Twelve years ago, Gartner wrote about the benefits of a unified data set, which included cost reduction, the ability to handle risk, a revenue and profitability upside, and a better customer experience. In 2016, the promised outcomes remain unchanged—apparently along with anyone's ability to create a 360-degree customer view
Here's the dirty little secret of customer data and marketing technology… You're never going to create a 360-degree view.
The very tools that contribute to the elusive single view of the customer will prevent you from ever having it. This goal is impractical any way you slice it; the evolution of technology results in a never-ending stream of more new-customer data.
Permit me an analogy... LEGOs are one of the most popular kids' toys of all time because they allow infinite creativity and feature a remarkable structure. But as soon as you finish one set, there's a new one out that doesn't fit with what you just built. You must begin again or at least take pieces apart to make them work together.
The same is true for marketing technology. Any marketer worth his or her salt is going to continue to evaluate and change the tech stack as new solutions become available and consumer behaviors change. So the goal of a "fully formed" customer view is flawed, and achieving it means something else has gone wrong because you're stuck.
"Art is never finished, only abandoned," Leonardo da Vinci said, and that describes almost every marketing technology project I've heard of or witnessed firsthand. Abandonment can happen in a lot of phases—early on after a beta or well into the project once resources have to be rerouted to newer, shinier initiatives.
Even the most well-funded, strategically focused, empirically accountable marketing technology projects reach a logical end and, once released into the wild, lose their luster.
For example, take a global fashion manufacturer with multiple brands, which paid tens of thousands of dollars for an exhaustive evaluation of its technology initiatives and investments, including recommendations on how to unify all that tech into one source of customer data. As soon as that phase of the undertaking was complete, momentum waned, and no one followed up on the recommendations the company had paid for dearly.
I am not in any way suggesting that marketing tech initiatives that seek to clean, unify, analyze, or better harness customer data are in vain. But I do think marketers need to fixate less on chasing a 360-degree customer view in haphazard, unproductive ways and instead approach this as a more incremental, ongoing effort.
Three specific shifts in mindset are required.
1. Flexibility "over" functionality
Marketers often say that flexibility is important and that integration is a high priority, but when it's time to buy, they revert to purchase decisions that can be easily sold up to the CMO as meeting a specific need.
Interoperability is a casualty of conservative buying processes, which reinforce the fragmented and redundant tech stacks that marketers subsequently complain hamper their work.
Make flexibility a technology requirement. Ask vendors for their API documentation and policy, check the depth of their integrations, request specific use-cases, and talk to customers about how they use the integrations.
If you don't make true integration a priority, no one else will.
2. Measuring for customer metrics, not channel, to prove the value of the stack
As a former Forrester analyst, I reviewed vendors for capabilities of import to marketers. When purchasing an email service provider (ESP), factors such as volume and contact management were critical in the buying decision. In buying a Web analytics solution, priorities included attributes captured and report types. The marketing buyers often just assumed, somewhat naively I would realize, that the bottom line metrics (conversions, cart size, etc.) would improve simply by virtue of having the tool.
But hope isn't a strategy, and marketers need to attach an ROI to every technology investment, whether in terms of improved efficiency, higher conversions, or customer lifetime value, etc. This approach enables two things: the ability to demonstrate the return of integrated (not siloed) tech and the value of actual customer behaviors. Win-win.
3. Pursuing incremental value with integration
In today's world, no channel or system stands alone. It's really about what an ESP plus Web analytics can do for your business. So start looking at your "next-best connection" to share customer data and grow your intelligence on customers. That could be connecting your email system and your website only in order to grow your email lists more efficiently. This is not a quick and easy effort, so be patient. Pick two channels to start, align strategy and measurement for them, and then use a tool like a customer data platform to simply and easily exchange the customer data you need.
This is the way to build a modern technology stack: strategic, flexible, and fixated on the customer. So do yourself a favor and ditch the 360-degree customer view as your goal... The quest for the holy grail is a huge waste of time and resources.