Personalization is really understanding and anticipating what are the next steps to help you solve a problem or get something done. It can also include the communications aspect —  how you prefer to communicate with a company — do you like through emails, do you prefer texts, in-product itself. It can also help by suggesting additional products and services. The scope of personalization can be pretty broad, and I think can be pretty helpful if companies figure that out.”
— Tom Treanor
Voices In Personalization (VIP) is a thought leadership spotlight series where we feature digital marketing personalization experts’ POV on industry and technology trends, insights, and advice for the digital and e-commerce marketing community. In this post, I spoke with Tom Treanor, CMO of Treasure Data, who shared insight into personalization, customer data privacy, digital security, and the future of digital marketing.

Anna: Tell us about yourself?
Tom: I’m Tom Treanor, I’m the CMO of Treasure Data. We are an enterprise Customer Data Platform (also called a CDP) and we allow companies to connect all the different systems that they have to centralize the customer data into one customer data platform. That allows them to create a single view of each customer, which allows them to understand each customer better. Then they can utilize that data in their marketing channels, within the customer service organization, or even in sales channels to better reach, communicate with and service their customers. For example,  marketers can produce more tailored communications, which are much more effective than generic messaging. They land better with the people who receive them because they are actually more relevant to their history.
Sales can use the data to have richer discussions and to really understand what the interest level is in terms of their different products or services. The service organizations love it because they can see an actual 360-degree view of the customer in one pane of glass where they can understand the customer history and interests, how many times they have contacted support, and what they bought in the past. But also, it can provide things like the next-best offer – prompting them to suggest other products that might go with what they have already purchased in the past.
Anna: “Relevance” is definitely a key topic of interest among brand marketers. What are you seeing today, especially with COVID changing the way consumers shop, the way they live, the way they socialize? What kind of changes are you seeing from the brand’s perspective in responding to this change and how important is personalization? 
Tom: Yes. COVID has forced companies to really focus on opening up new digital channels to develop a better and more effective digital experience. They have had to shift a lot of investment to digital and build or acquire new technologies. Now consumers have all these different digital options and it’s a lot easier to switch between brands or stores because it’s like browsing from one website to another. They can be kind of fickle and consumers really want a good experience. The brands that can give them a better, more personalized, and more sticky experience are the ones that are going to win.
The second thing is that the consumers are not necessarily going back. When people are freer to visit stores or travel,  it doesn’t mean all the digital capabilities go away. A lot of consumers really like them. The investments won’t go away, so companies will continue to have more of a digital presence than they did before.
Then from the company’s perspective, it’s not only just digital, it’s both the digital and physical experiences that need to be managed. How do they integrate their digital as well as their physical touchpoints so that it feels like a seamless journey? So that you don’t spend two hours configuring a car, for example, and then go to the showroom, and they say, “Okay. Let’s get this started. What would you like? Which model? What color?” You’re thinking, “Well, I already did this online for two hours. Can we just start there?” That’s a perfect example of how tying the digital into the physical should work in a more personalized way so that the salespeople have access to what you did online. Of course, if you are willing to share that. If you did that and you’re not willing to share that, that should be an option as well for you. That’s the digital and the physical aspect.
When talking about personalization, people always think, “Oh, that pair of jeans that I looked at keeps showing up in my feed everywhere.” We really think about display and social media advertising as the prototypical personalization. That’s just one small piece of it. Of course, something like a CDP can help turn those off through list suppression – you can stop advertising to the people who already purchased a product. That’s one part of that.
But I’d like to open our minds to personalization in terms of what that actually means. It’s not just advertising. Imagine when you are working with someone at work and they always kind of think ahead and go, “Well, you requested this type of meeting. Maybe you want an agenda prepared. Maybe you want…” so they’re always thinking of the next step for you. Personalization can be like that.
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It’s if you bought something and it will likely expire at a certain time, or you have a service coming up, it’s having that, “Well, we think your service is probably around this time here. We have several options for you and, in fact, we have these promotions.” Personalization can really get specific about providing communications about services that are very relevant for you and save you time.

It can even personalize the in-product experience. Depending on how you’re doing in a product, if you’re having some challenges, it can bubble up help steps or it can make some part of the process easier. Like, “It seems like you’re trying to do this, can we check that box for you so that you can move to the next step?” Personalization is really understanding and anticipating what are the next steps to help you solve a problem or get something done. It can also include the communications aspect –  how you prefer to communicate with a company — do you like through emails, do you prefer texts, in-product itself. It can also help by suggesting additional products and services. The scope of personalization can be pretty broad, and I think can be pretty helpful if companies figure that out.

Anna: Yes. Personalization is a lot more than “Hi Tom” in the email subject line. And some of the more sophisticated content personalization or product recommendations are seen in e-commerce. 
In e-commerce marketing, there is advertising, email, mobile app, and website. To your earlier point, brands should look at customers from a purchase journey perspective, across paid and owned channels, across digital and brick-and-mortar stores.
But in reality, many marketing organizations still work in silos. Even within digital advertising, for example, we often see one group running display ads, another group running paid social— they operate in different silos, using different data sources —as opposed to a single source of truth about each individual customer.
Tom: Right. Having all the customer data in one place fundamentally helps them unify all that data so that there are not five different records of you in five different systems that don’t necessarily line up. It allows them to unify those profiles so that they have a single customer view for you. This means that at that point they know you better than they did before. Because otherwise, it’s five different people who manage five different systems, who see one little piece of your journey. That’s just a foundational thing.
Secondly, based on where you’re at in your journey, the CDP allows them to customize that journey in a highly personalized way – getting to that goal of one-to-one… I would say marketing, but it’s beyond marketing, one-to-one hand holding based on where you’re at. The orchestration of your customer journey over time is enabled by that.
It goes beyond the initial purchase or engagement too. This ongoing customer relationship continues after purchase, through support, renewals, or repurchases. Utilizing customer data and personalizing is not just for new business and conversions, it’s for creating stronger, ongoing customer engagement over time.
The third thing is privacy and security, and compliance. By centralizing the data and understanding what you have, you can manage it so much better than when it’s in all these disparate systems and there are all these different owners. It allows you to manage the data that you have already in your systems –  just in a better way and in one place. You can set up rules for do not contact in this country or under certain circumstances. You can notify all the different systems of the consent status of that individual and this helps significantly from a compliance and security perspective.
Anna: How should a large, global brand choose the right partner when they operate in different parts of the world, where regulations vary? How do brands ensure consumer privacy, in showing the good faith that they are doing the best to protect consumer data?
Tom: Yes. First is to use a company that has security and compliance as part of its DNA. For example, we have been working with Anheuser-Busch InBev. They have 40 plus countries connected via the Treasure Data CDP. They have decided that rather than have it on a country-by-country basis they centralized the customer data management so they can have one team that looks after security and compliance centrally, relieving those teams of a lot of the burden of doing that individually on a country-by-country basis. Of course, there are things within the countries that they are managing. But it’s important that you start with a system that has the controls for access, security, consent and compliance (and experience doing this on a global basis).
Anna: What excellent insight, Tom! Now, let’s dig a bit deeper. We are not just talking about first-party data, but specifically consented first-party data. Perhaps some consumers would give consent to Anheuser-Busch InBev and no one else. Then publishers may have their own sets of consented data and so do the DSPs. How do you make use of these first-party data from a journey perspective?
Tom: We help the companies gather that consented data for themselves. For example, we just released a press release with Penske Media today. They have Variety, Rolling Stone, and a lot of other significant media outlets. Their consented users would be the ones that they would work with using the Treasury Data CDP. That would have their own first-party data. They can utilize this to communicate with their customers on their sites, via a mobile app, in email, or connect with walled gardens like Facebook or DSPs in a secure way to reach this audience (or similar, “lookalikes”).
Anna: This is great. Now, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, what do you think is the future of digital marketing, given all of these happening right now?
Tom: Well, a lot of the future is around getting better at managing first-party data because of the disappearing cookie issue and the changes Apple made recently in terms of not sharing customer data with apps by default. Third-party data is going to be a lot harder to use in the future. Companies that get really good at using first-party data will be more successful, but also have a better relationship and better understanding of their customers.
I think that digital marketers will increase investment in collecting and utilizing first-party data in marketing and communications. They will decrease investments in advertising platforms that will become less precise and won’t be able to provide measurable results. They will shift the mix towards more campaigns and interactions with people that you know and where they can measure the results more clearly.
In addition, companies like Amazon have set the bar very high for customer experience. When using Amazon, things just work when you’re trying to find things or make a return, for example. Competition for that seamless customer experience is really important. Even B2B companies want purchasing from them to be as easy as buying something on Amazon. Treasure Data did a study with Forbes where we found that a person’s experience with a company (53%) was a close second to product quality (66%) in terms of trusting a company over its competitors.
Anna: Very interesting but not unexpected! Incidentally, websites, even like B2B websites, now focus a lot on experience in addition to just content. I think that experience is global, not just from an advertising or e-commerce perspective.
Tom: Yes, that’s true.
Anna: A related question: in this season of predictions, what are some predictions from Tom Treanor?
Tom: As I mentioned, we (as consumers) have greatly increased our dependence and interest in using digital channels to find products, to get support, and to do a lot of the things we used to do in person or on the phone. This increases the amount of data that each person generates and also has increased interest by companies to collect first-party data and utilize it more effectively. Because not only do we shift where we shop and research, but it just so happens that those new areas of shopping and research produce a lot more data than the old way. They didn’t know how many showrooms you visited to look at a certain car. But now they might not know how many websites, but they can know what you’re doing on the website, and especially if you log in and start to provide more details.
I think the shift towards a strong customer data foundation is something that’s not going to go away. A lot of the previous tools that you might have thought would have solved this problem can’t because they are not structured to manage data in this way. CRMs are not structured as flexible and nimble databases to connect to all systems and to manage data at a massive scale. They are more about managing a sales process and are outcome-driven. Customer service systems are often structured as ticketing systems, and they are also not designed for storing and managing data in that way. DMPs, data management platforms, are mostly for third-party and advertising and have a short shelf life of data. There are a lot of other systems out there that just don’t fit the bill for the increased need for customer data and to build a strong data foundation. That’s one, but it’s a big one.