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How to Free Your Data

Three key technologies for a people-based marketing solution

Your Data Is Out of Control

Companies across all industries are investing in people-based marketing solutions to effectively connect with their customers and prospects; however, in the rush to stand up the best campaign and personalization technologies, companies tend to gloss over the thorny problem of data: it is everywhere, disorganized, and hard to use. Merkle’s core business is solving this problem.

The technology behind Merkle's solution is a three-legged stool approach to consumer data storage, organization, and activation. The solution is comprised of the marketing database, the real-time operational data store, and the data management platform. The marketing database houses pertinent information centralized around the consumer to enable campaign management, analytics, and a robust profile of the consumer. The real-time operational data store is the performant database used to deliver relevant consumer data in sub-second response time to downstream systems and applications for personalization and automated decision making. Finally, the data management platform (DMP) is a real-time database centered on tracking and targeting anonymous consumers in the digital space. 

The Marketing Database

The interpplay of a marketing database and real-time operational data storeThe marketing database’s primary differentiator is that it contains, and is the means to, a 360-degree view of known customers and prospects, accessible and available in a single location. Known customers and prospects are those which can be identified by name, address, email address, or other pieces of personally identifiable information (PII). The database itself has a relational structure and is designed around the consumer. The marketing database typically accepts and stores all kinds of information that can be tied back to the consumer. This data can range from consumer demographics, accounts, products and purchase information, model scores, and even consumer interactions with the organization. The catalog of each consumer’s interactions with the organization – often referred to as the event stream – is a crucial component of the marketing database, as it allows insight into the consumer’s behavior and overall journey with the organization.

The consumer-centric structure of the marketing database greatly speeds up and provides a deeper look into marketing efforts across an organization. It does so by enabling analytics experts and data scientists to easily access and analyze customer-centric information to generate powerful insights without having to waste valuable time and pedigreed expertise culling together and scrubbing data feeds and files from disparate sources. Having such a large repository of centralized and organized consumer data enables businesses to efficiently develop rich models which can help determine revenue attribution, customer lifetime value, lucrative audience segments, and the like.\

With its data centralized around the consumer, the marketing database also empowers campaign management teams to build out well-informed campaigns based off of robust consumer profiles and historical campaign performance data. Once this database and campaign management structure is in place, a perpetual feedback loop of testing campaigning tactics, recording results, and developing more effective campaigns from these learnings can become the rule in campaign management rather than the exception.

The Real-Time Operational Data Store (RTODS) 

The third leg of the stool is the real-time operational data store (RTODS). The RTODS is – yes, you guessed it – another database! For many businesses, the RTODS is the missing link in the marketing technology stack. Oftentimes, businesses have troves of online and offline data, and may even already have effective databases and tools to analyze this data; however, they are often missing the means to activate this data in downstream systems and across channels for real-time use cases. This is what differentiates the RTODS from the DMP and the marketing database – the RTODS enables demanding real-time use cases and functionality. Rather than supporting massive amounts of data for reporting and analysis, the RTODS is a performant – typically NoSQL – database, containing only a subset of data from the marketing database and the DMP. The subset of data within the RTODS contains the attributes of a consumer’s profile which are most relevant to real-time engagements – such as recent purchase events, segmentation information, master IDs, and surrogate IDs – and the RTODS supports READ and WRITE functionality for these data. The RTODS’s primary function is making this subset of data available for real-time consumption by end-point applications in sub-second response time. This access typically takes place via a robust application service layer which allows the RTODS to interface with end-user applications through various application programming interfaces and services.

By integrating the RTODS with the data management platform (DMP), website content management systems, or A/B testing tools, businesses can enable real-time data sharing for website personalization use cases. Practically speaking, this integration allows marketers to leverage offline data about known consumers for real-time personalization in the online world.

Additional RTODS integrations such as with a next-best-action application can allow models to be updated in real time. For example if a consumer purchased a product on the website and then immediately called the customer support line, the RTODS could feed this recent purchase activity to the next-best-action application, which could then inform the customer service rep receiving the customer’s call of this recent activity, and therefore give the rep context and even lead the rep to relevant talking and data points to help expedite and smooth the customer’s interaction. This stands in stark contrast to a more typical customer experience in which he or she is placed on hold and becomes frustrated while the customer service rep looks up his or her information and then must ask additional questions for context.

Finally, the RTODS integrated with marketing automation and campaign management applications enable trigger-based campaigns and messaging across all communication channels. From this integration, the RTODS could drive a real-time strategic follow-up email campaign to a consumer’s recent web browsing or even phone call regarding a product of service. For example, a key event such as an informational PDF download could be recorded in the RTODS and then immediately sent to the campaign management application to trigger a relevant follow-up email campaign. Imagine a consumer heavily researching your product online yet still having a few unanswered questions, but when she looks at her inbox moments later, she finds a customized email with additional information on the product she was researching and a friendly offer and means to reach out to your business with any additional questions she may have.

Data Management Platform (DMP)

While the marketing database holds rich information centralized around known customers and prospects, the data management platform (DMP) is the solution to fulfill a similar function, but for anonymous consumers in digital environments. At its core, the DMP is an anonymous consumer cookie database and segmenting tool. The DMP enables the capture and storage of cookie data from almost every digital media type and channel, which then gives marketers the ability to build digital audiences or segments and target digital advertising campaigns at relevant audiences across the digital landscape.

The DMP works by allowing marketers to tag any piece of digital media, channel page, action, or conversion event. These tags then drop data-rich DMP cookies on a consumer whenever he or she has seen or clicked on an advertisement, visited the digital channel page, or completed a tagged action. This process allows the DMP to begin grouping together pools of cookies based on a customizable set of the marketer’s specified criteria or categorizations. These criteria and categorizations are then tied to the ads, pages, and events that have been tagged. With millions of digital media impressions available to the typical ad campaign, the DMP is able to build audiences at massive scale in the digital world. 

With this scalability, the DMP also enables marketers to develop look-alike models by analyzing behavioral patterns and attributes of these tracked consumers. This large scale analysis allows marketers to identify consumer traits and behaviors tied directly to a measured action and then use them to expand audiences with second and third-party data by including additional cookie sets with attributes that mirror or are somehow related to those that were initially observed. These look-alike models enable marketers to extend their messaging to a larger set of relevant consumers and therefore increase the likelihood of influencing larger numbers of consumers in their target audience.

To further enhance these audiences, DMPs even allow businesses to onboard their own data. Onboarding is the act of uploading consumer data to the DMP that the organization has collected firsthand, and then matching this set of data to cookies in the digital space. This allows further enhancement of audiences in the DMP and targeting of known consumers in digital channels. It’s important to note, however, that the matched results from onboarding are obfuscated in order to protect the consumer’s privacy and keep the DMP a database of anonymous consumers only, containing no personally identifiable information.

Finally, the DMP integrates with digital ad activation platforms, which enables the DMP to be used as a highly effective and elegant ad targeting tool. Without the DMP, activation is often scattershot and disjointed, messily passing data from multiple sources to countless activation platforms. However, through integrations with ad activation platforms, the DMP is able to send its collected cookie pools – or audiences – to the ad activation platform, which allows marketers to efficiently and surgically deliver advertisements to the individuals belonging to these audiences.   

Need Help?

For organizations struggling to wrangle and activate their data, it is never too late to start working towards a people-based marketing future. For over twenty years, Merkle has been helping clients organize and leverage their data for effective people-based marketing strategies. If your organization has marketing data problems, the Merkle Customer Strategy Group would be glad to help your team develop a concrete vision, value case, and achievable roadmap for solving them. Just ask!