Clouds, lakes, gardens and data (and customers)

Posted on: Monday 23 May 2016 | Jed Mole

Jed Mole, European Marketing Director at Acxiom wonderfully combines clouds, lakes, gardens and data with customers.

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Well of course, customers should come first - but that would have been a rather bland title, wouldn’t it? Still, I believe they do come first, and happily increasingly so, as I explained in my last blog. However, in that same blog whilst I did recognise that the ‘how’ of serving customer needs is still important, it just mustn’t overtake the ‘what’ in terms of focusing on the outcome first. So, building on an acceptance that the modern consumer world relies on data in the same way the living world relies on water, it’s worth considering an important aspect of the ‘how’. Which brings me to clouds, lakes and gardens.

Let’s follow the value chain back. A successful, growing, profitable and sustainable business must have happy customers, which in turn means good customer experiences. Today, that has to be at least in large part down to great data-driven marketing, enabled by data and technology, software and people skills; we know there’s ever more of all of them. But today, senior marketers, CIOs and CTOs are looking for more.

‘Is it cloud-based*?’ ‘My data warehouse was 3 years late and never really worked, so we think we need a data lake**’ and ‘I’m not sure if these walled gardens*** are good for me or bad’ are questions and statements we’re hearing a lot of right now. Isn’t it amusing that major brands, once so determined to insource their rightly precious customer data behind imperiously strong firewalls are now keen to push it into the cloud, once the cost and flexibility benefits compensate for any perceived risk? Isn’t it funny how we can’t help but create data and organisational silos like a bad habit, and then have an epiphany suggesting we just pour it back into a big bucket? Genius.

To be honest, I like the concept of the cloud and believe as with most things, if done the right way, data lakes can work. For me, the biggest challenge to come could well be around the so-called ‘walled gardens’.

We’ve seen big agency groups battle out the share of the creative, media and digital markets but today, the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (often referred to as GAFA) have solutions where you may feel all your data-driven marketing answers lie within their private, walled gardens. They offer recognition and reach but encourage you to stay within ‘the garden’ rather than work across them. The issue for me is that ultimately, the consumer doesn’t care how you landscape your garden or water feature – just that it works. The consumer will do what they want to and they’ll easily flit between any of your contact points. It’s just part of the customer journey, and marketers need to be where their customers are, rather than where adtech and martech companies want them to be.

This is why, for me, I recognise the strength and value of GAFA and others, but believe it is in the interest of brands to be able to work across all data, technology, networks and giants including GAFA to better recognise, understand and connect with the customer. This is called ‘Open-garden’ (or open stack) and I believe it will create more consumer value and therefore more brand value.

* Cloud Computing – a service that allows you to use data hosting as a service rather than your own data centre or a restrictive traditional outsourced arrangement. Advantaged include the flexibility of paying for what you need when you need it. Downsides could include less or no control over the data centre.

** Data Lake – unlike data warehouses that relied on detailed design to ingest and host enterprise level data into a highly-structured form, ‘lakes’ use big-data technology to allow data to be added in less structured ways, ‘poured in’ to be rationalised as an when it makes sense

*** Walled Gardens – offerings that strongly encourage you to stay within their solution suite, to stay within the walls, in this case GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) are often cited as a prominent contemporary walled gardens where the promise is you can recognise and reach the majority of your customers within their offering.

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Jed Mole

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