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PHOTO: Leio McLaren

Customer data platforms (CDPs) can provide marketers with a relatively future-proof, unified data layer that creates a 360-degree view of the customer. But that potential can have a hard time becoming reality.

Most enterprises face a challenging road strewn with potholes — if not landmines — on the path to CDP nirvana. The primary obstacle is that most businesses must integrate their CDP within legacy data architectures. This means any introduction of a CDP must account for an organization’s unique demands and existing technology commitments.

The transition to a full-fledged CDP requires a clear and united focus with the right priorities set on day one. Yes, CDPs are worth the effort and can deliver the elusive single view of customers marketers are looking for. But being realistic and pragmatic about how your CDP comes together takes more planning and integration than many businesses afford it. You can’t buy a CDP off-the-shelf and expect nirvana.

CDPs Enable Marketing Like Never Before

CDPs escalate marketing by centralizing first-party data collected across all customer touchpoints and organizing it around customer IDs (i.e., anonymized individual customers). That information can then enable marketing interactions to drive personalization and channel experiences that are more relevant to individuals. Getting it right multiplies the effectiveness (and, really, the efficiency) of marketing strategies.

Honing your content strategy for multiple and different customer types is the most critical capability for brands to get the most from their CDP. For example, a B2B customer early on in a long sales funnel may offer only a few signals to work with: their on-site browsing history, a stop at the trade show booth and maybe an email interaction. Later, we may be able to include a conversation with sales. By piecing these signals together, we can see a compelling view of the customer’s needs and interests. Once you know this, you must be able to put the customer or prospect into a content category purposefully designed for those interests. Your reward for getting it right will be astronomically higher conversion rates and business growth.

Related Article: Beyond CDP or Bust: The Looming CDP Reality

Stitching Together a Successful CDP Requires Long-Term Focus and Investment

Most companies already have some technology in place to support personalization at a channel level. For example, your company may have made investments into email automation, paid media or website personalization. Those existing investments give the business a basic proficiency with personalization across one or more specific channels. This is how most organizations start pursuing personalization. A CDP offers you the opportunity to tie all the channels together.

Given these existing solutions and their associated infrastructures, most organizations cannot simply purchase a CDP off-the-shelf and have it snap into the pieces already in place. A good CDP is selected and designed to fit with current investments, while evolving with newer IT trends: DevOps, microservices and managed data services. Here’s where it can get tricky. Marketers need to collaborate with their peers in IT to balance the need for constant channel-level executions with a new holistic way of planning and executing customer experiences. We really need to take a step back and commit to building a holistic architecture for data and personalization across all channels. More than anything, building out a CDP takes a dedication of focus, time and investment — which in the hair-on-fire world of marketers, can sometimes take uncommon foresight to accomplish.

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

What to Prioritize When Architecting a CDP

Having a conversation with IT about implementing your CDP is much easier if you understand their language. Architecture is the first principle of IT, and a CDP architecture amounts to a series of crucial decisions. Based on our work assisting organizations in designing, building and using CDPs, I recommend focusing on these four core architectural principles:

  • Agility. A CDP has to be flexible. Each business unit within an organization is going to have unique requirements for its own use cases. Each of those requirements must be met by the CDP without needing to be continually reworked. From an architectural point of view, this means including features and functionality that are loosely coupled and standards based, so the CDP is readily configurable. A question like “does it work with Marketo?” might be better phrased as “will it work if we change marketing automation platforms a year from now?”
  • Speed. The architecture must enable data to move very quickly, capturing data at customer touchpoints and making it available to inform decisions in real time. Personalization is not an after-the-fact endeavor. Can the platform support simultaneous real-time decisions on the website? In email? In social? In the call center?
  • Self-service. The CDP must allow marketers to serve themselves. This is the core value of a CDP. While IT is certainly needed to get things moving, marketers can’t over-rely on IT once the CDP is running. The CDP exists for marketers — they should be able to operate it after minimal training.
  • Compliance and security. In this age of GDPR, CCPA and other emerging data privacy standards, a CDP must allow customers to opt in and control their data, especially on the basis of geolocation. For example, a global company with customers in Europe needs to provide customer data management to that geography in a way that’s very different from North America. A CDP should have that baked in. At the same time, security is paramount. The CDP data store represents everything an organization knows about its customers — a tremendous prize for hackers. Because a CDP sits closer to the front-lines of marketing than deep in the data center, and is accessed by a broad group of users, it tends to be more vulnerable.

Related Article: Is That New CDP Truly a Customer Data Platform?

Future-Proof ≠ Set-it-and-Forget-it

Once an enterprise has an effective CDP up and running — one built on a decoupled architecture and aligned with each of the principles above — the solution can be considered largely future-proof. That said, the technology that drives CDPs is rapidly evolving, and it’s necessary to stay current. By avoiding overreliance on any particular underlying technology or vendor, an organization can ensure a CDP retains its future-proof qualities. In a way, customizing your flexible CDP architecture to fit your organization’s unique requirements is a lot like customizing the content you need to win and keep your customers over the long haul.