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Prepare for CDP implementation using a template for use cases



Prepare for CDP implementation using a template for use cases

When considering a customer data platform, many people ask questions like:

  • How do I pick the right one?
  • Do I need a data lake along with a CDP?
  • How much of my current tech stack can a CDP replace?

Those are all good questions, but there is no generic answer that will work for every company. It depends on your business model, your current tech stack, and what you want to do with your customer data. In other words, it depends on the use cases.

“But wait,” you say. “What exactly is a customer data platform?” 

The CDP Institute defines a CDP as “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” In a perfect world, it creates a single customer view from all your customer data, no matter where that comes from – your email service provider, your store, your fulfillment system, customer web behavior, etc. It stores this information in a format that enables you to act upon that enriched, comprehensive, single view of the customer.

That’s the goal, anyway. In reality, you’re never going to merge all your data. It’s a question of degrees. And that’s okay.

Read next: What is a CDP?

Why do you need a CDP?

A CDP can help you do some very useful stuff.

  • Find out which of your paying subscribers that frequent your website haven’t yet signed up for your email newsletter, allowing you to target them on your website to invite them to sign up.
  • Personalize messages based on interests, order history, or other characteristics.
  • Present better and more targeted cross- and upsell offers.
  • Create new options for advertisers by creating new segments of users based on common interests.

But before you pull out the checkbook, there’s some work to be done, and this applies whether you already have a CDP or are considering one.

Why you need to write CDP use cases

You need to define how you hope this technology is going to help you and your customers. That is, you need to write up your use cases, with as much specificity as possible.


By starting with use cases, you avoid the “bright shiny object” problem and focus on genuine business requirements. Through this process, you’ll discover what functions you need a CDP to perform, and therefore whether you really need one, and you’ll be able to get a better handle on whether it’s worth the investment.

If you already have a CDP, creating a disciplined structure for use case documentation and review will smooth your operations considerably.

There are many ways to write up use cases, but I’ve summarized my recommended structure below to help you get the process started. I say “to get started” because this document is only the beginning. You’ll write up your use cases in the format I outline below as a preliminary matter, to decide if they’re worth pursuing, or to decide if the CDP can meet your requirements. If you decide to go ahead with them, you’ll have to create a much more detailed document when it comes to implementation.

Generic use case template

You should create a form using the elements I list here and ask everyone in your organization to use this form when they propose a new use case. Thinking through each of these elements will help you define exactly what you want to do and how.

Summarize it with a story. Use a very structured format, like this: As a [role], I want to [action] so [result]. For example, “As an email marketing manager, I want to display a sign-up widget for our retirement e-newsletter to everyone who has recently viewed retirement content on the website so I can increase the reach of our retirement e-newsletter.”

Make the business case. Explain why this use case is necessary now, and how it will:

  • increase your revenue,
  • improve customer service,
  • help you discover new (possibly ancillary) product ideas,
  • create better reports, etc.

Refine the summary with specific details

The devil really is in the details when it comes to CDP use cases. If you ask the salesman, “Can your CDP do ____?” the answer will almost surely be yes. It’s only when you dig into the details that you find the limitations and potential problems. 

For the example in the story above, additional details might include the following.

  • What constitutes “retirement content,” and how will the CDP recognize it? (E.g., is it tagged?)
  • Can the CDP react immediately to a tag on the first-page view?
  • What are the specs on the widget?
    • How and where should it be displayed?
    • What words and images should be used?
    • How big is it?
  • Do you want to A/B test different versions of the widget?
  • What is the path for the data to get from the widget into the CDP and into your ESP? Which system is the “source of truth”?
  • How will you measure results?
  • How long should the campaign run?

The more details you provide, the better.

Identify relevant customer data and its source

For some use cases, all you’ll need is data from within the CDP. You might create segments of users based on favorite topics, when they visit the site, or how often. Other use cases will require data from your other systems. Explain that as carefully as you can.

  • If you want to target on-screen messages to people who have marked your e-newsletter as spam (some people do that by mistake), you’ll need data from your ESP.
  • If you want to target customers with high lifetime value, you may need data from your fulfillment system.
  • If you want to evaluate the behavior of prospects who have recently downloaded a whitepaper, you might need an import from Salesforce.

In any case, think about the systems that house the data you need to make this use case successful, and then look carefully at how that data is stored. Will it need to be cleaned up, or transformed in some way? Can you get it in real-time, or does it have to be batched? Does the system from which you want the data have an API, or will you need to build a connection?

Read next: M&T Bank’s use cases for their CDP implementation

Can you re-purpose existing segments?

If you already have a CDP, you may have already defined the right segment of users. If so, list it here.

But be cautious! It’s crucial that you carefully document how a segment is created and what it’s designed for. It’s very easy for a segment name to be misleading. For instance, does the category “all subscribers” include both paid and free e-newsletter signups? Does it include people who have attended webinars? Does the segment “active subscribers” include people in grace, undeliverable orders, or unpaid orders?

Those are simple examples of how messy it can get. Things quickly become far more complicated than that, so make sure segment definitions are well documented.

Success criteria for the CDP

How will you know that this use case did what you wanted it to do? How will you track the actions you are seeking? What reports are required? What metrics constitute a success?

If possible, you also want to specify revenue goals – especially if you’re in the consideration phase and want to determine the potential return on investment of a CDP.

You’ll need more later

That outline is for the consideration phase. That is, do you want to pursue this use case or not, and can the CDP deliver on what you need?

Once it comes to implementation, you’ll need a more extensive template that includes other details, like specific language for an offer, design specifications, internal approvals that are required, and possible follow-on uses.


By taking a disciplined approach to use cases, you will have a much easier time evaluating CDPs, or getting the most out of the one you already have.

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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

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8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them



8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

As email marketers, we know we need to personalize the messages we send to subscribers and customers. I can’t think of a single statistic, case study or survey claiming an email program of one-to-everyone campaigns outperforms personalization.

Instead, you’ll find statistics like these:

  • 72% of customers will engage only with personalized messages (Wunderkind Audiences, formerly SmarterHQ)
  • 70% of consumers say that how well a company understands their individual needs affects their loyalty (Salesforce)
  • 71% of customers are frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences (Segment)

But what marketers often don’t understand, especially if they’re new to personalization, is that personalization is not an end in itself. Your objective is not to personalize your email campaigns and lifecycle messages. 

Rather, your objective is to enhance your customer’s experience with your brand. Personalization is one method that can do that, but it’s more than just another tactic. 

It is both an art and a science. The science is having the data and automations to create personalized, one-to-one messages at scale. The art is knowing when and how to use it.

We run into trouble when we think of personalization as the goal instead of the means to achieve a goal. In my work consulting with marketers for both business and consumer brands, I find this misunderstanding leads to eight major marketing mistakes – any of which can prevent you from realizing the immense benefits of personalization.

Mistake #1. Operating without an overall personalization strategy

I see this all too often: marketers find themselves overwhelmed by all the choices they face: 

  • Which personalization technologies to use
  • What to do with all the data they have
  • How to use their data and technology effectively
  • Whether their personalization efforts are paying off

This stems from jumping headfirst into personalization without thinking about how to use it to meet customers’ needs or help them solve problems. 

To avoid being overwhelmed with the mechanics of personalization, follow this three-step process:

  • Start small. If you aren’t using personalization now, don’t try to set up a full-fledged program right away. Instead, look for quick wins – small areas where you can use basic personalized data to begin creating one-to-one messages. That will get you into the swing of things quickly, without significant investment in time and money. Adding personal data to the body of an email is about as basic as you’ll get, but it can be a start.
  • Test each tactic. See whether that new tactic helps or hurts your work toward your goal. Does adding personal data to each message correlate with higher clicks to your landing page, more conversion or whatever success metric you have chosen?
  • Optimize and move on. Use your testing results to improve each tactic. Then, take what you learned to select and add another personalization tactic, such as adding a module of dynamic content to a broadcast (one to everyone) campaign. 

Mistake #2. Not using both overt and covert personalization

Up to now, you might have thought of in specific terms: personalized subject lines, data reflecting specific actions in the email copy, triggered messages that launch when a customer’s behavior matches your automation settings and other “overt” (or visible) personalization tactics.

“Covert” personalization also employs customer preference or behavior data but doesn’t draw attention to it. Instead of sending an abandoned-browse message that says “We noticed you were viewing this item on our website,” you could add a content module in your next campaign that features those browsed items as recommended purchases, without calling attention to their behavior. It’s a great tactic to use to avoid being seen as creepy.

Think back to my opening statement that personalization is both an art and a science. Here, the art of personalization is knowing when to use overt personalization – purchase and shipping confirmations come to mind – and when you want to take a more covert route. 

Mistake #3. Not maximizing lifecycle automations

Lifecycle automations such as onboarding/first-purchase programs, win-back and reactivation campaigns and other programs tied to the customer lifecycle are innately personalized. 

The copy will be highly personal and the timing spot-on because they are based on customer actions (opting in, purchases, downloads) or inactions (not opening emails, not buying for the first time or showing signs of lapsing after purchasing). 

Better yet, these emails launch automatically – you don’t have to create, schedule or send any of these emails because your marketing automation platform does that for you after you set it up. 

You squander these opportunities if you don’t do everything you can to understand your customer lifecycle and then create automated messaging that reaches out to your customers at these crucial points. This can cost you the customers you worked so hard to acquire, along with their revenue potential.

Mistake #4. Not testing effectively or for long-term gain

Testing helps you discover whether your personalization efforts are bearing fruit. But all too often, marketers test only individual elements of a specific campaign – subject lines, calls to action, images versus no images, personalization versus no personalization  – without looking at whether personalization enhances the customer experience in the long term.

How you measure success is a key part of this equation. The metrics you choose must line up with your objectives. That’s one reason I’ve warned marketers for years against relying on the open rate to measure campaign success. A 50% open rate might be fantastic, but if you didn’t make your goal for sales, revenue, downloads or other conversions, you can’t consider your campaign a success.


As the objective of personalizing is to enhance the customer journey, it makes sense then that customer lifetime value is a valid metric to measure success on.  To measure how effective your personalization use is, use customer lifetime value over a long time period – months, even years – and compare the results with those from a control group, which receives no personalization. Don’t ignore campaign-level results, but log them and view them over time.

(For more detailed information on testing mistakes and how to avoid them, see my MarTech column 7 Common Problems that Derail A/B/N Email Testing Success.)

Mistake #5. Over-segmenting your customer base

Segmentation is a valuable form of personalization, but it’s easy to go too far with it. If you send only highly segmented campaigns, you could be exclude – and end up losing because of failure to contact – many customers who don’t fit your segmentation criteria. That costs you customers, their potential revenue and the data they would have generated to help you better understand your customer base.

You can avoid this problem with a data-guided segmentation plan that you review and test frequently, a set of automated triggers to enhance the customer’s lifecycle and a well-thought-out program of default or catch-all campaigns for subscribers who don’t meet your other criteria. 

Mistake #6. Not including dynamic content in general email campaigns

We usually think of personalized email as messages in which all the content lines up with customer behavior or preference data, whether overt, as in an abandoned-cart message, or covert, where the content is subtly relevant.

That’s one highly sophisticated approach. It incorporates real-time messaging driven by artificial intelligence and complex integrations with your ecommerce or CRM platforms. But a simple dynamic content module can help you achieve a similar result. I call that “serendipity.”  

When you weave this dynamic content into your general message, it can be a pleasant surprise for your customers and make your relevant content stand out even more. 

Let’s say your company is a cruise line. Customer A opens your emails from time to time but hasn’t booked a cruise yet or browsed different tours on your website. Your next email campaign to this customer – and to everyone else on whom you have little or no data – promotes discounted trips to Hawaii, Fiji and the Mediterranean.


Customer B hasn’t booked a cruise either, but your data tells you she has browsed your Iceland-Denmark-Greenland cruise recently. With a dynamic content module, her email could show her your Hawaii and Mediterranean cruise offers – and a great price on a trip to Iceland, Denmark and Greenland. Fancy that! 

An email like this conveys the impression that your brand offers exactly what your customers are looking for (covert personalization) without the overt approach of an abandoned-browse email.

Mistake #7. Not using a personal tone in your copy

You can personalize your email copy without a single data point, simply by writing as if you were speaking to your customer face to face. Use a warm, human tone of voice, which ideally should reflect your brand voice. Write copy that sounds like a one-to-one conversation instead of a sales pitch. 

This is where my concept of “helpful marketing” comes into play. How does your brand help your customers achieve their own goals, solve their problems or make them understand you know them as people, not just data points?  

Mistake #8. Not personalizing the entire journey

Once again, this is a scenario in which you take a short-sighted view of personalization – “How do I add personalization to this email campaign?” – instead of looking at the long-term gain: “How can I use personalization to enhance my customer’s experience?”

Personalization doesn’t stop when your customer clicks on your email. It should continue on to your landing page and even be reflected in the website content your customer views. Remember, it’s all about enhancing your customer’s experience.

What happens when your customers click on a personalized offer? Does your landing page greet your customers by name? Show the items they clicked? Present copy that reflects their interests, their loyalty program standing or any other data that’s unique to them?  

Personalization is worth the effort

Yes, personalization takes both art and science into account. You need to handle it carefully so your messages come off as helpful and relevant without veering into creepy territory through data overreaches. But this strategic effort pays off when you can use the power of personalized email to reach out, connect with and retain customers – achieving your goal of enhancing the customer experience.


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

About The Author

Kath Pay is CEO at Holistic Email Marketing and the author of the award-winning Amazon #1 best-seller “Holistic Email Marketing: A practical philosophy to revolutionise your business and delight your customers.”


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