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With every advancement in web and mobile technology, it has become increasingly difficult for marketers to piece together what their customers are doing across the myriad digital touchpoints with which they interact every day. And while today's marketer tries to plan for and construct the ideal end-to-end journey, the actual customer experience is increasingly fragmented, according to Russell Loarridge of Janrain, who begins a series of three articles examining the thorny issue of marketing continuity. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

With the digital 'channel' splintering into several different types of mechanisms for online content consumption and engagement, consumers' time and attention is divided not only between digital devices, but also between activities - all of which inherently compete with traditional media like television, print, outdoor and direct mail.

To say that there's noise is an understatement. Consumer exposure to marketing messages and brand experiences, while difficult to calculate precisely, has been estimated to be as high as 5,000 different advertising messages per day.

The purchase funnel has radically changed, too. Whereas the path to purchase was once as simple as awareness that leads to consideration that results in a transaction, multiple marketing touchpoints and always-on platforms enabling real-time brand interactions have added complexity to the traditional model. As consumer expectations have evolved, one negative encounter or mistargeted offer may alienate a customer entirely, while one stellar experience or meaningful piece of content can build strong loyalty and advocacy that leads to social sharing activity and word-of- mouth endorsement.

And as devices and channels have proliferated and customer expectations have rapidly evolved, the marketing technologies used to support and measure programmes in these channels have done their best to keep up. Today there are nearly 950 different vendors building and selling software and cloud services to marketers across 43 categories from email marketing to digital asset management.

To compound the complexity, each system generates massive amounts of data, frequently stored in its own database where its value is limited by its inability to inform concurrent efforts. eCommerce systems store product and transactional data; commenting and user- generated content platforms provide insight into engagement and sentiment; analytics tools capture views, clicks and time spent on site.

Yet, whilst these tools are developed to meet specific needs, a marketer's effectiveness still relies on knowing as much about their customers as possible and connecting data from different sources to a unique, known individual to make informed decisions. So, how can marketers make sense of this new, complex reality in a way that scales?

Marketing Continuity: A Working Definition
Marketing Continuity is a framework for thinking about and planning for this increasingly fragmented marketing landscape. If omnichannel marketing is the tactical objective and the new way to talk about seamless cross-channel execution, then the marketing continuity model helps marketers determine how to collect, analyse and act on customer insights from multiple marketing channels and business systems to create that connected, flexible customer experience.

It begins with a defined customer journey, but anticipates the fluid reality of customer behaviour. It relies on the notion of a comprehensive, centralised and universally-accessible customer identity that informs every marketing message or offer an individual receives. The primary considerations go beyond in-channel execution to the very technologies that make up your system's infrastructure: every customer behaviour and signal must inform and leverage the customer identity across business systems to execute seamless experiences across devices and across channels.

The customer identity becomes smarter and more actionable as new interactions and transactions reflect a deepening and more personalised relationship with your organisation. Analytics and attribution then help marketers identify the channels and messages that work best at the individual-level, enabling better programme planning and spend decisions that improve efficiency and ultimately, return.

When marketing continuity works, marketers have the ability to identify an individual customer the moment they interact with a brand-whether it's on a mobile app, a website CMS, an eCommerce store, commenting system, or social media platform. Each customer is far more than just an email address in a database; their identity encompasses the demographic, psychographic, behavioural, and transactional data that's most important to your business objectives to enable a highly relevant and personalised brand experience whenever and wherever they choose to engage with you.

Connecting The Marketing Technology Ecosystem
Marketers have hundreds of highly-specialised point solutions and a growing number of 'cloud' technology suites to choose from to implement increasingly sophisticated programmes and campaigns. And while so much marketing technology saturation gives marketers incredible amounts of choice in the vendor selection process, most challenges surface once the implementation process begins, and the true technical limitations of siloed databases lacking robust API documentation make integrating with other platforms difficult.

For a marketing technology ecosystem to work, customer data must be:

  1. Easily shared between its component systems;
  2. Easily extracted from those systems;
  3. Dynamically updated in component systems as new data elements are captured.

The recommended strategy for ensuring that customer data is always accessible by both systems and stakeholders is to centralise key customer identity data into one universally-integrated and flexible customer profile. What goes into that profile depends on your business goals and key performance indicators - but storing the most important and actionable data elements in a place that is outside of, but accessible by the rest of your marketing technology stack is one of the cornerstones of the marketing continuity framework.

In addition to serving as a 'source of truth' in a completely new way, a customer identity management system has the added benefit of future-proofing your marketing technology ecosystem against possible product or service deprecations or the need to rip-and-replace point solutions.

The bottom line?
There's no question: marketing as we know it has fundamentally changed. And the frameworks we use to create marketing and growth strategies that drive our businesses forward are also changing as a result. The linear customer journeys and simple purchase funnels of the past are long gone, and untargeted broadcast messages are more and more lost in the ever-increasing noise that fills every device, in every channel, at all hours of the day, every day.

Consumers have access to more content across more media than they'll ever be able to dedicate their time to. Meanwhile, marketers have hundreds of highly-specialised point solutions and a growing number of cloud technology suites to choose from in order to implement increasingly sophisticated programmes and campaigns that address this increasing consumer fragmentation.

Marketers must begin to put who their customers are - the customer identity - at the centre of everything they do, and shift away from the 'campaign' mentality to knit together cohesive, relevant, and personalised customer experiences across the many touchpoints customers use to engage. Marketing Continuity is a framework that makes this possible.

By constructing a comprehensive and universally-accessible customer identity that sits between the technologies that help create connected customer experiences, organisations can begin to design an infrastructure to support constantly evolving customer touchpoints with an ever-changing marketing ecosystem.