Considerations for your customer-first and CDP initiatives

I’ve worked with a number of clients who all want to build better customer experiences or driver higher, more profitable growth. The initial request is almost always about personalization, creating a golden record or purchasing a customer data platform (CDP), but inevitably, the goal is customer experience or growth.

Everyone comes at it with a slightly different lens and it’s easy to provide value by just helping clarify. If I had one piece of advice, it's that you should know your final solution is going to look differently than what you originally planned.

Working with clients on their customer-first initiatives always reminds me of being a freshman in college. You go to school, pick a major that will be your ticket to a long successful career, then along the way something changes forcing you to reconsider every decision to that point.

In my case, it was starting with engineering, encountering differential equations and deciding any career with that much math wasn't for me. It would have been awesome if someone helped me figure out what I loved to do from the start.

Here’s the path you should expect to follow. Typically it starts with hearing the buzz about the technology shopping spree you need to go on, you’ll hear lots of buzz about CDPs and you’ll feel like that should be a cornerstone in your tech stack.

From there, you can expect multiple rounds of speaking with industry experts and vendors, learning and iterating along the way. Most of the conversation will sound similar, but along the way you’ll uncover little nuggets that make you reassess your plan.Your understanding will start to evolve, you’ll learn which questions to ask and how to differentiate between what seem like similar feature sets.

You’ll realize solutions that don’t align your data or provide better buying signals will not dramatically change your status quo. The post-implementation realities start to set in. Hopefully that happens before you sign a contract.

Either way, the solution you settle on will be different than you thought. 

If your company is deciding whether to add a CDP or CDP-like platform to power your nextgen marketing, there are several things you should consider upfront, including the definition of a CDP and what each vendor can really deliver. Developing a well-defined plan will mitigate risk to your company and your career. The plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but getting ahead of a few key considerations will increase your probability of success.

Here are a few things you should consider if you or anyone at your company has recently said we need to launch a customer-first initiative or buy a CDP:

1. Define your use cases (Hint: It’s more than a single view of the customer)

A single view of the customer is the most common use case I hear. It’s a great start, but it’s more than that. Inevitably I end up asking questions like “what are you going to with that?” or “Does that include all online interactions, even if they aren’t logged in?."

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember implementing any new marketing solution is about increasing sales or reducing costs. Clients who are laser focused on their uses cases and remember that building a unified customer record or improving the customer experience are all just steps to achieving their end goal have the most successful implementations.

2. Architecture plan to create and activate your golden record online and offline

A true golden record means you can move a holistic customer profile across applications. Marketers are right to believe there is a huge opportunity here and that extends to linking both online and offline engagements.

This is how the companies repeatedly praised for delivering the best customer experiences do it. It’s not easy, but the advantages they gain in analytics, insights, activation and measurement are worth it.

3. Ongoing data management strategy that connects online and offline profiles

Most people assume that identity management is built into their CDP. This is rarely correct and represents a huge gap in CDP functionality.

Bringing all your customer data into one place, but failing to unify both the offline and online components, limits your ability to move beyond the status quo and demonstrate ROI for your new investment.

4. Identify real-time buying signals and predictive models

Once you’ve built a single view of your customer, the next step is to weaponize it. Find predictive buying signals that help you understand when your customer is in market, ready to move to a new category or an attrition risk. It doesn’t matter if these signals come from your own data (ex. refinance promotion when your clients mortgage rate exceeds the market rate) or from an external partner (ex. customer is browsing properties on a real-estate site).

The key is you have a plan for maximizing the value of your unified customer profiles, even if that plan changes. It’s also a great way to mitigate the business risk of relying on lookalike models should their performance wane.

5. Cross channel activation plan with real-time personalization

This one is self-explanatory and links back to having a primary set of use cases. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to understand the activation path and how your data will move or not move. You may find additional solutions are required or that you need to rethink what “real-time” means in some channels.

The earlier you know if your goals are achievable, and the price tag to reach them, the better. For example, real time may be possible on your website, but sending that data to your email service provider may only be viable in batch updates.

6. Integration with acquisition programs

The goal of customer-first programs is better customer experiences that result in higher lifetime values. The impact on acquisition programs raises its head when you realize that your customers are still being targeted by these campaigns when you are unable to link a device or cookie back to a person.

Failure to connect your acquisition programs to customer marketing programs causes frustrating customer experiences and leaves amazing intent signals like browsing behavior on other websites untapped. This is something a CDP cannot solve for, while most digital advertising or onboarding solutions will not help you make the connection between online and offline behavior.

7. Attribution and measurement

You probably understand that attribution is a grey area and different weightings on the same events can lead to different results. However, the quality of the underlying data is pretty black or white.

You are either connecting all your customer touchpoints in-store, PPC or digital media or you are not. CDPs are great at the offline portion, assuming a good data hygiene program, but struggle with the online component. This makes it harder to validate the impact of websites or digital media and truly allocate budget to the channels that will generate the greatest return.

8. Replacement plan for other solutions

Cost savings can come through consolidating your martech or adtech stack or from more efficient marketing spend, which usually means a reallocation of dollars to increase reach or test new channels. Many of the people I speak with think a CDP is a magical solution that replaces existing solutions like data lakes or DMPs. Sometimes this is true, but it’s not always the case.

The good news is our industry is making huge advancements in how we democratize our technology that do not require massive capital expenditures like building your own social network, spending millions on data each year or constructing 100+ person analytics team.

However, architecting a solution that is right for your business requires cutting through lots of hype and big promises. That’s the hardest part and why you started down the CDP journey in the first place.