Learn the Evolution of Marketing Data

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain the history of how marketing data has been collected and stored.
  • Understand why these legacy systems are insufficient for the needs of the modern marketer.

In this module, we refer to: Our customers as businesses. Our customers’ customers as consumers.

A History of Data-Driven Marketing

Most brands and businesses have been making investments for years in databases and systems designed to store data about their customers. Indeed, Salesforce itself is built on the idea that customer data should be easily stored and easily accessible across an organization. Until recently, many marketing departments were able to meet their customer data needs using a combination of legacy databases and systems. These systems were often built around the needs of non-marketing users (IT, finance, purchasing). 

In recent years, marketers have been using channel marketing–focused systems, such as email marketing automation and campaign management tools, to manage their relationships with and understanding of their customers. These systems often excel at the purposes they were built for. But they fall short when it comes to meeting the updated needs of the modern marketer who craves a unified understanding of and relationship with their customers across channels.

54% of high-performing global marketing leaders now lead customer experience initiatives across the business.
(Salesforce State of Marketing, Fifth Edition)

Let’s use a hypothetical example to explain this current situation faced by many marketers. Fred is an outdoor enthusiast who’s had a customer relationship with camping and outdoor equipment retailer Northern Trail Outfitters (NTO) for 5 years. He’s been receiving emails from Northern Trails during that time. Fred opens and clicks emails from the retailer occasionally, and he most often clicks links for outerwear. The NTO email marketing team has used this engagement data to try to optimize Fred’s customer journey. They’ve entered him in apparel-based journeys with an emphasis on outerwear.

During the same time, Fred has shopped at the local NTO store for new boots each fall and active sandals each spring. He also recently watched several videos on the NTO website about group adventure travel packages NTO offers. Yet the NTO email team doesn’t have a window into that aspect of Fred’s customer relationship with NTO, so they can’t use that data to optimize Fred’s journey on email. At the same time, the NTO digital marketing team isn’t able to use the data gathered by the email team or NTO’s in-store sales system in advertising targeted to Fred. 

Only 28% of global marketing leaders say they are completely satisfied with their ability to create personalized omni-channel experiences.
(Salesforce State of Marketing, Fifth Edition)

Since there’s no single view of Fred anywhere in all of NTO’s customer databases and systems, NTO treats Fred like different people, depending on where he’s engaging with the brand, and leaving him with a disjointed experience. For example, he went into the store and purchased a new spring pullover last week, but continues to receive emails about spring outerwear featuring the item he just purchased. Both NTO’s marketing team and Fred would prefer to have a more consistent experience when he interacts with NTO.

Graph showing median number of data sources used by marketing organizes: 2017 = 10, 2018 = 12, 2019 = 15.

The Five Forces

The need to provide customers like Fred with a connected and relevant customer experience has created five forces that are pushing marketers to rethink their systems—integration, identity, AI, speed, and marketing evolution.

Integration: From channels to platforms 

Marketers are realizing they need systems of engagement that move away from channel-focused siloed marketing toward a platform-focused approach that allows them to treat customers like Fred as one person as he engages across touchpoints. This means not just engaging a customer in each channel in a vacuum, for example, the Email Marketing team and the Digital Marketing team work in unison to drive a connected experience across touchpoints. This can include other critical aspects of the customer experience as well, including Sales and Service.

Identity: From audiences to people

For brands to truly deliver a connected customer experience, they need to link a customer’s identity across databases and systems of engagement. That’s because to deliver these experiences, NTO’s marketing team needs to understand that Fred is the same customer who purchases boots and sandals in-store and buys performance hoodies and pullovers online. NTO also needs the ability to quickly recognize Fred the next time he’s on the NTO website, so the brand can personalize his experience there as well. In short, identity allows brands to move away from audience-based marketing that lumps people into target groups or segments (for example, Millennial Outdoor Explorers) toward marketing that moves closer to 1:1 (our loyal customer Fred). 

AI: From diagnostic to predictive 

As more brands realize the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to deliver insights and analytics that drive real-world results, there’s an understanding that marketing is moving to a world where analytics is less about diagnosis and more about in-the-moment predictions. For example, the idea is less about knowing what Fred’s customer journey was after he bought a jacket, and more about using all the data you have about Fred, and millions of journeys your customers have taken, to help predict Fred’s next-best journey. To do this, you need a clean data set that unites all the data you have about all of your customers including Fred. 

Speed: From asynchronous to contextual

Data and decisioning now need to move at the speed of the customer experience. The shorter the delay between when data is created (like when Fred clicks an ad for boots) and when it’s available to systems that can decide how to activate off of it, the more seamless the customer journey can be. Marketers are now aiming to move closer to real-time data processing and activation to deliver those real-time journeys.  

Marketing evolution: From prospecting to experience management 

Marketing is evolving within organizations to be responsible for helping manage the full customer experience. The role of marketing departments is shifting from one focused on just driving customer awareness and preference to focusing on driving personalized customer engagement. This is making marketing departments realize that, more than ever, they need to own and manage the technology, systems, and databases they require to drive that personalized experience. In the past, marketing departments were happy to have IT choose, implement, and maintain customer databases; this is starting to shift dramatically toward a framework where marketers have their hands directly on these levers. 


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Source: Trailblazer Community Impact Survey 2019