data (which may or may not involve a CRM system) at its heart, repositories of content (potentially WCM and/or DAM systems), repositories of product and inventory (ERP) and a whole cartful of business logic -- such as marketing automation -- designed to knit the whole lot together. Given that market competition generates a race towards adding ever more functionality over time, progress of the technology can often be defined by the level of integration of the current pieces.

Turning these technology stacks into something that solves a customer perception problem through a single view of a customer is not a simple one. It is not simple to turn all that potential capability into something that works in an integrated manner.

There are a number of piece parts to the technology that supports "real time" marketing efforts today -- most of which are not especially new. What is changing is the way in which businesses apply this technology towards customer-facing scenarios, not just in marketing but towards a goal that unites marketing, sales and customer service functions in recognition of a single customer profile. This doesn't represent how most organizations currently see customers, but rather how customers believe organizations see them.

Dynamic Pricing for Shoes: Simple, Right? 

Take a simple real time example: dynamic pricing. For a customer browsing an e-commerce site for a pair of shoes -- a subject close to my heart -- being offered an on the spot discount is a decent way of getting them to move an item into a cart or take a cart to checkout. As HTML5 Web Sockets become standard across the browser estate, a technological solution exists that gives the ability to target individual user sessions with such a dynamic, real time offer.