dog on a couch
PHOTO: Derek Story

A confession: I hate buying furniture.

But after buying a house two months ago, I discovered furniture is a relative necessity. You can only ask guests to sit on camping chairs in your living room so many times before they start declining invites.

So, I set out to purchase a sofa. I browsed Houzz, Pinterest and blogs to figure out what styles I liked. Eventually, I determined I wanted a mid-range, comfortable sofa that I wouldn’t feel too badly about our Bernese mountain dog sleeping on (she’s spoiled). Soon, I downloaded a few apps to browse different options on my mobile device. I used the apps’ augmented reality (AR) features to figure out what the furniture would look like in our living room. From there, I knew I wanted a sectional. After conversing with a chatbot on a retailer’s website, I learned I could request fabric swatches and schedule an interior design consult. 

Next thing I know, I was receiving personalized email offers and discounts from everyone, and eventually one of those drove me to purchase. Even after my purchase, the retailer sent me emails about end tables and rugs, obviously looking to make next-best-action recommendations based on my living room selection.

Related Article: What Every CMO Needs to Know About the Marketing Technology Stack

My Customer Journey to Life With Furniture

Digital experience, as Gartner defines it, uses systems that support many points of interaction, delivering content and information as well as actions and intelligence with the goal of serving, delighting and influencing users. It became evident, on my quest for a sofa, that many of the companies I was considering purchasing from were taking full advantage of their respective digital experience technology stacks. As a marketer myself, I was curious about how that technology influenced my own experience, and decided to dig in.

The company I purchased a sofa from succeeded in stitching together my customer journey, across a multitude of touchpoints, over time. They even extended the relationship after I purchased, seeking to make it long-term. But this isn’t an easy task — and it’s not something that the majority of marketers have mastered. In fact, Gartner’s 2018 Marketing Data and Analytics Survey (paywall) indicates that only one-third of marketers are able to unify customer data at the person-level and apply it to personalization practices.

Related Article: What Should Your Digital Experience Stack Look Like? It Depends

No One Solution Answer to the '360 Degree' Customer View

When talking to marketers, it’s very common for them to report they have many technologies that promise to manage profiles. Customer data is dispersed across all these technologies, and results in disconnected, unintegrated customer (or prospect) views and disconnected experiences. For example, one company I shopped with personalized sofa content to me on my mobile device, but failed to replicate the experience when shopping on their website. Multiple versions of me existed across a “frankenstack” of technology.

These frankenstacks have grown out of legacy systems owned by IT and marketing — customer relationship management (CRM), master data management (MDM) and enterprise data warehouses (EDW). However, many of these technologies weren’t intended for real-time, operational use-cases, and they weren’t easy for marketers to use.

Meanwhile, as marketers struggled to articulate their needs into informed technical specs for IT, they decided to adopt their own technology. Data management platforms (DMPs), born out of adtech, took hold among marketers looking to target audiences for digital advertising and remarketing.

But while all of these systems ostensibly “manage customer data,” many marketers still feel frustrated that they can’t deliver the seamless multichannel digital experience to which they aspire with existing technology. The unified customer profile is seen as the missing link. 

Recognizing that marketers are starved for this, technology solutions are piling on sales pitches about how they’re able to create a unified customer view. This includes the nascent category of customer data platforms (CDP). A CDP is a marketing system that unifies a company's customer data from marketing and other channels to enable customer modeling, and optimize the timing and targeting of messages and offers. But, like all hyped technologies, the CDP will disappoint you if you ask too much of it.

Why? For all I hear about customer profiles and the “360 degree view of the customer,” there isn’t a single technology solution that’s going to provide that. Supporting digital experiences requires that marketers resolve first and third party data, as well as behavioral and identity data, and that can’t be accomplished with only one technology.

Related Article: Customer Data Platforms: The Truth Behind the Hype

What Are You Trying to Accomplish?

As you consider what the right combination of technology solutions is for your digital experience needs, first consider your goal. I find marketers typically aim to accomplish one of the following:

  • Behavioral modeling and predictive analysis: Use a digital marketing analytics platform or advanced analytics workbench.
  • Targeted advertising: Use a data management platform.
  • Cross-channel personalization: Use a personalization engine.
  • Lead scoring: Use marketing automation and CRM.
  • Customer Experience Management: Use digital experience platforms, customer analytics and related technologies.
  • Managing and executing campaigns: Use a multichannel marketing hub.

After reviewing your tech stack, if you find you’re failing to get value out of those solutions, a customer data platform may be helpful for facilitating data collection, profile unification, and segmentation in order to maximize the value of your existing technology.

In the end, buying a sofa was a relatively painless (digital) experience. I’ve got a finished, pet-friendly living room, and our guests can sit comfortably in real chairs (though they may miss the built-in cup holders). My next step? Testing that same company’s post purchase and loyalty experience as I outfit the rest of the house. Here’s hoping the rest of the house is as easy!