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How to manage email addresses in a customer data platform

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Why first-party data collection should be a priority for marketers

The main purpose of a customer data platform is to merge all your customer data into one place, where you can orchestrate online and offline campaigns based on customer attributes, transactions, or behavior. As a very simple example, you can find the people who frequent your pages about skiing and send them an email when you get a new ski-related product in stock. 

Such a campaign is only possible if you’ve been able to enrich the customer’s online profile with their email address. 

In other words, your prospect may have purchased something from you, so you have his information in your store, and he may also visit your website. Still, until you can merge those records, you can’t use his on-site behavior to send him appropriate messages. Knowing how to enrich an online profile with an email address is a study in itself and beyond the scope of this article, although I discuss it in some depth in this short video


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It’s nice to think that once you’ve attached an email address to an online profile, you can merge customer data on that email address, and voila, you have your single customer view. 

Nothing is that easy. Some of your customer data won’t have an email address, and people usually have several email addresses that change over time — due to changing jobs, mergers and acquisitions or simply from creating personal addresses on several different systems. 

This is where you need to make an important decision. The idealistic goal of a CDP is to merge all your customer data, but the reality is that might not be worth the trouble. It all depends on what you expect your CDP to do and think through that. You need to compare customer data scenarios with your use cases. 

The simple path is to make the email addresses unique. You have a separate record in your CDP for each email address. That means you might have multiple records per customer, which seems to contradict the whole point of a CDP — which is to have a single view of the customer — but that solution is perfectly okay for some use cases. 

To get into this a little deeper, it’s helpful to discuss the distinction between online and offline profiles. 

Let’s say I worked for CompanyX in 2020, and my email address at that time was [email protected] While at CompanyX, I attended one of your webinars, so you have a record for me in your customer database that includes that CompanyX email address. 

In 2021 I left CompanyX and started with CompanyA, where my email address changed to  [email protected]

In 2022, you invested in a CDP and imported all your webinar information, which created a profile for [email protected] (the out-of-date and now useless email address). That same year, I visited your site. Your CDP created a profile based on that visit — that is, it put a cookie on my web browser and started recording the interactions I had with your website – but it didn’t know who I was. When I downloaded your white paper using my current email address — [email protected] — I changed from unknown to known (hurray!), but you still don’t know that I attended one of your webinars because that account has me as [email protected] 

How are you going to get a single customer view? 

Even though the CDP has a profile for [email protected], who attended your webinar, that profile is essentially useless. The email address is defunct, and it doesn’t correspond to any active online profile, so you can’t target me as a webinar attendee on your website. If you create a segment of “people who attended webinars,” that profile will be included, but it won’t do you any good. It won’t be actionable. 

The example points out the limitations of merging profiles based on email addresses. You simply won’t get all the information you have on your customers into one record. 

As an alternative, let’s say the form to download the white paper included name and address. Now — assuming I used my home address, which stayed the same from 2020 to 2022 — you have the possibility of merging my CompanyX record with my CompanyA record. Now you can target me on the web as a webinar attendee.

The overall point is that you have to think through the many to one problem with email addresses. One person — Greg Krehbiel — has many different email addresses and potentially many different touch points with your company that are associated with those different email addresses. If you can’t merge those profiles into one record, you won’t have a complete view of your company’s connection with me. 

Does that matter? Maybe, maybe not. My actionable profile — the one where you have what I do on your website and my current email address — will not include the fact that I attended your webinar. 

Is that a big problem? It depends on how often you think it will happen and the consequences of getting something wrong. For example, it’s one thing to fail to include me in a list of “past webinar attendees,” but it’s another to include me in a list of “people who have never attended a webinar.” 

The challenge here is that you can go down quite a rabbit hole trying to solve every edge case and exception. The more you think about it, the easier it is to come up with ordinary events that will mess up your data. 

  • What if there’s a typo in an online form to collect an email address? 
  • What happens when a company changes the structure of its email address (e.g., from first initial, last name @ company dot com to first name dot last name @ company dot com)? 
  • When someone calls customer service and changes their email address, how will you deal with that when you re-import the data? 

You can drive yourself crazy thinking of how things can get messed up.

So what do you do? 

As mentioned above, the simplest thing is to have one email address per customer profile. But that means you’re giving up on the idea of a “single customer view.” If that’s okay — if you think through all your use cases, and it doesn’t matter too much — then go with that. 

Another option is to allow the email field to have multiple email addresses. The only downside to that approach is that email is no longer a unique identifier for your customer profiles. But you can always use something else. 

Here’s an exercise for you to figure this out. Come up with a list of scenarios where someone’s email might change or why they might have multiple emails:

  • Changed job. 
  • New personal email. 
  • Serious email and junk email.
  • IT guy at the company decided to change the format of the emails.
  • The company changed its name, etc.

With that list in one hand and your merge rules in the other, review all your use cases. In what situations will you fail to get a “single customer view”? How big of a problem does that pose to your overall strategy, and what do you hope to get out of your CDP? 

If you don’t think long and hard about how you intend to manage your customers’ email addresses, your CDP implementation is likely to disappoint you. The guidelines in this article should have put you on a path to uncovering the right solution for your unique requirements.


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


About The Author

Greg’s decades-long career in B2B and B2C publishing has included lengthy gigs in editorial, marketing, product development, web development, management, and operations. He’s an expert at bridging the intellectual and cultural divide between technical and creative staff. Working as a consultant, Greg solves technology, strategy, operations, and process problems for publishers. His expertise includes Customer Data Platforms, acquisition and retention, e-commerce, RFPs, fulfillment, and project management. Learn more at krehbielgroup.com.

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Is Twitter Still a Thing for Content Marketers in 2023?

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Is Twitter Still a Thing for Content Marketers in 2023?

The world survived the first three months of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

But what are marketers doing now? Did your brand follow the shift Dennis Shiao made for his personal brand? As he recently shared, he switched his primary platform from Twitter to LinkedIn after the 2022 ownership change. (He still uses Twitter but posts less frequently.)

Are those brands that altered their strategy after the new ownership maintaining that plan? What impact do Twitter’s service changes (think Twitter Blue subscriptions) have?

We took those questions to the marketing community. No big surprise? Most still use Twitter. But from there, their responses vary from doing nothing to moving away from the platform.

Lowest points

At the beginning of the Elon era, more than 500 big-name advertisers stopped buying from the platform. Some (like Amazon and Apple) resumed their buys before the end of 2022. Brand accounts’ organic activity seems similar.

In November, Emplifi research found a 26% dip in organic posting behavior by U.S. and Canadian brands the week following a significant spike in the negative sentiment of an Elon tweet. But that drop in posting wasn’t a one-time thing.

Kyle Wong, chief strategy officer at Emplifi, shares a longer analysis of well-known fast-food brands. When comparing December 2021 to December 2022 activity, the brands posted 74% less, and December was the least active month of 2022.

Fast-food brands posted 74% less on @Twitter in December 2022 than they did in December 2021, according to @emplifi_io analysis via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

When Emplifi analyzed brand accounts across industries (2,330 from U.S. and Canada and 6,991 elsewhere in the world), their weekly Twitter activity also fell to low points in November and December. But by the end of the year, their activity was inching up.

“While the percentage of brands posting weekly is on the rise once again, the number is still lower than the consistent posting seen in earlier months,” Kyle says.

Quiet-quitting Twitter

Lacey Reichwald, marketing manager at Aha Media Group, says the company has been quiet-quitting Twitter for two months, simply monitoring and posting the occasional link. “It seems like the turmoil has settled down, but the overall impact of Twitter for brands has not recovered,” she says.

@ahamediagroup quietly quit @Twitter for two months and saw their follower count go up, says Lacey Reichwald via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

She points to their firm’s experience as a potential explanation. Though they haven’t been posting, their follower count has gone up, and many of those new follower accounts don’t seem relevant to their topic or botty. At the same time, Aha Media saw engagement and follows from active accounts in the customer segment drop.

Blue bonus

One change at Twitter has piqued some brands’ interest in the platform, says Dan Gray, CEO of Vendry, a platform for helping companies find agency partners to help them scale.

“Now that getting a blue checkmark is as easy as paying a monthly fee, brands are seeing this as an opportunity to build thought leadership quickly,” he says.

Though it remains to be seen if that strategy is viable in the long term, some companies, particularly those in the SaaS and tech space, are reallocating resources to energize their previously dormant accounts.

Automatic verification for @TwitterBlue subscribers led some brands to renew their interest in the platform, says Dan Gray of Vendry via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

These reenergized accounts also are seeing an increase in followers, though Dan says it’s difficult to tell if it’s an effect of the blue checkmark or their renewed emphasis on content. “Engagement is definitely up, and clients and agencies have both noted the algorithm seems to be favoring their content more,” he says.

New horizon

Faizan Fahim, marketing manager at Breeze, is focused on the future. They’re producing videos for small screens as part of their Twitter strategy. “We are guessing soon Elon Musk is going to turn Twitter into TikTok/YouTube to create more buzz,” he says. “We would get the first moving advantage in our niche.”

He’s not the only one who thinks video is Twitter’s next bet. Bradley Thompson, director of marketing at DigiHype Media and marketing professor at Conestoga College, thinks video content will be the next big thing. Until then, text remains king.

“The approach is the same, which is a focus on creating and sharing high-quality content relevant to the industry,” Bradley says. “Until Twitter comes out with drastically new features, then marketing and managing brands on Twitter will remain the same.

James Coulter, digital marketing director at Sole Strategies, says, “Twitter definitely still has a space in the game. The question is can they keep it, or will they be phased out in favor of a more reliable platform.”

Interestingly given the thoughts of Faizan and Bradley, James sees businesses turning to video as they limit their reliance on Twitter and diversify their social media platforms. They are now willing to invest in the resource-intensive format given the exploding popularity of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other short-form video content.

“We’ve seen a really big push on getting vendors to help curate video content with the help of staff. Requesting so much media requires building a new (social media) infrastructure, but once the expectations and deliverables are in place, it quickly becomes engrained in the weekly workflow,” James says.

What now

“We are waiting to see what happens before making any strong decisions,” says Baruch Labunski, CEO at Rank Secure. But they aren’t sitting idly by. “We’ve moved a lot of our social media efforts to other platforms while some of these things iron themselves out.”

What is your brand doing with Twitter? Are you stepping up, stepping out, or standing still? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]

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45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]

Creating content isn’t always a walk in the park. (In fact, it can sometimes feel more like trying to swim against the current.)

While other parts of business and marketing are becoming increasingly automated, content creation is still a very manual job. (more…)

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How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open

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How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open

Are data clean rooms the solution to what IAB CEO David Cohen has called the “slow-motion train wreck” of addressability? Voices at the IAB will tell you that they have a big role to play.

“The issue with addressability is that once cookies go away, and with the loss of identifiers, about 80% of the addressable market will become unknown audiences which is why there is a need for privacy-centric consent and a better consent-value exchange,” said Jeffrey Bustos, VP, measurement, addressability and data at the IAB.

“Everyone’s talking about first-party data, and it is very valuable,” he explained, “but most publishers who don’t have sign-on, they have about 3 to 10% of their readership’s first-party data.” First-party data, from the perspective of advertisers who want to reach relevant and audiences, and publishers who want to offer valuable inventory, just isn’t enough.

Why we care. Two years ago, who was talking about data clean rooms? The surge of interest is recent and significant, according to the IAB. DCRs have the potential, at least, to keep brands in touch with their audiences on the open internet; to maintain viability for publishers’ inventories; and to provide sophisticated measurement capabilities.

How data clean rooms can help. DCRs are a type of privacy-enhancing technology that allows data owners (including brands and publishers) to share customer first-party data in a privacy-compliant way. Clean rooms are secure spaces where first-party data from a number of sources can be resolved to the same customer’s profile while that profile remains anonymized.

In other words, a DCR is a kind of Switzerland — a space where a truce is called on competition while first-party data is enriched without compromising privacy.

“The value of a data clean room is that a publisher is able to collaborate with a brand across both their data sources and the brand is able to understand audience behavior,” said Bestos. For example, a brand selling eye-glasses might know nothing about their customers except basic transactional data — and that they wear glasses. Matching profiles with a publisher’s behavioral data provides enrichment.

“If you’re able to understand behavioral context, you’re able to understand what your customers are reading, what they’re interested in, what their hobbies are,” said Bustos. Armed with those insights, a brand has a better idea of what kind of content they want to advertise against.

The publisher does need to have a certain level of first-party data for the matching to take place, even if it doesn’t have a universal requirement for sign-ins like The New York Times. A publisher may be able to match only a small percentage of the eye-glass vendor’s customers, but if they like reading the sports and arts sections, at least that gives some directional guidance as to what audience the vendor should target.

Dig deeper: Why we care about data clean rooms

What counts as good matching? In its “State of Data 2023” report, which focuses almost exclusively on data clean rooms, concern is expressed that DCR efficacy might be threatened by poor match rates. Average match rates hover around 50% (less for some types of DCR).

Bustos is keen to put this into context. “When you are matching data from a cookie perspective, match rates are usually about 70-ish percent,” he said, so 50% isn’t terrible, although there’s room for improvement.

One obstacle is a persistent lack of interoperability between identity solutions — although it does exist; LiveRamp’s RampID is interoperable, for example, with The Trade Desk’s UID2.

Nevertheless, said Bustos, “it’s incredibly difficult for publishers. They have a bunch of identity pixels firing for all these different things. You don’t know which identity provider to use. Definitely a long road ahead to make sure there’s interoperability.”

Maintaining an open internet. If DCRs can contribute to solving the addressability problem they will also contribute to the challenge of keeping the internet open. Walled gardens like Facebook do have rich troves of first-party and behavioral data; brands can access those audiences, but with very limited visibility into them.

“The reason CTV is a really valuable proposition for advertisers is that you are able to identify the user 1:1 which is really powerful,” Bustos said. “Your standard news or editorial publisher doesn’t have that. I mean, the New York Times has moved to that and it’s been incredibly successful for them.” In order to compete with the walled gardens and streaming services, publishers need to offer some degree of addressability — and without relying on cookies.

But DCRs are a heavy lift. Data maturity is an important qualification for getting the most out of a DCR. The IAB report shows that, of the brands evaluating or using DCRs, over 70% have other data-related technologies like CDPs and DMPs.

“If you want a data clean room,” Bustos explained, “there are a lot of other technological solutions you have to have in place before. You need to make sure you have strong data assets.” He also recommends starting out by asking what you want to achieve, not what technology would be nice to have. “The first question is, what do you want to accomplish? You may not need a DCR. ‘I want to do this,’ then see what tools would get you to that.”

Understand also that implementation is going to require talent. “It is a demanding project in terms of the set-up,” said Bustos, “and there’s been significant growth in consulting companies and agencies helping set up these data clean rooms. You do need a lot of people, so it’s more efficient to hire outside help for the set up, and then just have a maintenance crew in-house.”

Underuse of measurement capabilities. One key finding in the IAB’s research is that DCR users are exploiting the audience matching capabilities much more than realizing the potential for measurement and attribution. “You need very strong data scientists and engineers to build advanced models,” Bustos said.

“A lot of brands that look into this say, ‘I want to be able to do a predictive analysis of my high lifetime value customers that are going to buy in the next 90 days.’ Or ‘I want to be able to measure which channels are driving the most incremental lift.’ It’s very complex analyses they want to do; but they don’t really have a reason as to why. What is the point? Understand your outcome and develop a sequential data strategy.”

Trying to understand incremental lift from your marketing can take a long time, he warned. “But you can easily do a reach and frequency and overlap analysis.” That will identify wasted investment in channels and as a by-product suggest where incremental lift is occurring. “There’s a need for companies to know what they want, identify what the outcome is, and then there are steps that are going to get you there. That’s also going to help to prove out ROI.”

Dig deeper: Failure to get the most out of data clean rooms is costing marketers money


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