Marketing Brand Strategy Data & Privacy

The customer intelligence gap: how to improve CX by sifting through a sea of data

By Tate Olinghouse | Chief Client Officer



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July 20, 2023 | 8 min read

Most brands have plenty of data, says Acxiom’s Tate Olinghouse – in fact they’re swimming in it. What they often lack is the customer intelligence to use the data right. Here’s how to bridge that gap.

A woman's eye, up close

Are marketers falling into a 'customer intelligence gap'? / Amanda Dalbjörn via Unsplash

Personalization is like music. Great music makes you feel energized, understood, and connected. But when music hits a bad note or a forced lyric, you feel that, too – probably even more so. The stark reality for brands that cannot achieve personalization that is informed, intelligent, and relevant is that their customers will take their business elsewhere – to those that can provide a harmonized experience.

Today, customers simply assume that interactions in one channel will be connected, in real time, with interactions in all other channels to enable seamless, personalized experiences. This level of personalization can only be accomplished with insights into what the customer wants and needs – aka, customer intelligence. In a crowded market, effective use of customer intelligence is a key differentiator that builds trust with customers and gives brands an enormous competitive advantage.

The customer intelligence gap

Most brands already understand the importance of customer intelligence. Earlier this year our own customer experience (CX) trends research revealed that a convincing 87% of brands see using data and predictive analytics to enhance the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

But that doesn’t mean they’re making full use of it. In the same research, only a quarter (26%) said that they use analytics to drive product and service innovation. This illustrates a clear divide between what brands know, and what they actually do. This is the customer intelligence gap.

Data, data everywhere

In our first annual customer intelligence survey, we aimed to explore that gap (as well as brands’ overall customer intelligence maturity) in greater depth. We discovered that accessing data is not the problem. In fact, almost 80% of businesses already claim to use a mixture of first-, second-, and third-party data. In the past brands had to round up enough data to develop insights, but today they’re swimming in it. In the very near future, they risk drowning in it.

The problem is far more likely knowing what to do with all that data once brands have it; how to wade through it to find what matters; how to aggregate it to a level that’s useful, and then action it. This is where the customer intelligence gap emerges loud and clear. Although most businesses invest in data collection, we found that only 9% have a clear plan for deriving value from it.

Brands are likely already sitting on all the data they need to deliver relevant, personalized experiences. They just need to know what to do with it.

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Small steps to customer intelligence maturity

There’s no quick fix to get brands to a point where they can use customer intelligence to their competitive advantage. It’s easy to get enamored by the shiny new tools and technologies that come pre-packed with their own shiny new acronym. But the impact of these is often limited and can easily distract from what matters most – great CX to deliver business outcomes.

What brands really need to invest is time. It’s a worthwhile investment because when customer intelligence is properly managed, the returns are high.

First, brands need to understand how mature their customer intelligence approach is today. Is customer intelligence discussed at the executive level? Is it part of the stated business strategy for growth? How current and reliable is the data that feeds it? How sophisticated are the analytics used to drive insights and action, and does the operational infrastructure have capacity to evolve?

Once brands understand where they sit on the path to customer intelligence maturity, they can identify small steps to get moving in the right direction, ideally building a roadmap with realistic quarter-by-quarter strategic activities. For example, brands that:

  • … Already collect first-party data might explore options to collaborate with potential partners through a data clean room, generating new insights through second-party data and creating potential new marketing opportunities.

  • … Make limited use of customer intelligence in marketing might look for other acquisition, growth, and retention use cases across the customer journey, including how it can inform real-time customer engagements.

  • … Get their insights from after-the-fact reporting might explore AI-powered predictive analytics to reduce the time from insight to action and increase their likelihood of successful personalization.

  • … Use internal data centers for customer data might consider moving to a cloud-based solution, providing them with greater flexibility and extensibility in data management (including costs) and increased speed from data ingestion to actionable insights.

The precise journey to customer intelligence maturity – and the individual steps to take – will be different for every brand, much like every band has its own unique sound. But by recognizing the importance of customer intelligence, investing the time, and getting that journey in motion, brands can get real return on their marketing investment – better experiences for people and true top- and bottom-line growth for the business.

Marketing Brand Strategy Data & Privacy

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Acxiom is a customer intelligence company that provides data-driven solutions to enable the world’s best marketers to better understand their customers to create better experiences and business growth. A leader in customer data management, identity, and the ethical use of data for more than 50 years, Acxiom now helps thousands of clients and partners around the globe work together to create millions of better customer experiences, every day. Acxiom is a registered trademark of Acxiom LLC and is part of The Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. (IPG). For more information, visit

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