I'm writing a book titled <plug>Journey Builder Developer's Guide</plug> which will be published next quarter (contact me if you're interesting in being a reviewer). In one of the chapters, I'm trying to helpfully explain the difference between a contact and a customer as I don't really think the definition provided in the ET documentation is terribly clear:

This documentation uses the term Contact to describe the data record established in the ExactTarget system to store data about a person with whom your organization has communicated. The term Customer is used to describe the person(s) to whom communication is sent, about whom data is collected, and whose decisions affect Journey Builder behavior.

I believe it's important to clearly understand the relationship between a contact and a customer, as this is a core concept and without it, it's hard to understand how Journey Builder works with Contact Builder.

I describe this as: "Journey Builder uses contacts to group and organise customer data in a single view. A contact presents a customer as a single contact and is represented as a single entity within the platform.

Data is associated with a contact through attribute groups. These groups define relationships to (and/or between) data extensions for a customer."

If I've missed something here, then please let me know. Anyway, I'm trying to illustrate this relationship graphically through an Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD). I realise there are probably several ways to illustrate this, but mine is below. For the uninitiated in ERD's refer to this guide first.

Contact ERD

I'd really appreciate if someone could clarify whether this is correct or whether I've completely got this wrong...

  • Eliot, maybe i can collaborate on this with you directly? Dec 12, 2014 at 14:54
  • Hi Kelly, thanks for the offer, I'll drop you an email regarding collaboration. Dec 13, 2014 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


I believe I've figured this out. You're right, there isn't a direct relationship to a subscriber and a contact record.

A contact record is a system-defined schema that defines the channel contact information (email address, mobile address, push device and push application) to use to contact a customer. Each contact record includes a Contact ID and Contact Key as primary keys.

The relationship between a contact record and a customer is defined by creating a root relationship in an Attribute Group, where the Contact ID, Contact Key or both of these primary keys are used to link to a field (or fields) in a Data Extension as indicated in the screenshot below.

Root Relationship


A contact is a record inside the Marketing Cloud.

Customer is the human that the contact record represents.

  • Hello Kelly, thanks this makes sense, however sorry to get caught up on semantics here but please can you clarify what a record is. Is this a subscriber record in Marketing Cloud, or are you referring to a record in a Data Extension? Also is a Contact that you refer to the same as a Subscription Contact documented here or is this a different type of Contact? :-P Dec 13, 2014 at 17:01
  • 1
    Clear as mud huh? I would love to get more clarity myself. Ill see if i can get more details. Dec 13, 2014 at 17:05
  • Thanks Kelly, that would be great. Here's my new take on this and would like to know if this is accurate: "think of a contact as an abstract entity in Marketing Cloud and a customer as the human that the contact represents. At a root level, a customer is a subscriber record in the Marketing Cloud account who has opted to receive communications from your organization." Dec 13, 2014 at 17:20
  • Contacts are actual records with IDs. Subscribers are the email portion. Dec 13, 2014 at 17:22
  • I think it may be close. Dec 13, 2014 at 17:23

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