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The End of Marketing Attribution and the Beginning of True Buyer Insight

September 17, 2020 | Justin Gray | No Comments |

Marketing has been down a long and perilous path aimed at understanding behavioral customer journeys, all in the name of becoming ‘data driven’. The road hasn’t been easy, laden with integration challenges, data potholes, and rapid technology evolution cycles. And just when you think you have everything dialed in just so, someone comes along and starts asking questions. They want to know the true ROI of marketing campaigns. Are they contributing to the acquisition of better customers? Are they making current customers happier? What about what led the buyer to us in the first place?

These are all natural, smart business questions for an executive to ask. And yet marketing, with all its fancy systems and data, can’t really answer them. At least not to a CEO’s satisfaction. The truth is, marketing attribution tells a very small amount of what is a very complex story, and as our recent research revealed, many marketers are still struggling to deliver the right message at the right time to the right people. You don’t need me to tell you this is a huge problem, and that problem will never be fully solved – at least not in the near future. Thankfully though, there is a new approach that’s capturing more of the customer journey than ever before and it’s doing so in a very obvious way. If you want better insights, you need better data and more of it. This means understanding the bookends better, the beginning and end. Largely marketing attribution tackles just that, marketing’s view of the customer which for most organizations still begins with acquisition and ends as early as the pass to sales. This is incredibly myopic. To understand what influences better customers in greater numbers, we have to start earlier, before the prospect lands on our assets – and then we have to continue our visibility deep into the post-sale lifecycle. This data resides in areas simply not under marketing’s purview, and as such, we need a solution that can broaden that gaze while allowing organizational data to reside where it should. Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) do just that. But first…

The Missing Links

For most companies, client demand for better results and more visibility commensurately increases as projects’ value does. With greater expense comes the need for greater trust from the client. They want more predictive and insightful data, as they should. They need to know their investment is paying off. So, how do you prove this to them?

Well, we have all this first-party data in our marketing systems, but marketers have realized something: third-party data is worth more than first-party. We may know what a prospect is doing on our website or with our email campaign, but what about outside of that? What are folks doing who are in buying cycles but not yet aware of us? How are customers performing in the solution we’ve sold to them?

A more comprehensive view of the customer requires that marketers tap into additional data sources that will never be brought into a standard marketing platform. There’s simply no place for financial, transactional, usage or many other types of data within marketing automation. And if you try to force-fit them into these systems, you open them up to security and data privacy risks, not to mention will surely struggle to make sense of it all.

Even if you’re tracking in-app data usage, as some companies are, how do you marry this data to behaviors the user took in the buying process so it becomes truly predictive and attributive? There’s also a lot that isn’t being formally tracked that really should be. For example, think about the term “campaign.” The definition is far broader than most marketers realize. In fact, you could make the case that campaigns happen every day through rolling out new features, trying to increase adoption and so forth, yet these are often not tracked by marketing through a campaign structure. This is where large gaps still exist.

So, how do you bring together all this data from all these different areas with different managers? And how do you answer your CEO when they come to you with important questions you previously haven’t been able to answer? Well, this is where CDPs come in.

The CDP Difference

CDPs serve as a central data warehouse, bringing in first and third-party data from a variety of platforms to ultimately deliver better insights into your customers. If you’re not sure whether a CDP would be useful to you, consider this: who wouldn’t benefit from knowing their customers better? That’s what I thought.

But while CDPs are incredibly important and valuable, let me be clear: they’re not manna from heaven. If you expect them to be, you will set yourself up for failure. The reality is that there will never be a system or person who can fully track the footprint of a prospect or customer. So, recognize that CDPs will give you a much better understanding of your customers, but not a complete understanding of them. Nothing can do that.

Additionally, implementation – and management – of a CDP should be led by marketing. But it also requires an entire organizational shift in order to be successful. You need to make sure that you have the backing of your CEO and chief data officer, if such a position exists within your company, so that they can help remove friction points as needed. Marketing must champion the initiative, but each piece will be owned by different data owners throughout the organization. This will only work if everyone is totally bought into it, which brings me to…

What Insights can I Expect from a CDP?

In order to get the buy-in you need, you must be able to speak to the benefits your team and organization will get from it. You know, the good ol’ “what’s in it for them” approach. Here are the highlights:

A true understanding of who your best customers are.

Historically, marketing has fused the demographic information they get about customers with industry and revenue insights, and called it a fairly complete buyer picture. But there are many layers deeper you can – and should – go in order to really understand your customers. You should be looking for organizational maturity and a culture that is open to change. It’s important to identify signals that can be used to create a predictive model and help you understand how they’ll perform as customers.

Then, shift your mindset away from wanting to fill the bucket with a ton of new leads toward “cheaper to keep her.” Even the largest companies in the world are still bloodthirsty for new logos, despite the fact that we all know customer retention yields far more than customer acquisition. Everyone wants to tell a velocity of growth story without equal focus on retaining current customers. This is an enormous flaw. CDPs can give you insight that helps you better connect with customers, as well as identify who your best buyers are, the ones poised for retention who will deliver the strongest lifetime value.

The knowledge of how well you’re fulfilling your customer promises.

To be successful, you need to think larger than campaigns. Focus instead on how well you’re serving the needs of your buyer across the buying cycle. When someone transitions from prospect to customer is the exact point when they’re looking for the best service, but it’s also the point when most organizations disengage. But the game isn’t over here; it’s just starting. You need to fulfill the promises you’ve made in sales and marketing by optimizing onboarding and customer success.

All of this factors into true attribution. You can take the learnings from all these areas and inform your sales and marketing, thus enabling a cycle of better information and a better customer journey. So stop serving your own needs and instead throw all your attention into serving the needs of the buyer. Answering the question of why they bought from you and whether you’re fulfilling that is a fundamental deliverable. A CDP will help you answer this through the black and white intel that data provides.

The fuel to operationalize the insights you have.

When you move beyond identifying who your best buyers are, CDPs can help you figure out how to better influence them. You’ll be able to evaluate every touchpoint within the organization and how it can be improved based on the information you now have at your fingertips. For example, are you sending a Christmas card to a Jewish customer? Something seemingly minor like this can do a lot to either further a relationship – or undermine it.

Especially during a time like now, with COVID-19 and all the uncertainty around us, each customer must feel like they are your only one. You can use your CDP to get visibility into what buyers need, as well as how to act on your insights. Attribution is not simply data; it must be viewed in a comprehensive manner so every part of your organization understands your buyer, can glean the necessary insights and use them to make the next, best play from their playbook.

So as you move forward in the search for the right CDP, and all the processes and changes that will come with it, keep your organization’s ultimate goal front and center. Are you aiming for an acquisition? Do you want to go public? Do you simply want to dominate the world? Every single one of these end points requires that you can answer the questions of who your best customers are, how you’re expanding and growing them, how happy they are and what results you’re generating.

If you lay a strong foundation now, with a CDP playing a key role, you stand to retain more of the most valuable types of customers, become more profitable and get closer to your goals faster. So ask yourself, are you ready for the success you’re working every day to produce? If not, get ready for it now. It’s time.

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