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This article is part of a 4 part series on customer data platforms sponsored by Jahia.

Customers are interacting with your brand in more ways than ever before. Mobile devices, social media sites, online communities, call centers,email; All of these touchpoints produce volumes of valuable customer data in an endless variety of formats.

Unfortunately, much of this data is typically housed on individual platforms in organizational silos and is not fully accessible to the marketers and business professionals who need it. It’s not ‘clean’ data — data that is structured and formatted in a way that can be integrated.

A top priority for any customer-centric company should be to get all that customer data together in one place, so that it can be used to glean actionable insights regarding your customers’ behaviors and needs. Fortunately, new marketing-focused, data management tools have emerged in the last 5 years,specifically designed to address the issues of multi-channel data integration.

Related Article: What a Customer Data Platform Can Do For Your Company

Getting to a Unified Customer Experience

You have probably heard the term “360-Degree Customer View” — the idea that companies need to work towards a more complete view of their customers through aggregating data across all their touchpoints, creating a unified customer profile. While this term has become a bit overused, it does hold true that your company needs as comprehensive a view as possible of your customers in order to run true data-driven, customer-centric marketing campaigns. It’s all in service of achieving the marketing “holy grail” — a unified customer experience across the entire lifecycle of the customer journey. This is no small feat; According to a 2016 study by Experian, 81% of marketers report challenges in achieving a single, unified customer view.

Many well-known and emerging Martech tools work to achieve this more complete customer view, including social media listening tools, customer relationship management (CRM) software, voice of the customer (VoC) programs, web analytics, and marketing automation tools. Yet, as can be expected, all these new programs bring with them new data that needs to be combined and made accessible to marketing and business leaders. This data also needs to be "clean," as stated before, otherwise it won’t be usable towards building that unified profile.

There are options available to help you bring all this data together and get closer to this “360-Degree,” unified customer experience. One such emerging technology is a customer data platform, or CDP.

Related Story: Tips for Evaluating, Setting Up and Supporting Your CDP

What is a CDP?

A customer data platform (CDP) is a marketer-managed platform that provides a persistent and unified customer profile that is accessible by other Martech systems. It consolidates and integrates disparate customer data sources together into a single repository by utilizing consistent identifiers that links customer data together.

One thing to note is that a CDP is not your sole database or repository of all your data, nor is it a data storage solution. Think of it as a data hub that allows for all your customer data from multiple sources to be exposed, aggregated, consistently formatted, and directed to a specific task.

A CDP is also not a CRM database, although they can seem a bit similar. A CDP, unlike a CRM solution, is specifically designed to be a central location for all your customers’ data, regardless of channel and source, and is specifically designed for marketers to use without IT supervision.

A CDP and the data that goes into it are only as good as your relationship with your customers. In order to build a trusting relationship, your customers need to understand what you are doing with their data and give their approval for you to use it. With that trust and consent, your data will be of higher quality, and in turn customer-centric personalization tools will work better and deliver more relevant contextual experiences, leading to better conversions and sales. The key word here is “consent” — there are now real legal concerns you need to be thinking about when dealing with your customers’ information. Getting up to speed and ensuring your company is compliant with new EU GDPR and California data privacy regulations should be a top concern.

The Future for CDPs

CDPs may be in a state of emergence, but they are quickly becoming critical for companies who are serious about pursuing customer-centric marketing and business strategies. With the proliferation of MarTech in every conceivable category and across multiple channels, the volume of unstructured and structured data is increasing daily, and the need for a unified data management solution, one unburdened by the oversight and involvement of IT for daily use, has become more and more necessary.

Utilized correctly, a CDP can become your company’s linchpin in developing customer-centric personalization campaigns, both increasing their value towards your customers and building long-term trust in your brand.