Marketing and technology is a marriage. For better or worse, it’s a partnership where each side relies on each other and helps bring out the best versions of themselves. Without being empowered by the right tech foundation — one that’s fast, scalable and interconnected — it’s impossible for marketers to succeed today.
Prompting this relationship is marketing’s growing role in the customer experience (CX). Marketing is no longer responsible for driving customers to the brand’s store, branch, website or app where the customer experience takes place. Today, marketers are increasingly entrusted with taking the experience to the customer, making marketing ever more closely entwined in the customer experience.
This new CX role, however, brings a new set of complexities. Marketers need to make and act on customer engagement decisions faster than ever before. Not to mention, they need to do so on an increasing number of channels.
However, marketers are finding that their customer engagement initiatives are perpetually falling flat because their tech stacks are ill-equipped to keep pace with the drastic shifts in customer behavior over recent years. Marketing technologies can’t fulfill the new customer engagement dynamics because they were built to support a single channel and a one-directional relationship with customers. More importantly, martech stacks are failing marketers because they are hollow; they operate without a core customer foundation that connects and powers its channels and platforms around customers’ needs and intentions.
Luckily, there’s a new solution to fix that: a customer data platform (CDP) that acts as a smart hub, which centralized customer experience decisioning across channels based on a unified customer understanding.
The Proliferation Of Disjointed Channel ‘Spokes’
How is it that martech stacks, which are built with cutting-edge technologies, are missing such a foundational component?
Marketers’ tech stacks and organization structures were traditionally built around channels rather than around the customer. With rapid digitization in recent years, new channels multiplied — and so did new applications for marketers to add to the stack. Solutions such as CRMs, ESPs, mobile marketing platforms and others were brought on to solve very specific use cases and address distinct channels. It’s no wonder that the average martech stack now has 28 platforms.
Yet with over 8,000 martech platforms available today, it’s not specific platforms that should take the blame but rather the structure of the platforms in the stack. When marketers were only responsible for delivering brand messages on select channels, independent platforms that focused on the requirements of the channel were sufficient. However, as the marketer’s role within CX evolved, their tech stacks remained static, siloed and incapable of supporting a customer journey sliced across different platforms and channels.
Now, marketers are finding that they are operating off a disjointed set of tools that operate virtually independently and barely communicate rather than off a tightly integrated network of technologies. Their tech stacks are, in fact, hollow.
Hollow Stacks: The Missing Customer Core
Everything in marketing begins and ends with a fundamental understanding of the customer. Therefore, an optimal tech stack needs a complete, real-time customer view to guide it.
For most organizations, this isn’t how their stacks were constructed. Rather, every single marketing channel has its own data and siloed understanding of customers, and these data sources rarely feed into one another. Further, customer data from the brand’s owned properties (e.g. stores, digital apps) is barely integrated into these channel applications. Martech stacks are void of a unified customer data and experience foundation. They lack a comprehensive, real-time customer understanding and the shared, centralized decision-making across channels to unite all marketing activities around how to best engage each customer.
This creates a hollow martech stack that executes without real purpose or connectedness. Disconnected data then leads to disconnected execution across channels because there’s no means to convert customer data into deep understanding to inform the right experiences across customer touchpoints. There’s no way to ensure every customer interaction stays in sync with the rest of the CX experience. It’s no surprise, then, that marketers use only 58% of martech’s potential.
Band-aid solutions, such as continuously adding more new tech, haven’t been working. Marketers need a permanent fix, and they need it to be future-proofed as their tech stacks will inevitably continue to evolve.
The Fix: The CDP As A ‘Smart Hub’
To fill in this void, marketers need a central “smart hub” to connect and guide their numerous channels and applications. A smart hub serves to unite disconnected stacks around a shared, real-time customer understanding and provides a single point of control from which to base customer engagement decisions and guide execution across channels.
Luckily, with technology advancements in recent years, a new breed of CDPs has emerged to fit the bill. While many CDPs have focused on data integration and profile unification, according to leading analyst firm Gartner, Inc., smart hub CDPs go beyond unifying data to also centralize decisioning about how to best engage each customer across channels. A true smart hub CDP has three core components:
• Data unification that integrates any data source and combines historic, real-time and predicted customer behaviors from across all channels into unified profiles of every known and anonymous customer.
• Smart decisioning that uses AI and predictive intelligence to extract insights from customer data and uses it to instantly trigger the next best action across channels.
• Distribution hub that has a marketer-friendly user interface and seamless integrations with all of your applications and channels.
Beyond the core components, look for a smart hub CDP vendor that can be a strategic partner and can help guide you in shifting from channel-centric to customer-centric engagement that marketing’s role now demands. With the right partner, you should quickly discover that smart hub CDPs provide not only “data fidelity” but also “decision agility” across the entire customer journey.
In today’s digitally connected world, marketers are only as good as the technologies that power them. Marketers will never meet customers’ rising expectations or turn customer experience into their competitive advantage until they have a connected customer core powering their tech stacks.
This article first appeared in www.forbes.com