The concept of “singular view” emerged as a need for customer service
A lot of businesses are pursuing the dream of a “singular view” of their customer; it is widely believed to give “competitive” / “first-mover” advantage in the marketing arena. The IT departments are excited because this is eminently do-able since the technology exists; many have already claimed success. But first it is important to understand that the concept emerged as a need for customer service; as a customer called for service, the responding agent could see all the transactions, call history, demographics, security questions etc.; this made the resolution faster and smoother.
As marketers realized that this could be extended to understand the customer in a holistic perspective, they started to look at it as a means towards personalized and targeted campaign(s). It is this application of the concept that we will examine here.
A lot of progress has indeed been made, thanks to the advances in Information Technology. Many financial institutions, social media companies, advertising houses, and retailers can see all the activity of a specific individual. Most of it is what happens within their own ecosystem that includes group of companies and business partners. Eventually, they want to see everything about the individual customer. Progress has been made towards that end with collation of data from public and private sources/subscriptions. Indeed the dawn of Big Data and AI have made this a little simpler, even enabled discovery of non-intuitive facts: for example the number of pets, children, and grocery runs per week, zip/ pin code, etc. can tell us whether a specific individual is likely to buy the next model of the Smartphone. Reportedly, there are over five-hundred data points available for every human being in this world. And this can help in identifying the patterns of each individual behavior, within a margin of error. And this margin of error is sometimes statistically significant.
The main problem is that the individual customer does not have this (elusive) “singular view” of him/herself; so how can an outside entity. Advances in Information Technology have taken us from segmentation (where margin of error was in double digits) to micro-segmentation (with the margin of error being in single digits). In a remarkable feat, marketers can now run thousands of micro-campaigns, each one tailored to specific behavioral prediction. The key word here is thousands. So the game now has changed to that of machine-gun firing instead of carpet bombing; a machine gun that simultaneously fires various flavors into a crowd.
This is even more necessitated by the consumer occasionally defying and/or modifying his/her own “singular view.” The whole approach is complicated by the inevitable and unpredictable shift in preferences; think of what a phone instrument is perceived as capable of doing today. Changes like this force the thousands of consumer micro-segments being abandoned and thousands new being born or redefined. Theoretically, technology makes this massive shift possible. But one is yet to see large-scale success stories, probably because the science is still evolving. And also because not many consumables can be offered in thousands of variations.
So the game really becomes about Least Common Denominator (LCD). Then a selected LCD group of micro-segments can be offered one of the (dozen possible) variation of the consumable. And then it is no longer a “singular view.” We are now saying that “singular view” is useful only to aggregate it back using multiple dimensions and placing an individual customer into multiple buckets depending on the context. So, the “singular view” is nothing but a group of labels (aggregation of a subset of multiple attributes).
The challenge for Information Technology remains. It is still not practical to meaningfully “use” a real “singular view.” The technology tools are there, but their usage is suspect. IT needs to re-look at this concept and work with business to define a different, usable concept. Till then, the chase is only seeking a promise that is not practical.
The author managed large IT organizations for global players like MasterCard and Reliance, as well as lean IT organizations for startups, with experience in financial and retail technologies