The importance of being in touch with consumers, to the extent that actions are predicted and communications tailored, is slowly but surely filtering its way down the echelons of our enterprises.

Every marketer is now aware of just how paramount acting on customer insights is to improving overall experiences and loyalty to a brand, which means they’re ready to start collecting and acting on the information at hand. Or at least that’s what they’ve been led to believe.  

Unfortunately, the single customer view is built a little sturdier than some of the buzzphrases it succeeds. Case studies for progress remain hard to come by, and so too does a solid answer to the question of ‘Who takes charge?’.

With this in mind, companies find themselves collecting and matching siloed and fragmented customer data on a completely blank slate; a situation which has been known to yield stories of long-term success and catastrophic failure in equal measure.   

A problem to solve

In building their single customer views, brands do at least have the luxury of being able to create a plan which runs in tandem with available resources and expertise. Advocacy from the top down, namely from CMOs, CTOs and CEOs, is crucial to employee buy-in, but whether it’s a project led by IT or marketing will vary massively between companies.

Gill Makepeace, advertiser and network manager at loyalty marketing platform Incentive Networks, believes there is a case for involvement across a range of departments, although only the brand can decide who should take things forward.
A former affiliate marketing manager at Debenhams, Makepeace says: “It will depend on a number of things: what the end goal is, so having the right team to drive it forward in a company who are fully invested in what they want to achieve.

“Some large companies may have customer insights teams and it would probably sit well within their expertise, but it would need to have a number of stakeholders involved to make sure it covers all the business requirements.”

A fair proportion of these stakeholders may even come from parties outside of the enterprise. The outsourced approach was explored by United Airlines during an analytics initiative conducted in light of a merger with Continental Airlines in 2012.

The company recruited tag management firm Ensighten to unify customer data from both firms across their digital touchpoints in an effort to provide a “360-degree view” of the customer, with an “eight-digit” ROI coming within 10 months.

Closer to home

Even considering the success that outsourcing has produced, there are certainly elements of the single customer view that can be done in-house, and with resources that already exist.

“I think a number of publishers and merchants that have business models that require a customer to be logged in have done very well,” adds Makepeace, whose role at Incentive Networks involves direct contact with both advertisers and publishers.

“Not only by identifying a single customer, but their full shopping behaviour and demographic information too gives them a wide choice of ways of engaging with customers in an intelligent way, through proper targeting and segmentation.”

If this proves to be true, there’s no telling how many customer data conundrums brands can solve with their loyalty programmes. As for who has the say on what the data is used for, there is certainly an argument for the chief in charge of marketing efforts to captain this side of the operation.

Luke Judge, of digital agency Net Media Planet, says it should be the responsibility of the marketing director, or equivalent seniority, to develop the processes for capturing and analysing data around the single customer view.

“Ultimately the senior members of the company are also responsible for ensuring that it is built into everything the company does, aligning systems and incentives across the entire business,” he adds.

The end goal

Moving beyond the in-house resources and into the territory of external assistance, brands have the decision of whether to trust certain aspects of their single customer view strategies with managers of individual channels.

Judge believes there is certainly a case for marketers to seek help from agencies and specialists in certain areas, providing they fit in-line with the objectives at hand.

“There is also the potential for agencies, particularly those who manage paid advertising channels who would be seeking to justify increased investment, to be involved in helping to develop these SCV processes,” he says.

“They have an inherent obligation to further justify the value of the channel they manage by supporting the implementation of a single customer view strategy.

“This being said, it is incumbent upon the marketing director to bring their agencies together in order to truly understand and drive the value of the single customer view.”

Ultimately, brands find themselves in a situation which will reward trailblazers. The expert’s view appears to be that single customer view efforts should be championed by the boardroom, led by the marketer and developed by the company. Judging by the lack of single customer view case studies, though, questions of whether this is working have to be asked.

Brands are duly finding that development of the single customer view is a task destined for progress in stages, which means involvement should be dictated by the goals at hand.

When it comes to gathering data, on-the-floor staff can be used to encourage customers to enhance their connection to a brand with email sign-ups or similar. Once the customer is in view, it’ll be up to the marketers to liaise with the relevant departments in order to find the best use for data from shopping carts, user profiles and everything in between.

This view of collaboration can only be seen as a positive, because given the challenges that technology has thrown at brands, there’s every chance the first batch of single customer view success stories will owe their billing to a stellar amount of teamwork.