Many companies understand that one of the most valuable assets they possess is the relationship they have with their customers. Yet, how many organizations truly understand the different types of buyers well enough to delight them and keep them coming back year after year? The most successful organizations have figured out how to understand customer likes, dislikes and trends using customer data. 

Recent trends, such as the sunsetting of third-party cookies and new privacy regulations, have added an extra layer of complexity for companies. The days of depending on opaque data sources and marketing to individuals without their consent is no longer accepted.

Additionally, consumers are more aware and educated about how their data is being used. At the same time, they are also increasingly more selective about what they want and don’t want from their favorite brands.

The big question for many companies is centered around privacy and personalization: can they coexist? And specifically, how do organizations deliver relevant and timely experiences that are not obtrusive or downright creepy?

The First Step Is a First-Party Data Strategy

An important first step is to develop a customer data strategy for your organization. Gone are the days where different teams develop different methods for data collection and management. This introduces risk, not only from a compliance perspective, but also in that data can be incomplete and be used in a substandard way.  

Where we’re headed:

Having a thoughtful customer data strategy means utilizing first-party data, which comes directly from customer relationships that only your company has access to. Customer experiences will always be more relevant and accurate when buyers provide information directly to the brand. Having a defined and documented process for where and how the organization collects customer data will help ensure personalized experiences can be delivered at the right time for the buyer. Remember, customer data is dynamic — not static. The touchpoints and signals will change and it’s essential to have systems that can support that reality.

Related Article: From First-Party to Zero-Party Data

Consent Management Is Foundational, Not Optional

As part of the first-party data strategy, it is essential to have consent management in place. Requesting consent is a pivotal part of the customer experience, and honoring privacy preferences and regulations throughout the entire journey provides a trustworthy foundation for ensuring relevant experiences are delivered at the right time. This means maintaining the highest-quality consented data as it's collected, not after the fact. It’s important to have the agility to enforce data requirements across the entire martech stack — and across your entire organization — to ensure the customer is truly at the heart of everything you do. For instance, buyers do not think about different channels — they think about the overall experience regardless of whether they are at a physical location or online.

Where we’re headed:

Organizations need to think past simply storing customer data long-term and navigate the complexities of how to collect and activate it in compliant ways.

Learning Opportunities

Identity Resolution: The Future of the Customer Data Profile

With a first-party data strategy and consent management in place, the last step is ensuring the company has a complete 360-view of its customers. This depends on matching identifiers across accessible visitor profiles. The goal is to have as complete and current profiles as possible, which is largely dependent on capturing data in real-time and having access to key integrations.

Integrations with leading technology providers help organizations better understand and utilize data from all sources, yielding higher-quality data for richer profiles. This is the core premise behind identity resolution: through vendor-neutral integration of data from multiple sources, organizations can capture data seamlessly and in real-time, ultimately creating better customer journeys through improved in-the-moment marketing.

Where we’re headed:

Today’s consumer, whether shopping for a birthday gift or seeing their doctor, is on multiple channels and expecting a cohesive, trusted and relevant experience. The bar is definitely high! This is dependent on the right type of data collection (first party, real-time) and ensuring that consent is upheld at all touchpoints. Technology is leading the way in making data collection, unification and delivery scalable. The number of providers (and identifiers) will most likely continue to grow, so look for tools that have the right integration points. Flexibility matters.

Related Article: Is Less More for Customer Personalization and Privacy?

Conclusion: Define Your Customer Data Strategy

The best way to improve customer experience is through data. While the one constant is change, new technologies are making it easier to build a true "customer-at-the-center" approach that delivers relevant, personalized experiences across online and offline channels. But in order to deliver on this, having a defined data strategy and consent are a must.

Throughout the lifecycle, your customers’ trust should always be top of mind. In an increasingly regulated world, taking privacy risk seriously presents an opportunity to gain trust as well as a competitive advantage.

But procuring compliant data is only half the battle. You’ll need to consider how to continue gaining customer intelligence once you’ve settled on the right data collection solution. Build up your first-party data strategy now. Then, aim to maximize the influx of data while investing in the tools that allow you to optimize it in real time. The result will be a stronger, more efficient connection to your customer, built on trust and backed by intention.