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With the turn of the year, marketers are aspiring to reach even bigger heights in 2021 to keep up with the demand to enhance their customer data capability, following the rush to do it in 2020. Customer data and its use is the biggest differentiator in business and marketing particularly now.

It is no accident that the companies doing best globally are the ones who have the best customer programs. From Amazon’s dominance of retail, Facebook's dominance of screen time, Apple’s loyalty (and now subscription services), Google’s constant connections to how vertical unicorns like AirBnB, Peloton and Uber all tie you to a persistent account. 

The benefits are far-reaching. Recurring revenues and lifetime customer value are part of the success. In a marketing world where consent is key, having a strong CRM program is the best way to gain consent and with it, comes the data use data for marketing. The direct to consumer revolution even means that customer data is disrupting the FMCG space where CRM programs were not considered.

Beyond CRM though, customer data is also the backbone of how the best prospecting and brand campaigns are run - using customer insights to find lookalikes and build target audiences. Hence their ability to grow, nurture and utilise customer data is strategically at the top of all progressive companies’ agendas. 

To achieve these gains, companies need to step up their game. Legislation means that the control of this data is vital. CRM technology is part of the solution but does not allow for the control of data generated from user behaviour on sites and apps and indeed the joining of online and offline data. This is where CDPs come in with their ability to join up these data sets in a controlled fashion (vital for compliance) and make it available for insights, personalisation and media opportunities in the appropriate fashion. Here companies have two choices as to whether they build out the capability natively from their current setup or install a new CDP. The choice will depend on company size, budget, current setup and most importantly the use cases they want to solve.

Generally speaking, the following options are available around selecting a type of CDP:

  1. Large enterprise players - often specialising in a given vertical, which are ideal for large advertisers with big budgets and sophisticated data and technology teams. 

  2. CRM plus CDP systems that take the fundamentals from their CRM and email systems and add in extra functionality. 

  3. Tag management plus CDP systems that start with tag management capabilities.

  4. On site personalisation plus systems that start with the goal.

  5. Rebadge data management platforms that are used primarily for media syndication. 

  6. Purpose built CDP lite solutions that do not have the enterprise features of the biggest but come at a fraction of the cost. 

  7. Home grown solutions that build on top of current capabilities and build solutions bespoke for the advertiser’s needs.

  8. No capability at all - not recommended unless the use of data is not important to the business. 

Apart from option eight, all of the above can be right for different companies with different needs, budgets and support structures. 

In order to decide which type of CDP is right and from there which particular vendor it is important to, first of all, specify the use cases you want the system to solve.

Far too many companies are sold a system without first considering what it is they need it to do and end up with an expensive white elephant. It is important to say that sales staff at the relevant companies are very good at selling in the strengths of their system and far less effective at giving the best advice to hit the company's needs. 

Use cases generally fall into one of a few categories from:

  • Customer communication from email to media communication. 

  • Data syndication to marketing platforms. 

  • On site personalisation.

  • Off site advertising personalisation.

  • Insights and attribution. 

It is recommended that marketing, CRM, website, IT, data, legal and more teams undertake a unifying exercise to get the best view of the needs of the business. Crucially, who will be responsible for delivering which use cases and using the system once something is in place. 

Many will be put off by the cost with minimum spends on some large platforms north of £500,000 a year. Further, the expertise and support needed to utilise them are beyond many organisations. Yet there are solutions for all budgets. Options two through six can be a fraction of the cost and yet deliver 90% of the real-world value to the right businesses and use cases. They also come with much better support options. In house options can also be the perfect mix of cost and output for many businesses building on the base of strong CRM foundations with cloud computing options on top. 

Like anything else, the selection of a CDP system and a successful program to make use of it is something that can be done well or done badly. We really believe that getting customer data and any CDP right is an art that requires specialist expertise. At Canton, we have now helped over a dozen companies from large enterprise players to smaller players and startups with this crucial area. Money and time spent on getting this right upfront will likely pay itself back many times over in just a few years of use. Getting companies departments, particularly marketing and technology teams to collaborate is vital. Most marketing departments need to provide better specifications on their needs. Technology teams need to spend more time understanding the precise end-use points and the right fit of technology and support selected. Canton has worked hard to develop an offering that helps companies large and small deliver excellent customer technology setups and programs, having installed every type of system with aplomb and also build bespoke setups for clients. 

Great rewards are available for brands that lean into this new dynamic. Support is also at hand. For companies with an eye to a successful future now is the time to invest in customer data and communications. 

Robert Webster is the founder of Canton