In a recent B&T article Malcom Alder cautioned marketers against seeking to ‘own’ the customer, noting that “as so many companies declare their aim to be customer-centric….it seems bizarre and contradictory that they also battle to ‘own’ them.” In this response, Warren Billington, MD ANZ and SE Asia at Signal argues that while he agrees with some points from Alder, others he reckons are bogus.
Well to me it seems neither bizarre nor contradictory. Certainly not if we are talking about the ownership of the data behind each individual customer, not the actual customer. In fact, I would assert that if you cede control of your customer data to third parties then you actually run a heightened risk of moving away from customer-centricity.
I am, however, fully aligned with the sentiment that ongoing loyalty and advocacy is harder to attain than ever. Damn straight. We talk to some of Australia’s largest and most sophisticated brands on a daily basis and this is their truth, their biggest opportunity and their biggest challenge.
But I don’t think that by maintaining control (some say ownership) of customer information in any way disincentivises marketers to ‘delight’ customers as Adler asserts. Quite the contrary. Brands have a far greater chance of delighting their customers both now and in the future if they do maintain control of their data. And this is why.
First off we are now in a hyper-connected consumer environment. Customers are continuously and seamlessly shifting from desktop web to mobile to email to in-store. There is nothing linear or even necessarily predictable about their interactions with a brand anymore. So the old adage of ‘right message, right time, right now’ has never been harder to get right, despite the proliferation of channels and opportunities, because it is harder to identify them as they move around.
So in this world it isn’t enough to merely collect data on customers. Brands must be able to identify customers across different channels in order to communicate with them in the right way at the right time and, crucially, in real-time. I believe that if a brand knows its customers – really knows them, through unified, persistent customer profiles—the possibilities for effective marketing now and tomorrow are limitless. But if a brand loses control of its customer identity to big third parties, it limits its prospects for owning the future.
By “identity,” I mean the ability to connect cross-channel data for a unified view of the customer. Data—from all devices and channels, online and offline—provides the building blocks of identity.
Marketers put a ton of effort and investment into what they do: acquiring customers, crafting and executing campaigns, buying media, sending timely messages to consumers. When it comes to identity, though, marketers commonly outsource that function to giants like Google and Facebook who use their clicks, likes, or +1 buttons to get a clear view of a brand’s consumers across multiple touchpoints. But brands that don’t own their ID graph may soon realise they’ve lost command of their data and their own customers—just as they find themselves losing leverage in ad pricing, now they could find their audience has been consolidated out of their hands. Walled gardens have their own interests at heart, not yours.
It’s a pivotal moment for brands in mapping their future, and bringing their marketing ecosystems into balance. While it’s almost impossible today to avoid working with huge third-party identity solutions, it’s critical for brands to draw a line between what happens on the assets they control, versus what happens outside of their orbit.
Brands must own and control their first-party data and identity. It’s the keys to the kingdom in understanding the customer journey because it’s where that journey begins and ends. And when brands choose to partner they need to treat identity as a valuable currency. Brands shouldn’t give away their identity data to partners who don’t give them much in return.
Truly knowing your customers is the marketing challenge of our time. Brands that understand the value of their data will be ready and empowered to create the personal experiences their customers desire and expect—now and in the future.
It isn’t a question of ‘owning’ the customer. It is a question of owning the future, of owning a positive outcome and in giving the customer the best possible experience.