New technology will bring marketers out of the “data darkness”

Stare too long at the sun and you’ll be just as blind as if you were in a darkened room

It’s the same with information. Data is supposed to shine a light that guides us to better understanding, but information overload can be just as dazzling – something that marketers know all too well.

Marketers used to struggle with an almost complete lack of information on which to base their campaigns. In John Wannamaker’s famous phrase, they knew that half the money they spent on advertising was wasted; the only trouble was that they didn’t know which half. Now modern-day marketers face the opposite problem – they are drowning in oceans of data that is preventing them from gaining the insight they need to make campaigns more effective and drive revenue.

The technology industry has been chipping away at this problem by developing customer data platforms (CDPs) which marketers can use to aggregate, organise and understand their customer data. While these tools are becoming increasingly effective, significant challenges remain. Data platforms can be complex, unwieldy and require special training to use.

In their current state of development, CDPs are tools for data scientists rather than for marketers themselves, who can’t currently use them access the instant insight they need to tailor campaigns in real-time. But technology never stands still, and the next generation of CDPs will be simple and intuitive for anyone to use, bringing marketers out of the dark while ensuring that they’re not dazed by too much data.

The next frontier for CDPs

None of this should blind us to the fact that CDPs have brought significant benefits to the marketing sector. In 2018 the CDP Institute found the industry grew by two thirds, and it’s set to be a billion-dollar sector by the end of this year.

This is testament to the fact that this much-needed technology works and that it’s highly valued by marketers. But if we’re to ensure that this growth continues, technology companies need to evolve their CDPs so that everyone in the organisation can understand customers as individuals and so deliver the range of personalised experiences that consumers crave.

As we’ve seen, the chief challenge isn’t one of data but of integration. Even using the most advanced CDPs on the market today, many organisations struggle to stitch together information from various sources to gain a true picture of consumers. The difficult work of extracting insight has to be done by people with data science skills who often have little understanding of what marketers themselves need to know or want to achieve, and are facing a bombardment of requests from business units looking to become more productive.

The new generation of CDPs therefore needs to be truly democratic, taking the tools out of the lab and putting it onto every desktop. When everyone can instantly access the insight they need, they will

be able to set up and manage individualised customer experiences in minutes and visualise audiences and measure consumer sentiment in real-time.

With customers increasingly expecting personalised relationships with brands that understand them, marketers across a range of industries are demanding tools that can connect every customer interaction across a growing range of channels, so that they can adapt every interaction with most timely and accurate data.

From CDPs to intelligent engagement platforms

There’s another key reason why CDPs need to evolve and become more democratic. Even if a brand or agency is happy to continue with the inefficient model of outsourcing data analytics to a separate department, businesses in every sector are facing a chronic shortage of the data science skills needed to turn data into actionable insight that result in revenue.

Besides, marketers don’t have the time, training or inclination to be grappling to make sense of enormous data sets. That’s why the next generation of CDPs will harness technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to do the hard work behind the scenes: crunching through masses of information, finding patterns and connections that will enable marketers to predict customers’ future interests and needs.

As such, we’ll see a move away from mere “data platforms” to intelligent engagement platforms. These will be distinguished from CDPs by prioritising insight over data, with information presented visually through dashboards, self-service analytics, data orchestration capabilities and other tools. This will make them simple enough to anyone to use without having to go through a rigorous training regime. Such platforms will work straight out of the box, enabling marketers to start building campaigns from day one. The most advanced platforms are also able to use machine learning to constantly refine and retarget campaigns, to ensure that they are continuously optimised and deliver the most accurate, relevant and timely experiences to their audiences. This speeding up of the time to return on investment will be key to marketing departments seeking to prove their success to a numbers-driven C suite.

The ability to visualise audiences and measure consumer sentiment in real-time is crucial as brands seek to move from being reactive to being proactive. By providing context to every decision and incorporating data from every channel, the next generation of intelligent engagement platforms will solve marketing’s longstanding challenge of how to proactively drive engagement with relevant and timely experiences – without being blinded by data.

About the Author

Doug Gross, CEO at NGDATA. Doug brings more than 30 years international experience. He was previously Executive Director of Corporate Banking Solutions at financial services technology specialists FIS Global. Prior to this Doug was CEO of payments technology firm Clear2Pay America, which was bought by FIS Global in 2014. He also held senior positions with S1, Unisys and HSBC.