The Single View of the Customer is Coming, But it Will Take Time

May 7, 2018 — by Laura Carrier    

If you’ve been reading nothing but the ad trade press for the past few years, then you might assume that the industry has got the “single view of the customer” problem licked.

After all, pretty much every vendor and marketer talks about the idea of creating a data-based portrait of each customer and using it to inform marketing communications.

But the reality doesn’t match that perception. The average consumer still encounters advertising that does not speak to their needs or interests. It’s still common to see the same ads endlessly with no apparent thought given to frequency capping. Just to prove my point, I just visited a random YouTube video and saw an ad for Boost Mobile even though I’m not in the market for a prepaid cell phone and don’t think I will be anytime soon. This is not consumer-first marketing!

The reason for this gap between the real and the ideal is that moving to a single view of the customer is a slow, painstaking process, especially for legacy brands. In fact, we’re at the point now where, because of pricing and computing power, it’s often easier for a new brand to come in and stitch their data together to establish a single view of the customer than it is for an incumbent one.

We’re making progress

The industry has made a lot of progress in the last few years. The changes are apparent from the marketer’s point of view, but consumers are less apt to notice. It’s sort of like when you get new plumbing in your home. You know it’s there and that it’s much better, but few guests will notice or care.

In large part, brands are organizing and aggregating their data so it can be accessed and used in a holistic fashion. But, they face key challenges: some of that data is in a table-based format, and some is unstructured; data lives in separate silos today that often have different master customer identities; stitching together these silos is expensive and time-intensive; and, like plumbing, this is not a “sexy” project that gets customer attention, so it often gets underfunded. These are just some of the reasons why it’s difficult to connect the myriad customer touchpoints that come from a customer’s transactional and non-transactional behaviors. In 2018, many marketers are working on consolidating their data in this fashion.

Another major impediment to progress is walled gardens. While it’s easy to track an (anonymized) consumer’s action on the open web, walled gardens will not share . Ideally, a marketer would have a complete view of the consumer, but thanks to walled gardens, it’s more like up to 60 percent of the portrait is missing.

I think over time, marketers and third-party ad tech companies will put more pressure on walled gardens to share more data and find ways to connect the dots to help fill in that customer-centric portrait.

Advertising in 2027

In practical terms, the difference between our efforts today and those of 2027 will be that the consumer of 2027 will notice that there’s a single view of the customer. What does that mean? Imagine that you’re planning to take a trip to Raleigh, N.C., in the next week. In 2018, there’s a slim chance that marketers will know this about you. But in 2027, a week before such a trip, you could expect to see ads for restaurants in the area plus ads for local attractions and rental cars (if you haven’t booked ahead yet.)

As a consumer, you will not only tolerate such ads, you’ll expect them and factor them into your planning process. That’s the single view of het customer that we’ve been waiting for.