How CRM Is Bringing Down The Walls

adamberkeData-Driven Thinking” is a column written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Adam Berke, president at AdRoll.

The new ways that marketers are leveraging customer relationship management (CRM) data is re-drawing traditional fault lines within the digital advertising industry.

Historically, data in the CRM was the purview of “owned” marketing channels, such as email, direct mail and phone sales, and “paid” media buying didn’t have much to do with this data set. However, there are now a variety of ways for marketers to take data from their CRM and “onboard” it by connecting various data points, usually email addresses, to targetable web, social and mobile IDs.

The expanding popularity of these tactics and the development or acquisition of CRM data onboarding capabilities by media execution platforms is shaking up our preconceived definitions of “marketing tech” vs. “ad tech.” It’s also challenging some long-standing delineations within the ad technology landscape itself.

Breaking Down The Divide Between Mar Tech And Ad Tech

Actual marketers don’t think in terms of marketing technology (mar tech) and advertising technology (ad tech). Instead, they think in terms of customer segments, strategies and results. It’s the product-focused technology vendors and industry pundits who forced a fairly arbitrary delineation between mar tech and ad tech.

Historically, mar tech started with CRM and focused on owned-channel activities, such as sending emails and website optimization, but stopped short of media buying. That was ad tech’s sole domain and was executed by looking at various anonymous data points to optimize media buying.

With CRM onboarding, instead of moving abruptly back and forth between owned channels, such as email, to paid channels, such as display ads, marketers can seamlessly take their successful owned-media strategies and apply them across paid media. CRM onboarding amplifies a marketer’s owned media strategy and enables it to run much more effective holistic campaigns.

Generally, those that focus on one side of the equation tend to belittle and oversimplify those focused on the other. Those focused on ad tech would say that mar tech is just about sending emails, while mar tech folks would criticize ad tech for being just about chasing cookies.

Those are obviously both gross oversimplifications of what each involves. But at the end of the day, marketers don’t care about the distinction at all. All they care about effective marketing campaigns, which is why this divide is breaking down.

Crossing The Boundary Between Offline And Online

Typically, marketers store different types of data in different systems. On the one hand, CRM primarily contains contact information for specific people, such as information from form fills, event attendees and purchases. However, this doesn’t include anonymous data used for media targeting, such as cookies, mobile IDs or proprietary third-party IDs. Those separate data stores artificially force marketers to use different systems to reach contacts who may have the same interests, such as primarily using email for personal contact info and display campaigns for anonymous data.

CRM data onboarding unifies those two worlds by allowing marketers to create media-friendly targeting segments from their internal customer data. That means offline marketing and list-building can now be the first step in ongoing digital campaigns.

Want to target event attendees who have never visited your website? CRM onboarding has you covered. It can also help reach brick-and-mortar in-store purchasers online. Ditto for all those people who put their business cards in your bowl or scanned their badge at an event booth but aren’t opening their emails. Onboard those records and reach them with targeted ads across websites and social platforms – no inbox required.

Blurring The Line Between Data Management And Retargeting

Digital products tend to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the features. Data-management platforms (DMP), which collect data from a variety of sources, have a ton of capabilities, such as data portability, intersection analysis, the ability to create segments based on look-alike profiling and sometimes other bells and whistles. But for all that functionality, marketers typically only use DMPs for one thing: storing user IDs and using them to create retargeting segments across media sources.

Retargeting platforms have always been DMPs of sorts. With the addition of built-in CRM data onboarding, however, the line blurs further. Marketers can now use the retargeting platform itself to store and sort data from a whole range of sources, including cookies, emails and mobile IDs. Then they can segment those users and execute campaigns across platforms.

Yes, DMPs have other benefits and capabilities that might be requirements for certain types of businesses and their marketing teams. However, if you primarily want to collect customer data, segment audiences and target those audiences agnostically across inventory sources, the additional benefit of the remaining features might be not worth the extra software-as-a-service cost.

When the core DMP functionality is available in the retargeting platform or DSP where you’ll end up executing the buy, and those platforms provide the enhanced bidding algorithms and programmatic campaign tools that a marketer will need to execute the campaign, both technologies might not be necessary for many marketers.

Let The Pundits Draw New Lines

What the vision of a perfectly interoperable ecosystem would look like and the reality of how it might unfold is still up for debate. However, marketers will always strive to execute their strategies holistically through the best tools they have at their disposal.

CRM onboarding functionality is a relatively recent innovation. While it’s known and understood by many early adopters, it’s still in the steep part of the adoption curve as far as the mass market is concerned. So as marketers find new ways to leverage the technology, the pundits will have to figure out new ways to draw the boxes.

Follow Adam Berke (@adamberke), AdRoll (@adroll) and AdExchanger ( on Twitter.

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  1. Thanks Adam. RE: “it’s still in the steep part of the adoption curve as far as the mass market is concerned”, in some regions such as here in APAC, the curve is very much about the need for more “match partners” as much as it is education. The underlying infrastructure is just still not there yet, unless (ironically given the title of this post) you want to use an FB and keep it within their ecosystem only. Educating the masses on the back-end logistics involved is as key to successful adoption, as telling them what it can do for their business.

  2. Great post, Adam. Your point about blurring the lines between remarketing and display advertising is a good one. It really ends up allowing us to think of this in two other well-known clusters of marketing activities: customer retention/wallet share and customer acquisition. The other well-understood division in marketing between push mediums (TV, radio, direct mail, display ads) and pull mediums (yellow pages, search marketing, in-store signage) still applies as well. The importance of CRM to the future of marketing is one reason Merkle dove into the digital agency world 4+ years ago acquiring leading edge digital agencies. Exciting times ahead