Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Ask any marketer what’s on their to-do list in 2017, and they’ll tell you they have a project underway to achieve a 360-degree view of the customer, Tealium’s global CEO, Jeff Lunsford, says.
“Any marketer is going to be looking to pull in data about that customer or a prospect from the myriad points where data is available in this new world,” he says. “This could be IoT, mobile devices, or customer care.
“Every marketer will nod yes, they want to leverage all the data they possibly can. So there’s vision sync across the industry, the question is, how to do that.”
Tealium is one of a growing number of vendors looking to provide that answer with its Universal Data Hub, a software solution aimed at addressing data fragmentation for marketers across online and offline channels. The platform brings together the vendor’s AudienceStream and DataAccess solutions with its iQ foundational technology.
It’s the latest in an evolution of the company from its early days as a tag management vendor. Since launching six years ago, Tealium has spent several years integrating its offering with more than 1000 applications across the marketing ecosystem, and recently raised another US$35m in capital, off the back of increased investment earlier in 2016, bringing total funding to $112.9m.
Tealium now has 750 enterprise customers globally, from small digital-first companies to the largest, mature organisations. Australian clients include Cronulla Sharks, Nude by Nature, Greenstone Financial, and Melbourne University, while Asia-Pacific clients include Cathy Pacific.
Speaking to CMO during a visit to Australia this week, Lunsford described Tealium as the “neutral layer down the stack of the marketing cloud”, and the common management component organisations need in order to be able to exchange data across multiple best-of-breed systems in real time. Rather than competing with the large marketing cloud providers, he sees Tealium’s role as being a complementary component.
Not surprisingly, Lunsford sees technology as providing the foundational layer marketers need across customer touchpoints to pull that 360-degree vision off.
“Companies use multiple software applications to create the customer experience, each has its own idea of the customer, and most don’t talk to each other,” he says. “The average Tealium customer has 26 software applications that contribute to the customer experience.
“To successfully pull off the vision of leveraging data, and creating a consistent customer experience, you have to have right technology underpinnings. Our thesis in 2011 has proven to be correct: You need an independent data layer that can speak to all 26 applications, in a common language, about the customer.”
Lunsford claims being able to process data and take action in real time is table stakes for the long-term survival of brands.
“People targeting customers based on what they looked at 24 hours ago are not going to be nearly as competitive as those targeting customers in real time,” he says.
Tealium isn’t the only vendor looking to fill the breach left by the amalgamation of legacy systems, applications, data warehouses and business intelligence in the enterprise with more modern marketing and customer platform solutions and needs. Over the past few years, a plethora of different technology approaches have come to the fore for data management in marketing, including data management platforms (DMPs) and customer data platforms (CDPs).
While Lunsford sees point-based competitors in all three areas of Tealium’s focus – client-side data management, data hub layer, and business intelligence/data warehouse integration - he is pitching Tealium as the one bringing all three together.
It’s also not just about customer data either. “The reason we call it a universal data hub is you can bring in a lot more than customer and prospect data into that platform, such as supply chain, loyalty, call centre, point-of-sale data, beacons, and data about your enterprise that may not necessarily be customer information,” Lunsford says.
With that in mind, Tealium is now working to ensure its platform integrates with these wider data sources.
“We needed to integrate with the marketing space, but we’re also investing heavily in building out ecosystem beyond customer data to leverage points in IoT, or the call centre. Want to be a truly universal hub, not just a customer data hub,”he says.
Lunsford highlights artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as particular priorities in 2017.
“Every company that’s forward thinking is talking about leveraging AI and machine learning. To do that, you need relevant data sets to feed into these algorithms,”he explains. “Any AI expert will tell you the algorithms are proven, and becoming commoditised, you differentiate by the data you pull into these and get the output and take action on that.
“But few are ready from a data readiness standpoint. IoT is another huge bucket. If you think about all the new data sources for customers – you can now get data about customers in cars, homes, in your stores. There are a lot of clients trying to think through that and we’re doing a lot of integration work ourselves on that.”
As an example of how different data sources are now coming together for marketing purposes, Lunsford says several Tealium customers are leveraging weather data and feeding it into AudienceStream, then modifying customer experience activities and communications based on local weather conditions.
Other customers are bringing in loyalty program data, so that when a customer lands on their website or mobile app, they’re getting an experience in line with where they are in the loyalty program.
“Some customers have bricks-and-mortar stores, and when their customers come into the store, the store concierge is notified by software of what else they looked at online, and can pull that out and present,” Lunsford says.
A large US healthcare provider, meanwhile, is serving data back and forth between the call centre and online systems, again with the aim of improving customer service and personalisation.
Ongoing data hurdles
But while technology might be vital, what is also stopping organisations from harnessing customer data across the spectrum of marketing, communications and support is their legacy operational models and culture, Lunsford says.
“The larger the company, the bigger the challenge because these companies have organised around different channels and software packages such as email, media buying, Web analytics,” he explains. “They have their own ideas of the audience or customer. It’s a functional challenge – the bigger the company, the harder it is to change that inertia. When they do though, they get a high economic benefit.”
Best practice starts has to start with good data hygiene, Lunsford says. From there, organisations need to a clear definition of what they view as VIP customers and higher value prospects.
“You have to start with that. If you have that agreement at a business level, can easily drive that at a technology level,” he adds. “It’s the single biggest best practice that is foundational.”