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.

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