By Andrew Jones | Posted on December 18, 2014
The story of the blind men and the elephant originated centuries ago in the Indian subcontinent. In the well-known parable, each man has limited context and therefore believes the elephant to be something different. One feels the trunk and thinks it’s a fountain. One touches the ear and thinks it’s a fan. Others think it’s a wall, a pillar, a rope, or a spear.
This is the position marketers find themselves in today. The complex customer journey and specialization of marketing technology means marketers in different roles see customers with limited context depending on the channel and device data fragment they look at. In a new white paper sponsored by Janrain, “Marketing’s New Imperative: Customer Identity Management,” I examine this challenge and the way marketers must think about it.
With the adoption of each new channel or device, consumers create not only new data, but effectively a new identity. Ten years ago, these “identities” were largely limited to an email address, phone number, physical address, and perhaps a loyalty number—none of which had much associated data other than transaction history, if there was one. However, with the advent of social media and mobile devices in particular, the number of these unique “identities” and related data has spiraled out of control—from a handful to dozens or hundreds.
Only by being able to view the customer as an individual, through some unique identifier, is it possible to personalize a customer’s experience. Yet, in today’s cross-channel world, it is necessary to consolidate data from multiple channels to gain a more holistic view of the customer. And only with a single, unified customer identity is it possible to deliver consistent and coordinated experiences across all customer touchpoints.
It might be valuable, for example, to learn that a Twitter user is interested in a product or service and then put him into a related email-nurturing campaign. Yet to do that requires a connection between two identities: Twitter and email. Most companies lack the ability to consolidate identity across channels in this way. Blake Cahill, Global Head of Digital at Philips, says:
Big data is important today and will be more important tomorrow. Large organizations need to move away from silos of data into one data store with the right capability and people around it to draw out the insights you need. It’s also our approach from a customer record perspective. You can’t have multiple customer records. They need to be harmonized across and accessible throughout the business.
IBM found that 87% of CMOs expect to integrate customer touchpoints across all channels within five years, yet only 16% say they do so today. Cahill says, “The customer of tomorrow expects you to know who the heck they are and what [products] they have. That’s a big transformation as the world throws off more identities and more data.”
Marketers are spending more on technology every year. In particular, an increasing amount of that spend is on tools that help coordinate engagement, like marketing automation. Yet the value of these tools is often limited to the data they are based on. For example, batch-and-blast emails, based on little-to-no segmentation, don’t have high open rates. High degrees of segmentation and personalization, on the other hand, have been shown to dramatically increase open-rates and click-throughs.
It is not surprising that investments begin with engagement rather than with intelligence—better to start with a fishing pole and no bait than great bait but no pole. Once there is engagement, though, it makes sense to measure it and then finally to make it efficient. Today, comparatively little of the marketing technology budget is spent on data and identity management—the way to make engagement efficient. As a result, most companies have limited customer insight, limiting the efficiency of their engagement and value of their customer experience.
Gartner recently found that 89% of companies plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016. Companies will have to address the proliferation of identities and customer data silos before they can hope to provide an integrated customer experience. Those that do not will discover their customers have moved on to build relationships with companies that offer them what they want.
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