Saturday, February 16, 2019

Stride Offers a Next-Generation Customer Data Platform

It seems a bit soon to wax nostalgic about the good old days of the Customer Data Platform industry. But the industry has become so bewilderingly diverse in recent years that it is tempting to recall simpler times when all a new product needed to promise was making it easier to unify their customer data.  That was way back in 2016.

Stride is clearly a next-generation CDP, on the market for under two years and including the analytic and orchestration tools common to new CDP systems. But its primary focus on data aggregation and access makes it feel something like a throwback.  How did that happen?

The tale begins with RelateIQ, an AI startup purchased by Salesforce in 2014. Stride’s co-founders came along with the deal and became Salesforce employees. They soon discovered that existing Salesforce tools couldn’t collect and present all the customer data they wanted – Web site browsing history in particular.  They left Salesforce in early 2016 to build a product to fill this gap. Stride, the result of their efforts, reached the market in mid-2017.

The design goal for Stride was a system that could ingest and make available nearly any type of data with little technical effort and then activate that data by sharing customer lists with delivery systems. That's what they delivered.  

It all starts with data. Stride can ingest nearly any type of data with minimal preparation, loading batch files, SQL transactions, streaming data, Web tags feeds, and other sources into SQL tables or S3 buckets. Set-up requires little more than connections to source systems: the ingested data is flattened and then stored in pretty much its original form in what the company describes as a “semi-structured, flexible schema” that can accommodate any source and set of objects. Initial deployment can be completed in a couple of weeks after the source data is made available.

Users can enrich the inputs by adding custom objects, attributes, and events. These are built in structured interfaces designed for non-technical users. Stride doesn’t have its own identity matching processes, although users can map relationships between personal identifiers in different systems and the system will store links between identifiers when it finds them. Stride can perform simple deterministic matching, such as connecting emails to Web cookies on the devices used to open them.

Results are placed in the Snowflake relational database, an increasingly popular tool for cloud-based data warehouse applications. Users can decide which items be exposed for analysis and segmentation. Stride provides extensive tools to explore the loaded data, including a detailed view of all data for an individual customer.

External systems can query the Stride data through APIs.  In addition, Stride provides two sets of integrated capabilties: Audiences and Programs.

Audiences lets users build customer segments using the same drop-down interface that creates custom attributes and events. An audience can be defined as a single segment or as a waterfall sequence of segments, where each is customer assigned to the first segment they match. Segment membership is updated within minutes as new data enters the system.

Audience reports can show movement of customers between segments, can compare different segments against each other, and show segment member statistics such as average order value and number of messages received. Users can analyze or extract subsets within a segment, such as new entrants. Segments can be shared with external systems, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter advertising products. Shared segments are updated automatically as members are added or removed.

Programs assign actions to execute in external systems. Each program has eligibility criteria, behaviors that define entry conditions, actions to take when a behavior occurs, and behaviors that remove customers from the program.  Eligibility criteria can look across all events to do things such as limit contact frequency within a specified time period. The system can’t yet prioritize programs to ensure the most important messages are sent first, although Stride is working on it.

Each program can include a sequence of actions which occur over time.  Actions can also have their own qualification conditions and be chosen in a waterfall sequence.  Actions send instructions and data to external delivery systems. Instructions can trigger a single message or assign a customer to a campaign or journey. The system has standard connectors for major email platforms and marketing clouds as well as advertising systems. Behaviors can include events that trigger actions in near-real-time.

Program reports describe program-generated activities and dropout rates with reasons for each step in a multi-step program. Users can also create split tests within a program as well as global control groups to provide a baseline for measuring program impact.

One feature that marks Strike as a next-generation CDP is pricing.  Most early CDPs were targeted at enterprise buyers and rarely sold for less than $250,000 per year.  Stride pricing is based on number of customer profiles and can be as low as $50,000 per year for a company with under 100,000 contacts. The largest client is over 20 million. Clients are spread across multiple industries including retail, travel, media, financial services, and healthcare.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

European CDP Market Is Still Behind the U.S.

I returned earlier this week from a sequence of workshops, speeches, and meetings in Europe, all focused on Customer Data Platforms. Here are some observations:

- The European CDP market is indeed behind the U.S. My own conversations are with people who already care about CDPs, so they're a very skewed sample.  But vendors, consultants, agencies, and marketers I spoke with mostly agreed that the larger community is just beginning to hear about the concept. Many are seeking to position themselves as early adopters or experts, sensing a big business opportunity.

- Separate martech staff is rare. Nearly every large and mid-size company that I see in the U.S today has someone in charge of marketing technology, and often an entire team of marketing technologists reporting to the CMO. I was told this is much less common in Europe and personally didn’t meet anyone with a martech title. Nor did I hear about powerful IT departments taking charge. Rather, it seems that marketers still mostly act on their own, which is how it worked in the U.S. until a few years ago. I did have the impression that European marketers rely more heavily on specialist consultants to help them out, but that might be biased by the fact that many of my meetings were with consultants.

- DMP means something different in Europe. We consistently heard that marketers throughout Europe, and especially in France, were oversold several years ago on Data Management Platforms as a complete solution to handle all customer data needs. This contrasts quite sharply with the U.S., where DMPs have in most cases been understood as limited to serving up digital ad audiences. European DMPs are now recognized as having failed to deliver on the broader promise, which is beyond their technical capabilities. The resulting backlash greatly damaged the image of DMP products and has left marketers looking for a new solution that is truly capable of meeting their needs. Many recognize that CDP could be this solution and are intrigued.  But they're also skeptical and worried that they’ll be fooled again. This makes it harder for CDP vendors to sell their products. On the bright side, it also means the problem CDPs address is already well understood.

- CRM also means something different.  Back when Bill Clinton was president, CRM was described as a trinity of sales, service, and marketing systems, with marketing much weaker than the other two.  It commonly referred to B2C as well as B2B. Later, in the U.S., the term came to be more associated with B2B sales and customer service in general and the Sales cloud in particular. In Europe, CRM is used very broadly to mean any and all customer data, extending far beyond sales, service, and marketing, and including both B2B and B2C.  On reflection, I may have recently been hearing people in the U.S. apply the term more broadly as well.

- Use cases are everything. We’ve seen a huge demand to present CDP use cases in the U.S.  But it seemed even more pressing in Europe, perhaps because understanding of the CDP concept is weaker. One difference seemed to be that Europeans are willing to interact with vendors as a way of learning: while many U.S. buyers actively avoid vendors during the early stages of the purchase process, we heard quite a few requests in Europe to see detailed demonstrations of how individual vendors accomplish specific tasks. Maybe the European salespeople do a better job of being consultative, or maybe European buyers are less determined to find things out on their own. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.

- Immediate ROI is required. We also found a greater focus in Europe on use cases that tie directly to marketing programs, as opposed to the analytical use cases that are most common starting CDP applications in the U.S. The reason seems to be that European buyers are more insistent on finding a specific financial justification for their investment. Many U.S. buyers will accept a broader strategic justification and start with analytical use cases. This may be why European CDP vendors are more likely to offer a full scope of data, analytical, and campaign capabilities, since buying them in a single package makes it easier to tie new marketing programs directly to the CDP investment.

- National markets are distinct. Some of the big U.S. vendors are present throughout Europe, but many local vendors are largely limited to individual markets. We had some sense of this beforehand but the isolation was greater than expected. The French market in particular has its own ecosystem of CDPs and other types of software that have a major domestic position but little presence elsewhere. The Netherlands, German, Nordic and UK markets show more cross-over, probably because English is widely spoken in all of them. The greater interest in CDP-based marketing programs may also encourage this, since marketing programs are closely tied to specific local markets.

- GDPR hasn’t caused much change. We had some discussions about using CDP for GDPR compliance but privacy constraints in general rarely come up. The common attitude was that privacy rules were already tight in the countries we visited (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and France), so GDPR hadn’t required significant adjustments. There was also some discussion about waiting to see how the rules are actually enforced, which might require further adjustments if the regulators are strict.


While these differences are interesting, they’re also fairly minor. Over all, the European marketers were feeling the same pressures as their U.S. counterparts to create unified data for better customer experiences. So while each market will have its own quirks and proceed at a its own pace, it looks like they’ll follow the same general path as the U.S.