CompanyNovember 01, 2016

MarTech Landscape: What is a Customer Data Platform?

This recently named category seeks to define the marketer’s holy grail: a unified view of the customer.

Virtually every marketing vendor brags about providing “a 360-degree view of the customer,” “a single source of truth” about the customer or some equivalent.

But, according to technology analyst David Raab, that assumes you have unified, integrated storage of all your customer data. And, he says, most tools don’t, which is why he initiated in 2013 the idea of a Customer Data Platform (CDP).

In this article, part of our MarTech Landscape Series, we look at this newly named marketing component.

Raab told me he had noticed various marketing systems were disconnected from each other, in that they offered incomplete data or did not organize it effectively for marketing purposes. CDP advocates cite an Experian study (The 2016 Digital Marketer) that said technical issues were the biggest obstacle toward creating a unified customer view, instead of such factors as lack of data or lack of interest.

This week, Raab Associates and a group of 11 CDP vendors launched the Customer Data Platform Institute to promote the concept of “a marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” Its website offers documentation, a newsletter, product info, surveys, evaluation guides and other resources.

What is a Customer Data Platform?

“Over the last three years.” Treasure Data founder and CEO Hiro Yoshikawa said in a statement accompanying the Institute’s launch, “we’ve seen more and more data-driven marketing organizations adopt Treasure Data to unify their customer data.“

“We now know what to call this,” he added.

According to its advocates, a CDP differs from customer relationship databases, data management platforms or most marketing platforms because it was designed specifically as a central location for customer data — profiles, personal identifiers, website visits, mobile app sessions, email responses, chat transcripts, audio recordings of customer service interactions, social media comments, purchase orders and so on — and was intended specifically for marketers.

I pointed out to Raab that all marketing vendors contend they provide this centralized view.

He replied that, as one example, Adobe’s Marketing Cloud doesn’t put all of its customer data from many sources into one database that is consistently available as an integrated view. Instead, he said, it creates customer identifiers that pull data from many sources into a collected view, on the fly.

Doesn’t that count as a “single view?”

Raab said this approach — which he described as common in platforms that have acquired and woven together substantial components in their systems — can miss some internal or external sources, can result in some data being labeled differently from others and can lose some history, such as old addresses.

And this kind of mix-and-match customer view, he added, needs IT supervision, whereas a CDP should be manageable by a civilian marketer.

Proponents point to several commonalities for CDPs:

  • they are marketer-managed;
  • they employ a unified, persistent, single database for all customer behavioral, profile and other data, from any internal or external source;
  • they utilize a consistent identifier that links all of a customer’s data; and
  • they are fully accessible by external systems and are structured to fully support marketers’ needs for campaign management, marketing analyses and business intelligence.

Which vendors offer a CDP?

Raab says there are about two dozen vendors that currently meet the CDP specs, even if their products are described differently.

BlueVenn, for instance, is known as a marketing automation platform, and AgilOne has described itself as a “predictive marketing platform,” while Ensighten is generally characterized by its tag management and Segment by its API hub. Treasure Data offers analytics infrastructure, mParticle calls itself a mobile data platform, Ascent360 offers a marketing campaign platform, and Signal is a “people-based marketing platform.”

Some others on the list more or less describe themselves as CDPs, including RedPoint GlobalDatoramaLytics and BlueConic.

Raab doesn’t have specific stats yet on how a CDP might make a tangible difference compared to other solutions, or how this industry segment is growing.

Of course, when every vendor says they already do this kind of unified view, and when there is no clear test for determining which ones are true CDPs, deciding exactly which platforms belong in this new category can be difficult.

But, at the very least, the CDP offers a goal for what marketing systems should do: meet the expectations of every customer by completely understanding and utilizing all of the data about each one.

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