If you’ve ever watched the cooking show “Barefoot Contessa” on the Food Network, you know the host Ina Garten always reminds viewers to use “good white wine” or “good vanilla” in whatever it is she’s making. She’ll let you know if there are ingredients for which you can use alternatives, but only when they are just as good (frozen vs. fresh). The takeaway is that everything that goes into the final result has to be high quality, or the final product just isn’t going to be as delicious as it could have been if you’d used the good stuff.

Different kinds of data — behavioral, contextual, historical — are the ingredients businesses use in customer engagement initiatives. Inferior or out-of-date data — or, worse, data that’s missing completely — lead to a decidedly underwhelming final product for customers engaging with your brand, and a poor customer experience leads to all kinds of business consequences.

AI and GDPR Require Good Ingredients

There are two areas in particular — both of which are among today’s white-hot topics — in which crappy data will have enormous ramifications: compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and automation driven by artificial intelligence (AI).

The GDPR has forced businesses to reckon with how to balance marketing objectives with consumer privacy and data rights. A little over one month in, I’d say results are decidedly mixed and compliance efforts are still works in progress. What is abundantly clear is that consent management, which involves businesses explicitly requesting permission to collect data about people who are from or in the EU, can only be done if that consent is shared with all relevant marketing systems in an accurate and timely fashion.

This is where customer data platform (CDP) technology comes in. David Raab, founder of the CDP Institute, says CDP systems can help marketers get a handle on GDPR. As he wrote earlier this year: “CDPs are genuinely well suited to help with GDPR. They’re built to solve two of GDPR’s toughest technical challenges: connecting all internal sources of customer data and linking all data related to the same person.”

Bad Data, Bad Algorithms

In the same vein, the ability to “connect all internal sources of customer data” is also why CDPs can be the difference between underwhelming results from AI investments and multiplying the impact of adding data science to your marketing arsenal. Your algorithms will only be as good as the data fed into them; if your understanding of customers is partial or inaccurate, so too will be the outcomes of the algorithm and therefore your marketing decisions. That’s an awfully large risk to take. A customer data platform can both save you from the consequences and unleash the potential AI represents.

The definition of a CDP can vary in the details, but the core elements are generally the same from system to system: A CDP is a marketing system that creates and maintains a persistent profile that supports external execution. While much has been written about CDPs and how they are different from other marketing technologies, Gartner offers a useful explanation of not just what a CDP is, but also why it is: “Rather than a new technology, CDPs can be understood as a repackaging of features that already exist. What is new and novel is the productization of these features and acknowledgment that marketers are still struggling to get value out of their huge investment in both customer data and technology.”

With CDP, a Unified View Is Within Reach

As if we needed more reasons to unify customer data in a way that is actionable, GDPR and AI offer two hefty additions to the list.

It may explain, for example, why in the Netherlands, one of the EU’s most privacy-sensitive countries, customer data platforms top a list of planned technology investments in 2019. Or, as Gartner analyst Andrew Frank said at Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference earlier this year, “When [customer data] is so severely fragmented and inaccessible, it’s impossible to gain insights and take action in real time. Without a single view of the customer, AI for marketing will be an empty promise.”

If you’re a marketer who is tackling GDPR (or the impending California Consumer Personal Information Disclosure and Sale Initiative) or has been tasked with incorporating data science into your mix, the unified customer view just got a whole lot more important — and, with a CDP, a whole lot more within your reach.

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