IdentityDecember 13, 2017

How Overstock powers hyper-personalized web, email, and mobile engagement

This blog post is based on a talk given by Brent Christensen, Director of Database Marketing at, during the Email Insider Summit 2017 in Deer Valley.

How Overstock powers hyper-personalized web, email, and mobile engagement

Email is one of the best tools marketers have for acquiring and engaging with existing customers. In fact, it is estimated to be 40 times more successful at acquisition than Facebook or Twitter campaigns. However, with an average of 121 daily emails cluttering the typical office worker’s inbox, catching the right person’s eye at the right time is more difficult than ever. So, how do modern marketing teams overcome this challenge? By building a contextual marketing engine capable of orchestrating and personalizing all emails (as well as all other brand communications) in real-time. Having such a capability enables you to reduce your reliance on one-way campaigns, and evolve toward a truly continuous interaction cycle that maximizes utility for customers

What’s different from CRM

Forrester describes a contextual marketing engine as "a brand-specific platform that exploits customer context to deliver utility and guide the customer into the next best interaction.” By this definition, it spans a variety of tools and stages in the customer journey.

While on the surface it sounds a lot like CRM, contextual marketing is very different and is geared towards B2C organizations.

In CRM, you -take- customers’ information, accept their phone calls, and try to unload them as quickly as possible. In contextual marketing, customers manage the relationship they have with you, and you respond by -sharing- rather than taking, anticipating customers’ needs rather than reacting, and delivering value in the moment rather than just at the point of purchase.


“The Power of Customer Context”, December 1, 2017

Another big difference as compared to traditional CRM, according to Brent Christensen, Director of Database Marketing at Overstock, is the scale and speed, which requires an entirely different kind of technology stack. “We know we have the environment, we’re in the cloud, and we’ve got the data models, but how do you get from there to real-time personalization and AI-powered marketing?” he asks. “For us, the answer is data platforms.”

Brent Christensen, Director of Database Marketing at, during the Email Insider Summit 2017 in Deer Valley.

Recency, relevancy, and infrastructure

Building a robust infrastructure enables Overstock to incorporate complex actions into its marketing—like real-time event tracking—which can make all the difference. This is where their customer data platform (CDP) comes in.

For Overstock’s purposes, Christensen defines a CDP this way, “It’s a persistent, unified database with multiple sources, accessible by other systems, for single viewer truth. And it’s in real time,” he explains. “The most important things to us in our CDP are recency, relevancy, and infrastructure.”

While the term “real-time” remains a bit of a misnomer—“We consider ‘real-time’ to be anything under a second,” says Christensen—the rapid exchange and application of data powered by Overstock’s CDP is critical to its success. Here’s how it works:

Unify your data

Overstock’s CDP aggregates data from a variety of source: imports, sends, transactions, mobile, and device data. “They all get put together via our data integration layer,” says Christensen. “Then we get into the processing layer and cross-device tracking because data relevancy isn’t worth anything if you don’t know who the customer is.”

Organize, orchestrate, and enrich your data

The next layers are where audience grouping starts: the predictive and segmentation layers. Then, follows the orchestration layer, “This is where we connect our product data platform—we have millions of SKUs—and our asset data platform, which is what manages all our digital assets and content,” he explains.

Apply it everywhere

“Because of the modular infrastructure, we can send info to any channel—email, SMS, app push, browser push, social, display, even direct mail.”

“Typically when you talk about real-time customer communications, you’re talking about things like welcome messages, order confirmation and such,” he says. “Imagine the possibility of that message being compiled from the latest information in the CDP and personalized in the same moment that the message is sent via any channel—email, SMS, app or browser push…that’s an exciting idea for us.”

Stay nimble

An added benefit of having a CDP is that its modularity allows Overstock to remain agile to evolving cloud-based solutions developed by third party vendors. “That’s important, because you may be best in class today, but tomorrow someone may create a new solution that changes everything, so you need to be able to integrate without missing a beat,” Christensen says. The shift to the cloud meant we needed more data scientists and ETL (extraction, transformation, loading) people, but the efficiencies we gain are well worth it.”

“The typical state of modern marketing is that customers are way ahead of us. They expect so much more. To our way of seeing the world, hyper-personalized, real-time engagements are the best way to deliver experiences that satisfy. Wherever you are in your own company and customer history, data is so important. It should be what powers all marketing decisions.”

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about how a CDP can help you engage your customers in a meaningful way, check out our free CDP Guide, or contact us!

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