Is it time to abandon the ‘360-degree customer view’?

Why marketers need to radically rethink their whole approach to customer data.

Data privacy doesn’t have to be seen as a limitation; it’s a great chance to declutter and be more effective, says Florian Lichtwald, Managing Director and Chief Business Officer, Zeotap

Ever since the marketers learned what spreadsheets are, the holy grail of marketing has been to know everything about the customer: this is the prized and elusive object known as the ‘360-degree customer view’ or ‘single customer view’. 

The principle is simple: we learn everything we can about a customer and somewhere within that data on what football team they support, we’ll find the answer to delivering them the right ad for cleaning products. 

And if that example sounds ridiculous, that’s the point: in the single-minded pursuit of the full customer view, marketers may have been barking up the wrong tree. And it’s all about to become a big issue. 

Why the single customer view is a solution that became a problem 

In many ways, the single customer view is a worthy goal – as the holistic picture of the customer, it’s the bedrock for personalisation (and the hundreds of marketing technologies that deliver it). As marketers, we’ve pursued it in order to get new insights, find new audiences and deliver better experiences. 

In principle, it’s a great idea. But it’s always had its drawbacks – for example:  

  • Too much of a good thing: Collecting data is only as good as the ability to organise it, and many organisations have found themselves with silos of data that don’t talk to each other.

  • Losing the signal in the noise: Data is not the same as insight, particularly when it’s at scale – for many marketers, a lack of access to Data Science resource has meant that even where there’s data, it’s difficult to extract value from it. 

  • Who’s who: With data collected across multiple touchpoints with different identifiers, resolving identity to create the single customer view becomes a challenge. 

  • Some marketers have begun to resolve these issues through the smart use of technologies like Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), but now there’s a new reason for reconsidering the single customer view...

    Why it’s finally time to rethink it  

    The single customer view has become potentially problematic in the last couple of years because of one thing: data privacy. A single customer view is all about gathering and using as much data as possible – which has become increasingly complicated thanks to regulations like GDPR in Europe. 

    As marketers, we’re largely familiar with the part of GDPR that mandates compliance with ‘data collection’ – in other words, getting consent to use data. The slew of opt-in emails and tick-box additions to websites in mid-2018 was testament to that.  

    But there’s another important angle to data privacy regulations like GDPR that’s less understood: ‘data focus’. This is all about only collecting the data you need, and only using it for its intended purpose. This is exactly where the single customer view can suddenly become problematic – in the drive to complete an exhaustive picture of the customer, and enabled with many ways of collecting data, a great deal of marketers have arguably lost sight of data focus. For a marketer, it’s equivalent to going out to buy yourself a sandwich at lunchtime, only to end up buying a four-course dessert buffet for the entire office – it’s wasteful, and no good for anyone. 

    To be within the rules (and the spirit) of rules like GDPR, marketers should not only just be collecting the data that they need, by making sure it’s only used for the purposes it was collected for (and really, only seen by the teams that need to see it). 

    What’s more, to add to an already difficult challenge, the deprecation of third-party cookies in 2023 is pushing marketers to rely further on first-party data, and so the pressure to have all this under control is only set to increase further. 

    The personalisation paradox 

    All this being said, marketers need to continue delivering on their promise of personalisation – customers ultimately expect it – and to do so, they need the help of a clear view of the customer. While this paradox seemingly puts a dent in a marketer’s plans to deliver an effective customer journey, there is a way forward.  

    The first thing to do is to understand this problem as an opportunity. Consumers have increasingly clamoured for more transparency into the collection and usage of their data, so for a brand that takes the opportunity to be transparent and innovative with its approach, there’s the chance to deliver on brand values and create lasting customer relationships. 

    The second step is to start approaching the customer data project as one governed by quality instead of quantity – and here’s how it starts...

    Reshaping the perspective of the single customer view 

    This approach is a new perspective on the ‘single customer view’ – where the focus is less on obtaining the whole view of the customer, and more on obtaining the right view. This seems like a subtle shift, but it’s an important one – it forces you to challenge what kind of data you collect, how you manage it and what you use it for. The end result should be a useful, transparent dataset that delivers value to you, and good experiences for your customer (as well as compliance).  

    It can be broken down into a few of simple principles: 

    • Critique your data collection: This is the core idea of ‘data focus’, mentioned earlier – take stock of the data you’re collecting indexed against what you use it for, and see if the two truly line up. 

    • Get serious about data storage and access: This is another part of the ‘right’ view – arguably, not everyone in your business should have the same level of access to customer data, nor should it necessarily be used for every purpose. Take steps to audit this with your Data Protection Officer (DPO). 

    • Review the Consent Collection Process and messaging to the consumer: Does the messaging cover all aspects of data collected, are the purposes reflecting what you really do? Is the language easily understandable for consumers and does it build trust in a relationship around the use of customer data?

    • Ensure you have the right tools in place to manage and unify the consent journey: Data privacy is about more than collecting consent: once you’ve collected data permissions, Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) can help you manage cross-channel consent preferences, enabling them to be automatically reflected in all marketing campaigns at all times. 

    Moving forward 

    Instead of treating data privacy measures as a limitation, they should be treated as a part of the overall customer experience – as an opportunity to differentiate. Marketers who embrace a new perspective of a single customer view based on need and focus are well-placed to meet customer expectations of personalisation while delivering a level of transparency that fosters trust and loyalty. 

    By Florian Lichtwald

    Managing Director and Chief Business Officer