Prakash Ranjan is a CDPa Founder and an accomplished engineering leader with expertise in marketing technology. He’s spent much of the last two years helping organizations make better use of their customer data. We spoke with him about some of the broader trends he’s witnessed in this space, as well as his predictions for 2022 and beyond.
CDPa: Were there any trends that jumped out at you during your recent work as a consultant? Were organizations using customer data in ways that were unexpected to you?
Ranjan: While I wouldn’t say that the methods themselves were surprising, the renewed and increased focus on customer data was an unexpected trend that came out of 2020 lockdowns. Many companies focused on acquisition at that time were used to meeting customers where they were and relying on them walking into physical locations. Of course, that became a problem. It’s not that those customers disappeared; they were just migrating to digital channels. That was a shock to those companies — now that the physical aspect is constrained, how do you pivot into digital channels? Almost immediately, demand for customer data was generated around the idea of taking customer insights and turning that information into actionable approaches for direct marketing and personalization. This became a matter of survival.
The renewed and increased focus on customer data was an unexpected trend that came out of 2020 lockdowns.
CDPa: Did any previous approaches to customer data fall out of fashion as a result of this shift? Has the industry adopted any new best practices?
Ranjan: One of the core shifts that I’ve seen is a focus on more streaming and real-time datasets. Pre-pandemic, I don’t think many organizations were paying attention to that. If you had a CRM or a CDP platform, you were probably content with waiting a few days for the data from an event to become useful. It was the same with data from brick-and-mortar locations, because there was a long cycle between instances when a customer would enter a physical location.
These factors change significantly in a digital space. If someone looks at your website during lunch, they may come back two hours later. The frequency of customer visits and interaction will always be higher in a digital space — because the barrier to entry is so low, having a good real-time dataset that quickly categorizes customers into different cohorts and puts them on separate journeys becomes critical. That became the difference between success and failure: how do you do things in minutes or hours as opposed to days or weeks?
CDPa: Have you seen any organizations using customer data to deal with current events like supply chain disruption and staff shortages due to the pandemic?
Ranjan: We saw this in particular over the holidays, where several brands were pretty constrained in terms of what they could offer. These organizations had to focus on pivoting from the products that weren’t available, so they thought about: How do you design a recommendation function when Choice A isn’t available, but there’s Choice B and Choice C? If you have a good digital management system and can offer similar products, you’re able to do that.
Staff shortages are a more recent and ongoing problem, and it remains to be seen how organizations will use data in response.
CDPa: Do you have any predictions for creative or new ways in which customer data will be used in the next few years?
Ranjan: Data processing has become cheaper and cheaper over the last ten years, and that’s a trend that will have a big impact on how companies use their customer data. The cost to keep all your customer data in one platform has come down drastically, to the point where it’s now possible to include everything. It used to be too expensive to keep it in one place and operate on top of that, but I think that has democratized for brands at a level that we’ve never seen before. You can now start with the same tools that major tech companies are using to find new customers, and you can do it for a really low cost.
Where there will be a difference is in overall marketing workflows. The type of skill sets you’ll find on marketing teams will be different, with many more “citizen developer” archetypes in the mix. Marketers will be building tools in their own low-code environment. From an experimentation point of view, marketers used to have to write down an idea and pass it on to engineers who would build it. Now, marketers can have direct access to the datasets they want, build tests very quickly in a low-code environment, and then push those tests into production without needing to involve a full engineering team.
Want to hear more from CDPa Founders on their experiences and insights? Check out recent interviews with Megan Kohout and Sebastian diGrande.
Prakash Ranjan Bio:
Prakash Ranjan leads the MarTech function at Hagerty as the Vice President of Marketing Technology. Prior to joining Hagerty, Prakash was vice president of engineering, marketing technology and digital ventures at MGM Resorts International, where he was responsible for accelerating business transformation using technology modernization and design thinking. Prakash led growth and monetization platforms at MGM including customer data, web and mobile personalization, mar-tech, ad-tech and loyalty. Prior to MGM, Ranjan has led the digital transformation at several Fortune 50 companies, giving them the digital tools to become more customer-centric by unlocking the power of their own data. Prakash has held leadership positions with Intuit, VISA, IBM and eBay.