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10 Content Marketing Skills You Need to Master (Plus Tips on How to Master Them)

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In a world of ad blockers and AI automation, content marketing is essential to your marketing plan.

For example, the number of people using ad blockers has risen by 10% in six years. No matter how much you spend on your paid advertisements, there’s a 26% chance your target audience won’t even see them.

Voice search is growing. To date, there are 4.08 million voice assistants in use worldwide. This means users can get answers to their online queries without even visiting a website. In the future, the only content people will read is authority content written by experts.

So, now it’s time to focus all your energy on content marketing!

But wait…

Not so fast.

Because there’s content marketing that works. And there’s content marketing that doesn’t.

To achieve the former, you first need to master the right content marketing skills for success.

What are these skills?

The Top 10 Content Marketing Skills to Learn for Greater Brand Success

The good news is you don’t need a special degree or inborn talent to master these 10 essential content marketing skills. All you need is to know what these skills are and to practice until you’ve mastered them.

Let’s get started!

Skill 1: Detective Work – Digging Up Facts About Your Audience

No matter how compelling your content is, you won’t convert anyone if you don’t know exactly who you’re speaking to.

For instance, look at this content from Vixen Daily’s email campaign.

vixen daily email

The email holds enticing promise to readers who want to move on after a breakup. But what makes it compelling isn’t fancy wording or clever phrases. It’s simply that Nick Bastion knew his audience’s pain and need before writing it.

When you know your audience intimately, producing content they’ll devour becomes easy.

Here are a five powerful ways to put on your detective’s cap and dig up clues about your audience:

  • Use Google Analytics to find out who’s visiting your website. Analytics gives you information like the names, ages, and genders of your site visitors.
  • Go on Quora or Reddit and research topics around your niche. What are people saying? What are their fears/desires/dreams? Reading what they talk about will help you understand them on a deeper level.
  • Take note of how users respond to your content. With a tool like BuzzSumo, you can learn how people are reacting to what you write. Analyze your top engaged posts and discover what made them appealing to your audience.
  • Offer surveys (with incentives like free downloads – a mini e-book or cheat sheet work great).
  • Engage with people in the comment section of your blog. Listen to what they’re saying and respond personally and directly.

Remember, speaking to your audience should be like conversing with a friend. The better you know this friend, the more personal and appealing your message will be.

Skill 2: The Art of Subject Matter Expert Interviewing

To write amazing content, you need to be an expert on your topic.

Does this mean you need to enter medical school to write a blog about health issues and treatments?

Not necessarily. When you master the art of conducting subject matter expert interviews, you can produce authority content even if you don’t have a degree in the niche you write in.

But you can’t just jump into an interview with an expert and ask any question that comes to your mind. Remember, the value of the information you get depends on the quality of your questions.

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Here are five tips to make your interviews seamless and value-rich:

  • Be prepared. You don’t want to come to an interview with absolutely no idea on the topic. Rather, you want the interview to be a deep dive into the topic. So, before you call your SME (Subject Matter Expert), do as much research as you can. From your research, make a list of questions you can’t find the answers for online.
  • Skip the dead air with open-ended questions. You want your SME to gush over the topic. You want them to feel excited. To do that, whet their appetite with unusual questions. For instance, instead of asking, “Is your profession inspiring?” you can ask, “Can you give me some facts most people don’t know about your profession?”
  • Bring your content outline with you when you interview. Asking a bunch of random, unrelated questions wastes time. To avoid this, base your questions on the outline you prepare for your content. This will help you ask specific, driven questions you can use in your writing. For instance, if you’re going to interview a psychiatrist about Bipolar disorder, it’s best to skip questions about other types of mental illness.
  • Record your conversation. Later on, you’ll want to go back over the exact words your SME said during the interview. Also, keeping busy catching up with notes will distract you from what the SME is saying in the moment.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If there’s something you don’t understand during the interview, ask! This can open doors for an even deeper dive into the topic.

When you approach interviews with a genuine passion for your topic, there’s nothing you can’t dig up from the experts’ knowledge banks.

Skill 3: Writing Each Piece of Content with a Goal in Mind

Writing random content wastes time without doing much for your brand. What you need to do is attach a specific goal to every single piece you write.

For instance, look at this sales copy from AWAI.

AWAI sales copy

The lead is interesting and informative, but this piece has a main goal: to compel readers to buy the How to Make Money as a Social Media Expert course at half its usual price.

Remember, goals aren’t only specific to selling products or services. For instance, you can write a lead magnet to grow your email list. You can write an email series with links to different blogs on your website.

You can write an authority blog to gain your audience’s trust. And so on. The secret is to determine the goal of every single piece of content you write.

Skill 4: Knowing How to Stand Out

Your goal is to compel your audience to read your content instead of your competitor’s. How do you do that? By providing content you can’t find anywhere else online.

Here’s how to come up with this content:

  • Spy on your competition. What are they doing right? What’s missing in their content that you can add to yours?
  • Present content uniquely. Your content can be similar to what your competitors are saying (because who can change facts?), but if you package it differently, it’ll always look like something new.
  • Develop your own personal style. You’ll be surprised to find how many people will keep reading what you write because of the way you write it. For instance, maybe you take technical subjects like best SEO practices and write about them in a way that’s fun, engaging, and easy-to-follow. People will read your blog instead of blogs packed with jargon and long paragraphs of text.
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Remember, though, not to go too far with uniqueness. Sometimes, there’s a reason why your competition isn’t doing something.

Skill 5: Keyword Research Savviness

Keywords don’t only help you rank higher on Google, they act as the spine of your content. Keywords direct what you say and allow you to stay relevant with what people want to read.

So, how do you choose keywords to use in your content?

  • Go for long-tail keywords. For example, instead of choosing “dress,” go for “Walt Disney princess dresses for kids.” Keywords like this help direct quality traffic to your site.
  • Choose low competition keywords. If you go for a keyword like “shoes,” you’ll find yourself up against content from huge brands like Adidas and Nike. As a rule of thumb, go for keywords with a score below 50.
  • It’s OK to select a keyword with low search volume. As long as there are people searching for this keyword, creating content around it will get you results.

To help you find the best keywords for your content, you can use tools like KWFinder and SEMrush.

Skill 6: Looking Ahead – Planning Content Way Ahead of Time

You don’t want to wake up one morning panicking because you have to produce content but have no idea what to write. To avoid this, create a content calendar.

For example, here’s what Buffer’s content calendar looks like.

Buffer content calendar

With a content calendar, you’ll avoid problems like repetitive content and stay up-to-date with events like holidays and special occasions.

Always remember, however, to leave room for spontaneity. For example, if a relevant question from one of your followers suddenly pops up on your Twitter account, why not address it at length in a blog?

Skill 7: The Ability to Repackage Content

The goal above begs the question, “How on earth can I come up with enough new topics to fill an entire calendar?”

The good news is you don’t have to. You can take older content you produced and simply repackage it.

For instance, you can take a 3,000-word guide and turn it into three separate blog posts. You can turn those three posts into videos.

You can take the sub-headers in a long blog and turn each one into a separate post. You can update an old post with new stats and tips.

The key is to be creative. In no time, you’ll have enough content to flood your yearly content calendar!

Skill 8: Optimizing for Voice Search & AI

As mentioned earlier, voice search is a major trend to watch out for. If your content isn’t optimized for voice search, chances are low Google will choose it to answer a searcher’s query.

So, what are the best practices to follow when optimizing for voice search?

Here are a few:

  • Use whole questions instead of phrases. According to Google, 41% of people imagine themselves talking to a friend when addressing their voice assistants. When addressing friends, we don’t go “Hey Bert…restaurant near me.” Instead, we use question phrases with words like where, when, which, and how. Use whole questions in your content to optimize it for voice search.
  • Structure your content to be featured in snippets. With voice search, users no longer need to click through to a website to get questions answered. Google will find the answer for them via their voice assistant. The good news is the answer they get can come from your site. To increase this chance, divide your content into relevant H2s and H3s and use your keywords in them. Also, use numbered and bulleted lists.
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Skill 9: Using Links for Higher Authority & Relevance

Links are essential to your content. They can:

  • Help Google understand what your site is about by connecting it with high-authority sites in the same niche.
  • Show Google which of your pages are most important (by linking to them).
  • Invite other influencers to link to you (if your content is stellar).

The key to choosing the best links is to analyze them with Alexa’s free tool. If the site ranks below 100,000 it’s good to go to use in content.

Skill 10: Measuring Your Content’s Success

Attaching metrics to your content will help you determine whether the content is successful or needs improvement. Here are three great ways to measure content success:

  • Email click-through rate. If people are clicking the links in your email series, take note of what makes this series different from others.
  • Bounce rate. Do people leave your site without clicking through to other pages? The rate at which they do so is your bounce rate. If people click away more than 70% of the time, you need to improve your content.
  • Scroll depth. Do people read your introduction and then leave the page? Or do they scroll all the way to the bottom? At what point do they stop reading? When you analyze what’s working and what’s not, you’ll be able to strengthen your content.

Mastering Content Marketing Skills for Your Brand’s Future Success

Content marketing is powerful, but that’s only if it’s done right.

And doing it right doesn’t mean taking the web by storm with a flood of random blog posts and web pages.

Rather, it’s digging up what your specific audience wants to know. It’s talking to them as a friend, in your own unique way and voice. It’s keeping up with current trends in technology, but only so you can serve your audience better.

When you master these skills, your content strategy will lift you to success in no time.

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, February 2020

Searchenginejournal.com

MARKETING

What is marketing automation?

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What is marketing automation?


Marketing automation software can improve marketing productivity and increase lead quality. Here’s what you need to know before adopting a marketing automation platform.

Marketing automation is the use of software and web-based services to execute, manage and automate repetitive marketing tasks and processes to more effectively market through multiple channels (i.e., email, mobile, social media, and websites). Marketing automation focuses on the definition, scheduling, segmentation and tracking of marketing campaigns, allowing the marketing and sales organizations to nurture leads with highly personalized content aimed at attracting and retaining customers.

Today, marketing automation is one of the core activities of a marketing department — whether for a small local business or a large consumer or B2B enterprise. But the platforms that power these activities continue to evolve.

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes



What is marketing automation?

Investments in marketing technology continue to be a priority for businesses across the board, as they strive to meet increased demands for personalization and a need to collect, authenticate and analyze rapidly increasing amounts of consumer data to improve the customer experience (CX). For B2B players, this often means using a marketing automation platform.

Most marketing automation solutions provide tools for email campaign development and execution (including landing pages), as well as lead capture, scoring and nurturing. The platforms also typically provide centralized marketing databases and a basic level of reporting on web traffic, visitor behavior and campaign results.

Combined, the core features offered by most marketing automation platforms profiled in this report include:

  • Email marketing and landing page development;
  • Lead management (i.e., capture, scoring and nurturing);
  • Native CRM integration; and
  • APIs or app marketplaces for faster martech system access.

The more basic functions of marketing automation have become somewhat commoditized, so platform vendors mostly look to differentiate their offerings based on the ability to scale (especially to new marketing channels), usability, ease of implementation and customer experience features. One area growing especially quickly involves the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to suggest audiences or messaging.

Platform vendors are also looking to differentiate themselves by offering more support for increasingly sophisticated customers who have adopted the software and who are looking to justify the investment by proving ROI.

All of this means market is quickly evolving, as marketers demand integrated marketing functionality that rapidly translates into bottom-line return. Vendors continue to add more advanced features to provide marketing end-users with the ability to build, track and manage campaigns across channels and/or devices, and monitor the flow of leads as they move from marketing to sales.

These features include, but are not limited to:

  • Dynamic content generation (email, landing pages and/or website);
  • Email deliverability tools;
  • Account-based marketing (ABM);
  • Mobile marketing;
  • AI-based predictive analytics; and
  • Social/lead profile integration.

Dynamic content generation

Virtually all marketing automation platforms provide the ability to create, send and measure personalized email campaigns. Where they differ is in how email, landing page and website content created and personalized. Some vendors offer wizard-based campaign design or content templates, while others provide a more customized approach.

There are also differences in static vs. dynamically generated content, which adjusts on the fly as prospects interact with a website or form. Progressive profiling is often offered to pre-populate forms with known data and uses a drip approach to capture additional prospect information each time they interact with campaigns.

Message deliverability is also an important factor to consider. Some B2B marketing automation vendors offer dedicated IP addresses to improve deliverability, and/or monitor deliverability by including their own email deliverability services or those from partners. Email previewing is an advanced function but may be critical to marketers that want to reach their audience through mobile devices and see what their message will look like on smaller screens.

The market is quickly evolving, as modern marketers demand integrated marketing functionality that rapidly translates into bottom-line return.


New features are making marketing automation platforms more powerful than ever. Learn about trends and capabilities of marketing automation software in the latest edition of this MarTech Intelligence Report.

Click here to download!


Lead management

Lead management comprises three functions: lead capture, lead scoring and lead nurturing. Leads are captured from a variety of sources that feed the marketing automation database, including (but not limited to) website visitors, social media, paid digital campaigns, email marketing respondents, trade show attendees and purchased third-party lists. Tools will vary based on the ease with which additional lead sources can be captured, such as through an open API, or whether the software offers landing page optimization.

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Lead scoring assigns a value to each lead based on a predetermined set of rules or criteria. Traditional lead scoring models are generally based on two sets of data values: behavior (i.e., site purchases, browsing, social posts) and demographics/firmographics. Many digital marketing automation tools now offer predictive scoring driven by machine learning, which can incorporate hundreds of data points by sourcing websites, social networks and internal systems such as the CRM and marketing database itself to calculate scores.

Lead nurturing is the process of keeping prospects engaged with the brand through periodic, personalized communications or campaigns until they are ready to buy. Marketing automation software may offer a number of pre-built nurturing steps or actions, as well as allow users to customize their content and process. These efforts are meant to build a relationship between the brand and its prospects, and drive interaction with sales if and when the prospect is ready.

Predictive analytics

Virtually all of the marketing automation platforms profiled in this report provide a standard set of analytics that track quantifiable data such as website visitor activity, pages viewed, time spent on site, emails opened, content downloaded and campaign responses. More vendors are offering predictive analytics and models based on machine learning, which uses algorithms to process data and surface trends or insights that enable marketers to customize visitor experiences and marketing campaigns.

Several platforms have invested in artificial intelligence (AI) to go a step beyond machine learning and use technology to “mimic” human intelligence and recommend marketing actions or outcomes. These may include highly personalized website content or product recommendations based on analysis of consumption trends, on-site behavior, firmographics and CRM data. Other vendors rely on plug-and-play integration with predictive analytics tools to offer greater analytics and personalization capabilities.

Mobile marketing automation

Creating an engaging experience for mobile prospects and customers is a must-have capability. As a result, many B2B marketing automation software include responsive templates for email, landing pages and web forms. Several vendors integrate with email testing tools such as Litmus, to allow users to preview email marketing messages across email clients and devices.

More advanced mobile marketing features include SMS/texting, in-app marketing and remote platform management from mobile devices. In-app marketing features can include “push” notifications or ads based on geography (i.e., geo-fencing or beaconing) or during events. Marketing automation vendors have also expanded platform access to mobile users, moving beyond automated alerts and remote data collection to full platform management.

Most marketing automation software profiled in this report provide a standard set of analytics that track quantifiable data such as website visitor activity, pages viewed, time spent on site, emails opened, content downloaded and campaign responses.

Lead nurturing is the process of keeping prospects engaged with the brand through periodic, personalized communications or campaigns until they are ready to buy.

Account-based marketing (ABM)

Aligning marketing initiatives with sales teams has become a leading account-based marketing (ABM) priority for marketers. The goal is to target marketing programs to prospect or customer buying teams, rather than individuals (who may have moved into new positions or firms.) Most of the time, a B2B buyer is not a single person but a buying group. The larger the purchase, the more people and departments are involved. Marketing automation vendors continue to add new ABM features to their platforms to enable marketers to address the buying group as well as individual members, including enhanced account nurturing and predictive scoring capabilities.

Social/lead profile integration

Most of the B2B digital marketing automation vendors profiled in this report provide some level of social media publishing, sharing and tracking within the platform for networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Some platforms provide more advanced social media tools to monitor social posts and add social behavior to lead profiles, often using social engagement as a scoring factor. Other platforms enable the use of social media sign-on to capture social profile data and build lead profiles.

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Native CRM integration

With more businesses seeking to align marketing with sales, native or out-of-the-box integration with CRM systems has become a critical feature for marketing automation systems. Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle NetSuite and SugarCRM are some of the most commonly available connectors.

Data is synchronized between the two systems and shared in both directions at frequent intervals. For example, data that is added by a sales rep to an account record in the CRM will be automatically added to the record in the marketing automation tool for marketing end-users to view and act upon, as well.

Third-party software connectivity

B2B marketing automation vendors continue to open their platform architectures through APIs and app marketplaces to offer customers access to an expansive array of third-party software systems. The app marketplaces provide faster “plug-and-play” access between the systems, although there may be additional fees to purchase the marketplace apps.

If a preferred app is not available on a digital marketing automation vendor’s marketplace it doesn’t mean that the two systems won’t connect – it means that some customization will be required. API use does incur additional charges, generally on a per-call basis for each data download

Proactive recommendations based on AI

Martech vendors in many categories, including B2B marketing automation, are working to incorporate functionality that smooths the workflow for marketers using their software. One significant focus is providing users with proactive recommendations or suggestions for best next steps based on aggregated data and historical usage patterns.

Why do you need a marketing automation platform?

Marketers at companies of all sizes can gain these benefits from a marketing automation platform:

  • Increased marketing efficiency. Automating time-consuming, manual tasks around content creation, management and personalization; campaign scheduling and execution; data hygiene (i.e. duplicate or inconsistent data residing in various silos); communication with sales; and lead nurturing saves time and improves productivity.
  • Enhanced ability to generate more and better qualified leads. Marketing automation can combine multiple criteria, including demographic, firmographic and behavioral data (pages visited, downloads, filled out forms) with a lead scoring system to generate and identify sales-qualified leads.
  • A multichannel view of prospect behavior. Today’s digital marketing automation platforms are integrating multiple channels and devices – including social media and mobile — to create more comprehensive prospect profiles and holistic views of prospect behavior.
  • Better alignment of sales and marketing goals. Marketing automation software can help align sales and marketing efforts to ensure that sales reps are working with sales-ready leads. By working cooperatively to set scoring parameters and define qualified leads, sales and marketing become one team. Marketing works on building relationships with early stage leads to enable sales to focus their efforts on the most highly qualified prospects.
  • Improved lead conversion and ROI. Numerous studies have found that using a marketing automation system can increase conversions. Forrester found that B2B marketers implementing marketing automation experience a 10% increase in their sales-pipeline contribution. Marketing automation can result in a 15% increase in sales productivity as well as a 12% decrease in marketing overhead, according to tech research firm Nucleus Research.

Explore marketing automation solutions from vendors like Marketo, HubSpot, Salesforce and more in the full MarTech Intelligence Report on marketing automation platforms.

Click here to download!


The role of marketing automation platforms

In May of 2019, Forrester’s Laura Cross, VP and principal analyst for demand- and account-based marketing, speculated that MAPs have “not evolved to keep up with the needs of the modern demand marketer.” Indeed, marketing automation platforms are so well-established as to be rarely discussed. For example, it’s difficult to find independent projections on marketing automation spend, with the latest numbers from Forrester projecting global spend to reach $25.1 billion by 2023, up from $11.4 billion in 2017. However, that was published in April of 2018 as its Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, 2017-2023.

As of yet, though, there’s no sign of marketing automation platforms going extinct. However, companies in the MAP category expanding into areas like “multimedia marketing hubs” or “CRM lead management” or “account-based marketing.” Notably, marketing automation platforms had no spot at all on Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing, 2021. Could this be because it has already transitioned to what Gartner calls the “plateau of productivity”?

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Where marketing automation providers seem to be giving up a little bit of territory is from customer data plaforms, which are sometimes taking over the data management and audience segmentation tasks previously handled by MAPs.

At the same time, these CDPs also still feature integrations with marketing automation platforms because they still perform functions that other systems lack.

Will CDP’s replace marketing automation platforms?

The must-have, much-hyped customer data platform (CDP) appears to have its eyes on B2B marketers, promising to handle vast amounts of data to deliver highly-personalized customer experiences. 

Adobe’s Real-time CDP announced new features aimed at B2B brands in November 2020, which include a pre-built connector to its B2B Marketing Automation Platform, Marketo Engage. Dun & Bradstreet, with its D&B Lattice CDP, also understandably has a primarily B2B focus.

Though CDP platforms are still relatively new, adoption has been rapid and these tools could eventually pose a threat to marketing automation platforms as they provide some of the same tools and functionalities.

Who’s who in B2B Marketing Automation: The vendor landscape

The enterprise B2B marketing automation market is concentrated among a few cloud vendors, including Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe. Acquisitions by these players aimed at consolidating their positions at the top of the market have now been largely integrated.

Oracle made its acquisition of Eloqua in December 2012, becoming the first to add this capability to its offerings. Salesforce followed by adding Pardot in 2013 when it acquired ExactTarget, which had purchased Pardot the year before. The foundation of Adobe’s capabilities in the space is its 2018 purchase of rival marketing automation platform Marketo for $4.72 billion. It had previously bought Magento Commerce for $1.68 billion.

2019 saw a great deal of action in the space. The year saw Acoustic formed as a standalone company after IBM spun off its Watson Marketing operation. IBM’s Unica marketing automation platform went to HCL Technologies that year.

Among independent martech providers that year, we saw the acquisition of Mautic by open-source cloud platform Acquia for an undisclosed sum in May of 2019, only to have the parent purchased by Vista Partners in September for $1B. Also in May, SugarCRM picked up Salesfusion and re-branded it Sugar Market, in a deal in which terms were not publicly disclosed.

The pandemic year of 2020 saw acquisitions of smaller players, for the most part. CRM company Pipedrive purchased Mailigen for an undisclosed sum in March of 2020. Facebook picked up Kustomer, largely described as a CRM firm but also boasting messaging automation functionality, in November 2020 for a reported $1 billion.

December 2020 saw marketing automation/attribution player Springbot acquire Matcha, giving it content management capabilities. Meanwhile, Thryv Holdings acquired Melbourne, Australia-based Sensis in March 2020, rebranding it as Thryv in September 2021.

Date Transactions
2021 – Maropost acquires e-commerce platform Neto in March 2021 for $60M plus additional consideration,
subsequently rebranding the platform Maropost Commerce Cloud.

– Constant Contact purchases SharpSpring for $240M, adding to its stable of offerings for SMBs.

– ActiveCampaign raises $240M in Series C funding that values it at more than $3B, following a 2020 round of $100M. The company says it plans to invest in product development, expansion and building its partner ecosystem.

2020 – Springbot buys Matcha. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.

– Facebook acquires Kustomer for a reported $1B.

– Pipedrive buys Mailigen for an undisclosed sum. Thryv Holdings buys Sensis for $200M,
later rebranding it as Thryv.

2019 – Acquia acquires Mautic (terms not disclosed). Vista Equity Partners later (Sept 2019) buys Acquia for $1B

– SugarCRM buys Salesfusion (undisclosed amount); rebrands it to Sugar Market. The acquisition followed the company’s buy of Collabspot and preceded its purchase of Corvana. These units are now called Sugar Connect and Sugar Discover, respectively.

– Mailchimp acquires Sawa (undisclosed sum)

– Infusionsoft rebrands as Keap; launches CRM

– j2Global acquires iContact for $49M

2018 – Salesforce acquires Rebel (undisclosed sum)

– Infusionsoft (now known as Keap) secures $20M in Series E funding led by ORIX USA Corp.

– Adobe acquires Marketo for $4.75B

Salesforce acquires Datorama for $800M

– Adobe acquires Magneto Commerce for $1.68B

– Salesforce acquires Mulesoft $6.5B and CloudCraze (undisclosed sum)

Source: Third Door Media, Crunchbase

There will likely be more acquisitions and positioning shifts to come, as marketing automation capabilities are combined with categories like CRM, lead management and campaign automation.

The consolidation kept coming in 2021, with Maropost acquiring e-commerce platform Neto in March 2021 for $60M plus additional consideration, subsequently rebranding the platform Maropost Commerce Cloud. In September, Constant Contact purchased SharpSpring, adding to its stable of offerings for SMBs.

Get the in-depth scoop on B2B Marketing Automation in our buyer’s guide. Download it now!

 


About The Author

Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.



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What is a customer data platform (CDP) and why do marketers need one?

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What is a customer data platform (CDP) and why do marketers need one?


A customer data platform, usually called a CDP, is a marketer-managed system designed to collect customer data from all sources, normalize it and build unique, unified profiles of each individual customer. The result is a persistent, unified customer database that shares data with other marketing technology systems.

The idea of a single view of the customer has been on marketers’ wish lists for years. But disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic has raised interest in precisely the types of solutions that CDPs deliver, which includes that single-view of the customer. With pandemic concerns spurring the movement of customer interactions – both B2B and B2C – to digital channels, marketers are increasingly interested in technologies that collect data from those interactions, unify them, deliver insights and enable campaign orchestration.

CDPs enable marketers to create a single view of the customer by gathering data from software deployed
throughout the organization. High expectations, along with the proliferation of possible customer touchpoints, make cross-device IDs and identity resolution — the ability to consolidate and normalize disparate sets of data collected across multiple touchpoints into an individual profile that represents the customer or prospect — critical for helping marketers, sales and service professionals deliver the ideal total customer experience. CDPs offer this consolidation and normalization and also make the data profiles freely available to other systems that deliver campaigns, webpages and other interactions.



What is a customer data platform (CDPs)?

As the marketer appetite for CDPs has grown, existing companies with various backgrounds — from tag management to analytics to data management — have seen the opportunity and refashioned themselves in the CDP mold. Meanwhile, others have started up with the CDP category in mind from the start, and some well-established players have responded to market pressure and developed a CDP capability.

A CDP is not a CRM, DMP or marketing automation platform. A CDP provides a unified, persistent customer database that provides data transparency and granularity at the known, individual level. A CDP can identify customers from many different data sources by stitching together information under a unique, individual identifier. The CDP then stores its own copy of the data.

CDPs also give marketers control over customer data collection, segmentation and orchestration through native (out-of-the-box) integration that minimizes the need for IT or developer involvement. And lastly, CDPs offers data integration of both known and anonymous customer data with any external source or platform, including CRM, point of sale (POS), mobile, transactional, website, email and marketing automation.

We support the CDP Institute’s definition of a “RealCDP,” which requires it be able to do the following five things:

  • Ingest data from any source.
  • Capture full detail of ingested data.
  • Store ingested data indefinitely (subject to privacy constraints).
  • Create unified profiles of identified individuals.
  • Share data with any system that needs it.

Virtually all of the CDP vendors that meet that criteria provide the following core capabilities:

  • Data management (collect, normalize and unify customer data in a persistent database),
    often after IDs have been matched by other systems.
  • Features designed for use by the marketing organization and other departments, without the
    aid of IT or data science resources. (Though some functions, like building connections to other
    platforms and performing sophisticated data modeling, still require additional resources.)
  • Connections to and from all external systems on a vendor-neutral basis.
  • Structured and unstructured data management.
  • Online and offline data management.
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CDP vendors differentiate by offering more advanced capabilities that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Native identity resolution to stitch customer data snippets from disparate sources.
  • The number and breadth of robust pre-built connectors to other martech systems. The near-universal availability of APIs means connections are always possible (with more or less developer involvement), but offering pre-built, tested integrations adds value.
  • User interface (UI). The vendors differ in the user-friendliness of their interfaces and the methods people use to do things like create segments, view profiles, etc.
  • Analytics, including those powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence, that surface insights, enable journey mapping, audience segmentation and predictive modeling.
  • Orchestration for personalized messaging, dynamic interactions and product/content recommendations.
  • Compliance with vertical industry and international data regulations.

Now, let’s look at the key considerations involved in choosing a CDP.

Customer data management

Data collection and maintenance is a core CDP customer data management platform function. All CDPs provide a central database that collects and integrates personally identifiable customer data across the enterprise.cFrom there, however, CDPs vary in their abilities to manage the following:

  • Data ingestion capabilities: CDPs use various mechanisms to ingest the data that goes into the unified customer profile — mobile SDKs, APIs, Webhooks or built-in connectors to other platforms. Identity resolution: The platform “stitches” together customer data points, such as email addresses, phone numbers, first-party cookies and purchase data, from various channels matching them to create a single customer profile.
  • Identity resolution: The platform “stitches” together customer data points, such as email addresses, phone numbers, first-party cookies and purchase data, from various channels matching them to create a single customer profile. Some players partner with other providers for this capability, while others have their own systems.
  • Online/offline data: The platform leverages identity resolution or an identity graph to stitch together behaviors in order to create a unified profile.
  • Data hygiene: The platform enables users to clean and standardize customer records.
  • Structured/unstructured data: CDPs differ in their capabilities to manage unstructured data (i.e., social media feeds, product photos, barcodes), which may comprise up to 80% of all data by 2025, according to IDG.

The importance of each of these data management capabilities will depend on a particular organization’s business goals, and whether it has a significant mobile presence, direct mail budget or brick-and-mortar stores and/or agents.

Analytics

CDP vendors offer data analytics capabilities that can do some or all of the following: allow marketing end-users to define and create customer segments, track customers across channels and glean insights into customer interest and intent from customer behavior and trends.

The functionality provided can include predictive models, revenue attribution and journey mapping. To one extent or another, many of these capabilities may utilize machine learning or artificial intelligence to surface insights about audiences and proactively offer suggestions about the best next step to move a prospect through their purchase journey.

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Orchestration

A select group of CDPs provide campaign management and customer journey orchestration features that enable personalized messaging, dynamic web and email content recommendations, as well as campaigns that trigger targeted ads across multiple channels.

The customer data platform often automates the distribution of marketer-created customer segments on a user-defined schedule to external martech systems such as marketing automation platforms, email service providers (ESPs), or web content management systems for campaign execution.

For example, the CDP could deliver targeted content to a web visitor during a live interaction. To do this, the CDP must accept input about visitor behavior from the customer-facing system, find the customer profile within its database, select the appropriate content and send the results back to the customer-facing system. A customer data platform may also facilitate digital advertising through an audience API that sends customer lists from the CDP to systems (i.e., DMP, DSP, ad exchange) that will use them as advertising audiences.

Data regulation compliance

CDP vendors vary in the support they provide for compliance with the wide range of vertical market and international regulations that safeguard customer data privacy. Some build compliance features into their platforms, while others rely on outside systems. The European Union’s GDPR was implemented in May 2018 and impacts all U.S. marketers and data firms handling European data or serving customers in the EU. Brands marketing to Canadian consumers through email must also comply with the country’s CASL (Canada Anti-Spam
Legislation). Meanwhile, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect in January of 2020.

Marketers in the highly regulated healthcare market must follow HIPAA and HITECH regulations. In addition, all organizations that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information must maintain a secure environment that meets Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), as well.

Third-party systems integration

CDPs streamline integration of customer data by providing out-of-the-box (or native) connectors for many martech systems, including CRMs, DMPs, marketing automation platforms, DSPs, and campaign analytics and testing tools. Most marketing organizations have assembled a marketing stack that contains many of these types of platforms. But integrating the data that resides in the martech ecosystem is a huge challenge — one that costs U.S. brands millions of dollars annually. The majority of CDPs profiled in this report also provide at least a basic API to enable custom integrations.


Explore platform capabilities from vendors like Blueconic, Tealium, Treasure Data and more in the full MarTech Intelligence Report on customer data platforms.

Click here to download!


What are the benefits of using a CDP?

Marketing executives today are in charge of dozens of martech applications to manage, analyze and act on a growing volume of first-party customer data. But despite increasing efficiency, the emerging martech ecosystem has created problems with data redundancy, accuracy and integration.

Automating customer data accuracy and integration through a CDP can provide numerous benefits to marketers and to other functions across the enterprise.

These include the following:

Expanded enterprise collaboration. A CDP fosters cooperation among siloed groups because it gathers data from throughout the enterprise and supports customer interactions across many touchpoints. The unification of data allows enterprises to see how strategies for audience, customer experience and execution all fit together – and enables audience portability to ensure a more consistent, informed customer experience.

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Improved data accessibility. A CDP is a centralized hub that collects and houses customer data from every corner of the enterprise. Pieces of data are normalized and stitched together to build unique, unified profiles of each individual customer. The result is a persistent customer database whose main purpose is to gather and share data more easily and efficiently across the organization

Streamlined systems integration. A CDP unifies data systems across the enterprise, from marketing and customer service, to call centers and payment systems. By creating a single “system of record” for first-party customer data, data redundancies and errors can be minimized, and data can flow more quickly into — and out of — marketing automation platforms, email service providers (ESPs), CRMs and other martech systems.

Increased marketing efficiency. A CDP unifies individual data with unique IDs that create more robust customer records. Many manual tasks are also automated by the CDP, allowing marketers to focus on the creative and analytical tasks they are trained for. The result is more accurate modeling, targeting and personalization in marketing campaigns, and more relevant customer experiences with the brand across channels.

Faster marketing velocity. In many cases, CDPs are “owned” by marketing, minimizing the need for IT or developer intervention to collect, analyze and act upon data. With control in marketers’ hands, the time to segment and build audiences, execute campaigns and analyze results significantly decreases. That said, engineers may still be needed to perform deep data analysis and facilitate integrations. This is especially true as CDPs extend beyond marketing and into sales and service functions.

Stronger regulatory compliance. A CDP creates greater internal control over customer data, streamlining data governance to comply with the many regulations now impacting brands worldwide. Marketers in the healthcare industry must comply with both HIPAA and HITECH regulations. Businesses that handle European data or serve customers in the EU must also comply with GDPR and those dealing with Californians must deal with CCPA
(California Consumer Privacy Act). The majority of CDP vendors are both ISO and SOC certified for best practices in handling personally identifiable information (PII).


About The Author

Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.



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Real Story on MarTech: Beware of vendor bullying

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Real Story on MarTech: Beware of vendor bullying


Let’s say you work in martech for a large, well-known enterprise. It’s a global firm, a recognized brand. Ideally, you’d want to follow a structured, test-based approach for how you bring new technology into the enterprise, and you’d expect participating vendors to follow your lead in the vetting process — out of respect, if nothing else.

Well, reality can prove itself quite different. In Real Story Group’s role as a buyer’s advocate for martech stack leaders, we’ve noticed a recurring trend where larger software companies often disrupt well-reasoned martech selection strategies through aggressive and frequently questionable tactics.

Of course, none of this is new, and perhaps vendor bullying today is more subtle than in years past — but it remains just as persistent.

A typical scenario

Imagine this scenario: You and your team go through a proper technology selection process. You do everything right. Your team comes to an educated consensus decision. Based on empirical testing, you are on the verge of selecting a platform not sold by one of the big vendors.  However, these big vendors are aggressive, publicly-traded companies, not used to getting turned down.

So they approach a board member or senior exec at your firm, trying for an end-around your process. Unfortunately, there’s a long history in software sales of “selling up the chain.”  Back in the day, this meant deals on the golf course; more recently, it’s cajoling over lunch, at executive councils, and boardroom get-togethers.

Now it might seem anachronistic to talk about a supplier bullying a customer. As the buyer, don’t you have power in this situation? But that’s just the point. Large martech vendors employ specific methods to disempower enterprise selection teams.

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How it works

Here’s what I often see:

  1. High-ranking executives from the major software vendor demand a meeting with your boss’s boss or a C-level executive. Given that this vendor may work with other parts of your enterprise and everyone wants to maintain this relationship, they typically get the meeting. Or they have already networked with your leadership at industry events.
  2. The vendor touts traditional, one-size-fits-all analyst rankings to prove they are “a leader.” If you select anyone other than a leader, it means a risk to the customer’s business (and, by implication, valuations and careers).
  3. They belittle the enterprise selection team: “They’re not strategically thinking like you need to do…”
  4. They belittle the selection process: “They got lost in the weeds and focused too much on functionality.” (This is a particularly ugly allegation because the most bully-prone vendors tend to carry the most technical debt, so they often want to avoid test-based selection processes.)

If all else fails, the vendor may dramatically slash their pricing at the last minute as a defensive move or even give something away cheaply or for free. This isn’t exactly bullying, but it warps the process for sure. Just remember, technology is never truly free.

A tale of two enterprises

Recently, I’ve witnessed two dramatically different outcomes to these tactics taken by one of the most notorious of these vendors. (If you’re an RSG subscriber, contact me to hear the gory details.)

The vendor bullied Enterprise #1 into selecting an ill-fitting solution against the wishes of an interdepartmental selection team, persuading a senior executive sponsor that only that vendor’s array of platform offerings would prove robust enough. The implementation was so difficult and expensive that it did not launch after two years. They’re now engaged in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

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Enterprise #2 said no to the same bully. The alternative system they selected has recently launched, and while no technology is perfect, the reception has been positive so far. The losing vendor’s calls and threats haven’t stopped completely. But when questions come from upper management, because the process was grounded in user-centered design thinking, the activation team can prove that their choice will lead to the best adoption and drive better business value.

Ultimately the fate of your enterprise is often going to depend on the strength of your leadership and, by extension, your ability to connect your decision to strategic business objectives. If you can cast your decision in terms of key metrics you’re trying to move, it becomes less susceptible to outside manipulation.

What you should do

First, recognize that often the biggest martech vendors carry the biggest risks.  That doesn’t mean you should avoid the über-players in these markets, but it does mean you have to prepare for them to try to bulldoze over you should you not tip things their way.

Since the bullying is real – and so are the long-term consequences of making bad technology decisions – you need to give your team and leadership the ammunition to push back. Let me know if I can help. In the meantime, feel free to share your experience with this phenomenon via the hashtag #VendorBullied on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Real Story on MarTech is presented through a partnership between MarTech and Real Story Group, a vendor-agnostic research and advisory organization that helps enterprises make better marketing technology stack and platform selection decisions.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Jarrod Gingras is Managing Director and Analyst at Real Story Group, a customer-focused technology analyst firm. Jarrod specializes in DAM and Content Technologies, as well as helping large enterprises make good decisions around martech of all kinds. Twitter: @jarrodgingras LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jarrodgingras/

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