Fighting Gravity: How to Escape the Marketing Black Hole


This is part one in a four-part blog series on customer context. If you’d like, you can skip back to part 1 on defining customer context or part 2 on the hazards of context gaps. You can also skip ahead to part 4 on how CDPs can close the loop.

Eliminating marketing black holes requires both marketing and technology to build toward a seamless customer architecture. This architecture can both realize a customer’s full contextual identity and leverage it everywhere.

A seamless architecture means getting unfettered access to context-relevant data alongside the ability to use it quickly and easily. 

What follows are the components of managing customer context listed in waterfall order. Any lacking capabilities upstream will result in subpar outputs of downstream functions. 

Enter: the fictional enterprise bank, Pennybags & Partners (aka P&P Bank), a 100+-year-old financial institution that has been serving Americans for generations. 

P&P isn’t stumbling into the “seamless customer architecture” idea for the sake of being cutting edge. They and their decades-old competition are now going head-to-head with disruptive challenger brands. Digital transformation is now front and center in the minds of the entire leadership team at P&P. 

P&P wants every client interaction to be personal and thoughtful, empowering customers to plan and achieve their unique financial goals. 

The key to engendering this kind of behavior is personalizing every aspect of the guidance and information P&P shares based on key factors: lifecycle stage, demographics, product use, web behavior, survey responses, service rep calls, in-branch visits, mobile app use, and more.

Content personalization is the first step. The next step is delivering a seamless end-to-end experience that is relevant to the user and consistent across lines of business, functions, and channels.

These high-level capabilities will directly serve P&P’s annual goal of retention and account expansion to increase assets under management while decreasing net customer churn. But the high-level capabilities require more under the hood than well-defined hopes and dreams. 

The Building Blocks of a Seamless Customer Architecture


The first step in creating a seamless customer architecture is getting rid of those nasty seams. 

The first seams to erase are those related to incoming data. So at P&P Bank, they need to integrate all data systems across their wide-ranging business units without building new data pipelines. They need a direct integration with all channels and support for custom or home-built systems via extensible APIs.

For this to truly work, P&P needs support for all data types and ingestion approaches. Otherwise, the system will require too much attention to reformatting data or manually managing unreliable ingestions. 

For P&P Bank to get a complete and useful picture of each customer across business units, they need a system that reliably and consistently assembles all of the puzzle pieces in one place in real time. 


P&P Bank’s C-Suite is serious about retention and upselling as the key to hitting revenue goals for this next year. Once they’ve lassoed and domesticated all the wild data grazing their unkempt digital fields, the next step is creating a full view of the customer for unfettered access to context-relevant data and the ability to use it quickly and easily. 

In a world unencumbered by context gaps, P&P Bank will have a user-accessible platform for: 

  1. Support for a full customer view and a marketer-friendly visualization of the customer record across any dimension, including complex identity resolution.
  2. Support for easy data transformation to enable non-technical end-users to modify simple things (e.g., first name correction) and build complex data transformations (e.g., building percentiles).
  3. Support for simpler segmentation and context exploration for building and understanding cohorts of customers.
  4. Support for richer dynamic content/personalizations to serve relevant content needed to personalize consistent end-channel experiences.

So, for instance, P&P’s marketing team would use this information to build and test against cohorts comprising a specific customer profile to see which customer type might be most receptive to an upsell and of which products resonate. They could also run dynamic personalizations to improve the customer experience and increase retention.  

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence can supplement upstream and downstream processes. Working upstream, AI can ensure all aspects of P&P Bank’s context maintenance, keeping everything in tip-top shape. Working downstream, an AI solution can simplify P&P’s workflows by addressing segmentation, journey optimization, and insights necessary to optimize across campaign dimensions (e.g., segments, content, timing, messaging, channels, etc.). 

As P&P shops for their perfect solution, they want AI to answer at least one of these specific questions:

  1. Who should I message?
  2. When should I message them? 
  3. What channel should I use to reach them? 
  4. What should I say?

Designing, organizing, and automating workflows within a central UI will eliminate silos that congest P&P Bank’s marketing operations; it will streamline manual processes that cannot be automated. It will empower the end-user to implement personalization, branching, complex experimentation, and campaign prioritization. 

P&P’s marketing department loves this idea because centralized workflows can do all this while eliminating their need to jump from tool to tool and tab to tab.

A seamless customer architecture can integrate with every facet of P&P’s marketing tech stack. It’s allowed them to unify their data and take specific actions, create triggered events, and design complex workflows that automate the customer journey. Such P&P workflows include:

  1. Building a customer journey across all channels
  2. Driving one-off, lifecycle-triggered messaging
  3. Updating and optimizing messaging in real time

Orchestration puts the P&P marketer in the driver’s seat, where they can manage, prioritize, and adjust every customer experience. With faster, more reliable data access and centralized orchestration, the overall amount of time from the initial concept to customer experience deployment has decreased dramatically, making the entire marketing program more nimble and responsive overall.

With all the endlessly configurable puzzle pieces that a customer profile comprises, P&P Bank has what they need to communicate personally at scale. All they need to put it to use are:

  1. An intuitive UI, so daily tasks feel natural and non-tedious. Visibility should be clear — when an end-user is taking action, they should have a strong sense of its implications.
  2. Support for clear ROI with a workflow that guides users toward driving value with critical insights around opportunity sizing, deeply embedded support for experimentation, and results & reporting
  3. Generalizability, giving end-users the ability to create their use cases within the platform

P&P Bank’s seamless customer architecture creates a feedback loop, ingesting additional data points around engagement, behaviors, and the contours of individual customer journeys. 

Every campaign generates new data. P&P has taken steps to empower its marketers to utilize that data and campaign feedback to improve performance and validate marketing attribution models continuously. 

Baked into the process is testing robust customer journeys and media mixes against other options and against a holdout group to show lift vs. the media or discount budget they might be spending.

Governance management

Governance management will only gain in importance, especially in the financial world. For this reason, P&P recognized the necessity of investing in a solution to manage data flows and monitor for potential compliance breaches centrally. 

Assess the requirements for privacy compliance and data governance that apply to your enterprise and how the solution will support these initiatives.

When paired with improved processes and dedicated experience-owning teams, these capabilities lay the groundwork for seriously transforming an organization’s ability to be a real experience leader.

So now you understand the requirements of building a system that captures and makes useful every bit of customer context. In next week’s blog post, we’ll cover how to measure success with your full-blown marketing ecosystem. 

This is part one in a four-part blog series on customer context. If you’d like, you can skip back to part 1 on defining customer context or part 2 on the hazards of context gaps. You can also skip ahead to part 4 on how CDPs can close the loop.

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