Monday, May 20, 2013

Silverpop Announces Universal Behaviors to Provide Better Cross Channel Customer Experience

At their annual Amplify conference last week, Silverpop unveiled the culmination of a two year project that conveniently matches the Customer Data Platform (CDP) concept I’ve been describing for the past month. While the timing is just coincidental, Silverpop’s Universal Behaviors provide more evidence that a new breed of system is emerging.

Silverpop’s new features load customer behaviors from all sources into a central database, match identities to create a unified customer view, and make the resulting information available for real-time, automated interactions across all channels. The central database and cross-channel treatments are two of the three capabilities I’ve defined for a Customer Data Platform. Silverpop falls short on the third CDP function, which is integrated predictive modeling.  But it has partners who fill that gap.

Many CDPs have been quietly maturing for several years.  Silverpop's two-year gestation cycle is a good example.  I can't say precisely why so many are emerging more or less simultaneously, but suspect a combination of business conditions and ever-more-urgent marketer needs.  The long-term drivers are clear: more marketing channels make customer attention harder to attract, spread behavior across different media, and require coordinated contacts across channels. As a result, marketers need a unified customer database, unified campaigns, and way to deliver messages across whatever channels customers use now or in the future. This is what they get from a CDP.

It’s less surprising to see another CDP system than to see it coming from Silverpop.  After all, Silverpop’s twin heritages in B2C email and B2B marketing automation both use simple data models: flat lists for email and basic lead/contact/account tables for B2B marketing automation. Both types of systems traditionally merge customer data using only email address.  Neither build a company's primary marketing database or shares data with external systems. So its quite unexpected to see Silverpop ingest data from any source, cross-reference any set of individual identifiers, offer access to the data, and send messages for delivery by other systems.

So how do Universal Behaviors work?  Each Behavior is first defined in Silverpop with a fixed set of attributes. Source systems then capture Behaviors and post them via an API to Silverpop.  They are stored in MongoDB, a “NoSQL” database that supports high input volumes and multiple record structures.  This is another departure for Silverpop, which uses the Oracle database in its core systems.

Behaviors include whatever customer identifiers the source system can provide: email address, cookie ID, phone number, account number, etc. Silverpop uses matches from external systems to link all identifiers associated with an individual: for example, a Web transaction might include cookie ID and email address, while an email could contain email address and account number.  Silverpop could later take a Behavior with any one of those identifiers and associate it with the same individual.  But there are limits to Silverpop's customer integration powers: it doesn’t do “fuzzy” matching to merge similar identifiers or import third-party reference databases that contain such links.  I'm beginning to see those capabilities are specialties that are not necessarily core features of a CDP because they're best purchased from third party vendors.

The initial release of Universal Behaviors, set for July, will support predefined Behaviors from ArgyleSocial social listening, Webtrends Web site behaviors, Digby location-based marketing, Invodo video, and several as-yet unannounced vendors, as well as Silverpop’s own location-based and SMS offerings. It will later add more partners, provide a system development kit (SDK) for mobile apps, and eventually allow any company to build its own connectors.

Once Universal Behaviors are loaded into Silverpop, they become available within the system for queries, program triggers, rules within programs, dynamic content, personalization, scoring, and analysis – pretty much anything that could be done with standard Silverpop data.  Program outputs such as messages and lists can be pushed in real time to external systems to manage interactions.

Silverpop has also created native integrations with Adobe and Episerver Web content management systems.  These let those systems submit a visitor ID to Silverpop and receive Silverpop data to use in dynamic content and personalization. Connectors for other CMSs will be added as clients request them. Clients could also write their own integrations using a published Silverpop API or use tags to display Silverpop-generated content on any Web page. Currently, CMSs can access selected customer attributes but not the Universal Behavior database itself.  Silverpop plans to provide full data access in the future.

The mobile app SDK will go even further, allowing apps to execute Silverpop functions such as adding a customer to a program or sending an email.  This is in addition to the standard features of submitting Universal Behaviors, reading Silverpop data, and rendering Silverpop-generated content.

The critical point in all this is that Silverpop will integrate other customer-facing systems instead of only executing interactions itself.  The integration includes sending data to Silverpop, reading data within Silverpop, and receiving Silverpop marketing treatments.  In other words, the role of Silverpop shifts from delivering customer treatments to helping other systems find the best treatments to deliver. Of course, Silverpop still retains its original execution capabilities for email and some other channels.  But it’s perfectly conceivable that a client could hook the new Silverpop features to someone else's email delivery system (not that anyone at Silverpop mentioned the possibility).

This separation between a central data-and-decision platform and multiple independent execution systems is the core concept underlying the Customer Data Platform. I’m increasingly convinced it is the only way that marketers will be able to keep up with ever-expanding channels and customer expectations.  By developing a structure that fits the CDP model, Silverpop has responded to a pressing client need and established itself in an important new category.

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