Survey: Marketers juggle an average of 16 data sources to track customers

With every click, tap and swipe, customers are leaving a growing digital footprint -- one marketers are struggling to handle, a new Salesforce survey shows

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As retail sales move to the digital world, consumers are interacting with brands in a growing number of ways, using channels like email, websites, social media and virtual assistants. It may come as no surprise, then, that marketers are using more and more systems to keep track of their customers. Additionally, more are turning to second-party data sources.  

According to a new report from Salesforce, marketers keep track of customer information on an average of 16 data sources -- an increase from 10 just two years ago. As many as 68 percent of marketers use second-party data to keep track of customers, up from 55 percent a year prior. Second-party sources include data owners like publishers, which can sell data about consumers directly to marketers.

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"With every click and tap and swipe, consumer are levaing information about themselves," Rob Garf, Saleforce's VP of industry strategy for retail, said to ZDNet. "Some of it's out of the brand's control. That's where we see most brands, as they're thinking about digital transformation, doubling down on data management."

Among retail and consumer goods marketers, Salesforce's survey data shows, the most common technologies used for customer identity purposes include CRM systems, marketing databases, customer data platforms, data management platforms and email service providers. Data management platforms are gaining traction among retail marketers for data unification purposes, broadening their use beyond the traditional use case of media buying and optimization.

To learn about trends in marketing, Salesforce surveyed nearly 900 retail and consumer goods marketing leaders worldwide in the second half of 2018.

The report revealed how challenging it can be for marketers to manage all of their data sources: Just 49 percent of retail and consumer goods marketers said they have a completely unified view of customer data sources.

As marketers track their customers across the digital sphere, they're also turning to AI to better reach those customers. Just one quarter of marketers said they're currently leveraging some form of AI, but that figure is projected to increase by 176 percent over the next two years. Marketers anticipate using AI for use cases like personalized product recommendations, 1-to-1 emails and chatbots. The use of voice-activated virtual assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa is expected to nearly triple in just one year.

Both managing new data sources and employing personalization techniques like AI-driven marketing can be a challenge for brands, given how much consumers value trust and privacy. According to separate Salesforce survey data, 89 percent of consumers say it's important for brands to be transparent about how their data is used and to demonstrate a commitment to privacy.

The latest report suggests there's a gap in consumer expectations and brand performance when it comes to trust: just over one-quarter of marketers say they've struck the right balance tween personalization and trust.

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