By using data your marketing can be smarter, faster and messages more relevant. This explains the current interest in customer data platforms (CDPs).

I am a big fan of the idea of a CDP to bring together and make the best use of our data – and the story goes that we can create a single customer view with it. If we reach that holy grail, that would literally turn all marketers into superhuman marketers, wouldn’t it?

But do we really need to get a single customer view to get optimal value out of our data? A recent survey from Lexer snaps us back to reality again.

As you can see below, top performers in this survey that achieve high value from their data don’t stand out because of a single customer view. They are just slightly more likely to have it (more than 20%).

lexer chart

That’s strange, so we don’t we need a single customer view? For years we’ve been told that we need to break down the data silos and create a single customer view. You can hear it at innovative marketing conferences and in deep thought opinion articles from thought leaders. Making marketers feel inspired but depressed at the same time.

Or is the reason for the weak correlation between top performing companies and the single customer view that the top performers are actually lagging. So the marketing industry is shockingly behind the times? Even if that is the case, it is still a good question. Should you, as a marketer, make it a goal to bring all customer data together into a single customer view?

Finding your three loves

Let me give you an example from my own experience. I guide martech vendor selections. And now that customer data platforms have been introduced, selection of marketing automation or email marketing vendors also comes with the question of the internal database structure. Do we need a customer data platform? Could there be another option, a combination of data plus delivery?

That changes the whole definition of a martech RFP and makes it a lot more complex. In theory or in a discussion, it is way too tough to give a conclusive answer to what is best. But when you draw it out, it becomes much clearer and it might look something like this:

data refinery

(Image via Email Monday)

The data refinery is where the data enters the CDP. Of course in your own case, some of the data might be distributed over several systems, or already several types of data in a single system.

In a software selection, you accompany this type of graph with a number of use-cases and at least one strong business case (how we make use of the data, and where we generate value with the data). In other words: What are the benefits of a CDP for you?

It is all about data activation, the things you will be doing with the system.

The green marked boxes are an example of what is planned in the first launch, the scope of the first implementation. You will be surprised what you can do in the first year, by combining as little as the top three data source systems.

So… what are your three loves?

Practical customer view

You can already start doing beautiful, smart campaigns and create a lot of value in acquisition, sales and retention with just the key data systems.

The practical uses hardly need to combine all of the data into a single customer view. The ambition, however, is expected to be much bigger.

We’d love to add intelligence, use AI, use predictive modelling, create the full array of channels in an “orchestrated, omnichannel” way. And with the advent of the tools that could do it, the interest grows and ambitions start to burn harder. But if you can’t make a strong business case with a maximum of three data source systems, you shouldn’t start the project.

Scope the project and keep the unified systems limited to your three loves. Then maximise the access to the data and what we are doing with those sources, before adding more sources and complexity.

It is called data activation and that is where the value is generated. Looking back to the survey from Lexer, you see that accessibility, enough resources and making data easy are trademarks of an organisation that makes the most out of their data. And these are traits that allow you to activate and use your data.

Our secret handshake on the single customer view

I subscribe to the concept of a CDP, the customer data platform that can bring together multiple data streams and allows you to make use of them, but not under the guise of a single customer view. The single customer view is more of a distraction, or “placeholder” that tempts us away from focussing on the practical implementations.

Put the CDP infrastructure in place to be able to grow your ambitions. Put it in place to let you act in real-time or near-time. Put it in place so the marketer can act on the data by themselves without straining IT resources and time. As a packaged system that already figures out some of the tough things that come with integrations and decisioning, it makes sense.

But if you do use the term single customer view, lets make a secret deal, that we actually mean a practical customer view.

Econsultancy runs training in CRM and data and analytics. Subscribers can also download our fundamentals guide to measurement and analytics.