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Exploring the Digital World

A Marketer’s Small World Network


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Exploring the World of Digital Marketing

By Brent J. Dreyer, Managing Partner,, December 7, 2018

The Marketer’s Dilemma

Today’s digital marketing environment can be overwhelmingly complex. Exploring it can be exciting and confusing at the same time. Just when you think you have a grasp of the digital landscape, a new technology appears with a new set of challenges.

The point of understanding the digital landscape it to better understand the customer. Identifying the Customer’s Journey is a common moniker which implies that one needs to follow a customer through a buying cycle, watching their behavior, communicating with them at the right time (with the right message), and using the right marketing channels to help them make a purchase.

This article respects the importance of the Customer Journey, but places greater emphasis on the Marketer’s challenge of connecting the dots of digital data to identify the Customer’s Journey.

The Answer is in how the Data is Connected

Without getting too technical, the data in the Marketer’s digital world is connected by what mathematicians would call a “Small World Network”.  Small World Network is a term that describes how things are connected to each other in the most efficient way. It is best represented with an illustration that displays a series of connecting nodes, with the focus on a few centralized points called hubs.


This concept was identified through the research of sociologist Duncan Watts, and the mathematician Steven Strogatz, in 1998.  

The Internet and the Marketer’s Digital World

Small World Network patterning and functionality of connections is the backbone of the Internet, and it is found throughout the world and space. Beyond the social media networks, this is a premise of how airlines and power grids function efficiently with distributed, regional hubs. These patterns also appear spontaneously throughout nature in plants and biological systems, including our bodies and our brains.

Small World Networks all have a common feature of being extremely efficient by maximizing connectivity with the minimum number of connections. In the Marketer’s digital world, this is how customer data is efficiently passed between marketing channels, which include: Social Media, Display Ads, Video, Website, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Email, Mobile, Geolocation, Content Creation, Events, The Arts & Design, Marketplace and New Technologies.

Exploring the Digital World

Metaphorically speaking, the digital marketing channels may be thought of as a series of newly discovered countries on distant continents. The data between the digital countries flows along logical shipping and overland routes, patterned between hubs of information.  To many Marketers, these lands are truly foreign, obfuscated by overlapping and vague data connections, not to mention misleading metrics. The map below illustrates the conceptual relationship of Exploring the Digital World, with the foundation of a Small World Network.



A full-size copy of the map may be viewed and downloaded at (above)

Digital Marketing is Robust

Another feature of Small World Networks is that they are less prone to disruption caused by random acts. A random network consists of a series of equally distanced nodes (hubs), and if one connection is randomly broken, it may have a dramatic impact on the functionality of the system, when compared to a Small World Network.



In our nautical metaphor, an earthquake in the Republic of SEO may create local havoc, but the overall network will function with minor interruptions, as the Republic establishes new resources. The SEO channel has experienced several such earthquakes, as Google has made numerous, ground shattering changes to their search engine ranking algorithms.

How is Digital Marketing Vulnerable?

While Small World Networks are insulated to random failures and attacks, they are vulnerable to targeted attacks. A targeted occurrence may also result by changes made for one purpose yet having an unforeseen side effect. For example, in the mythical land of the Website Dynasty, the city of Known is a functional long-tail hub with many connections in the digital world. The changing currents in the surrounding oceans of privacy are a vulnerability to this hub, and changes have the potential of impacting the ecosystem of the digital world. Knowing an individual is an important data criteria for marketing purposes. While changes in the privacy laws will not close this hub, modifications may be analogous to the impact of trade tariffs or immigration laws on an active port.

Connections to Familiar Ports

The map for Exploring the Digital World includes a few nearby islands that are mention worthy. Along the eastern extent is Point of Sale Island, and to the western extreme is the Direct Mail Atoll. Even though these are not digital marketing channels, they are both important in points of data that flow into the digital world to enhance effectiveness. Behavioral data and responses collected from Point of Sale Island and Direct Mail Atoll help to build out a customer’s and prospect’s persona, and transactions from the Point of Sale in stores are used to affirm conversion when purchases are not completed online.

A Need for Good Analytics and a CDP

The last set of islands to be noted are in the lower, southeast corner of the map. This set includes the Analytics Shoal and the Isle of CDP (Customer Data Platform).  Analytics have a vital importance in reviewing the vast amounts of data created in the digital world. Due to the amount of disparate digital data sources, an inherent requirement is that the data be cleaned and processed with the appropriate feature engineering before being loaded into an analytical tool. Failure to do so supports the adage: garbage in – garbage out.

Definitions of a Customer Data Platform (CDP) will vary, but as published by David Raab of the CDP Institute, the definitions have three basic criteria, they must:

  • be a packaged software,

  • create a persistent view of the customers in a unified database, and

  • be accessible to other systems.


Other implicit assumptions are that a CDP can:

  • be integrated within weeks,

  • create little or no business disruption, and

  • provide an intuitive interface that is easy to use by the average marketer.

What is Data Unification?

At the core of any CDP is the unified customer data, meaning that the identity (anonymous or known) can be correlated from multiple systems into a single Master ID.  In the Business to Business (B2B) world, this may include a Corporate ID, whereas, in the Business to Consumer (B2C) world, this may include a Household or Individual ID. In either case, B2B or B2C, a unified view must be created to combine the actions of the engaged customers, whether individuals or entities, across multiple points of contact. In the digital world, this type of data collection is essential, and a CDP provides sources of truth necessary to nurture customers through the purchase decision process of their Customer Journey.

About DataEM


The Digital World Map was created by DataEM, a CDP consultancy. DataEM and its Partners are digital veterans, entering the marketing technology marketplace in the early 1980's when the Internet was in its infancy.  The knowledge and wisdom gained from over three decades of hands-on marketing and database development, brings immeasurable value to Agencies, Brands and Organizations.

The wealth of DataEM's insight is tempered with a deep understanding of the new regulations and privacy concerns that raise questions on best practices, windows of opportunity and potential exposure to liability. DataEM is your premier CDP Consultant. Contact DataEM today at to learn more or schedule a consultation.

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