Customer data platforms (CDPs) are an emerging category of enterprise technology that enable marketers to connect and act upon cross-channel customer data in meaningful ways.
They fill an important void in the modern marketing stack. Unlike web DMPs, customer data platforms house persistent data (as opposed to cookies), and unlike traditional CRM solutions, marketers and not IT control them.
But there are a lot of customer data platforms out there. How do you select the right one?
Start by thinking about Who will be using it, Why you need it, and What that says about your ideal customer data platform.
Who is the Customer Data Platform for?
The number one question to ask when selecting a CDP is: Who is it for? Marketing functions vary widely from company to company. So, properly understanding the Who will use your CDP makes all the difference.
Some marketing departments are small teams, while others are large and part of highly-matrixed organizations. There are some marketers that can and do write code to transform data and extract insights, but most do not. Who will be the end users for your customer data platform? To what extent will product, engineering, and business intelligence groups be available to support them, and/or be lead stakeholders of the platform themselves?
Frame up your customer data platform end user, or users, before you start to paint a picture of their uses.
Why do you need a Customer Data Platform?
Every CDP sells the dream of connecting all your data and sharing it seamlessly. But the truth is that none of that matters unless your CDP can deliver on the use cases demanded by your stakeholders.
Before you tried to hire a marketing manager, you would first write a job description — be sure you first understand the “job” that your customer data platform needs to do before trying to select the right one for your purposes.
Here’s a few more questions to help you sort out the Why of your CDP:
- Is your goal to enhance insights, drive better outcomes, or both? Do you want to combine and stream data feeds into cloud data warehouses for analysis, or use analytics and reporting that’s already in tools like Adobe Analytics? These are insight-oriented use cases. Perhaps you want to build audience segments, update them in (near) real time across your various automation systems to drive better engagement and marketing ROI. These are outcome-oriented use cases. Some CDPs specialize in one or the other, while mParticle does both.
- Do you want to orchestrate journeys across martech, adtech, or both? If driving outcomes is part of the Why for your CDP, you’ll need to ask yourself which channels you’ll be using to drive these outcomes. Most CDPs focus on driving engagement across traditional (campaign management) channels, like email and sales automation systems. But if you also want to orchestrate experiences across advertising execution tools like DSPs and DMPs, your CDP will need to offer cookie syncing.
- Is your customer journey multi-screen? Many customer data platforms are rooted in an email or web-centric paradigm, meaning they aren’t well-suited for mobile and omnichannel marketers. Mobile context is “right now” and often location specific. Many CDPs claim they can handle mobile data, but, as the technology behind in-app data collection is highly idiosyncratic, the devil is in the details. If your customer journey includes interacting with your brand on connected devices like AppleTV and Roku then you’ll also want a CDP that supports those natively.
- Do you require more data than you have? Most customer data platforms focus on piping “first party” data from one place to the next, and nothing more. This is not a criticism. However, if you wish to learn more about your customers than the data in your own systems currently allows, you’ll need a CDP that can facilitate data enrichment.
- How will you measure success? If your goal is to reduce acquisition costs (e.g., cost per visit or install), granular data storage may not be an issue. But if your business is seeking to maximize lifetime value, your CDP will need to store data over a prolonged period. Similarly, if your goal is to improve the customer engagement experience, you’ll want to store the full record of behaviors and preferences, and marry that with in-the-moment situational insights and intent, in order to anticipate and respond to customer needs in the best ways possible.
What should be included in your Customer Data Platform?
Once you’ve mapped out the Who and the Why it’s time to turn your attention to the What. What exactly do you need your customer data platform to do?
The answer will be determined, in part, by your answers to the Who and the Why questions, but also, in part, by the wider business context in which the CDP will operate: What specific partners are part of your stack today? To what extent is your data stable versus ever-changing? Is your data cleanly labeled and mapped, or will that responsibility fall onto the CDP? What is the regulatory environment? All this speaks volumes to what your CDP must do.
- Is your data clean and reliable? Your customer data platform will rely on proper tagging, formatting, and structure to collect good data. Some CDPs put that onus entirely on you, while others provide tools, best practices, and playbooks to cleanse and normalize data, ensuring that what’s collected is not merely “garbage in, garbage out.”
- What is your approach to security and data governance? If you’re a small business, you may not need enterprise-grade features such as single sign-on, role-based permissions, and heavy encryption, but if you work for a large company (or aspire to build one) you very much do.
- Who are the partners that matter most to you? While there are a limitless number of open APIs available today, the best ones are often not open to the public and require certification. It’s important to make sure the CDP you choose has integrations with the partners you need, and that those integrations are robust and certified. Here are a couple examples of certification pages from Adobe and Oracle.
Customer data platforms can enable a wide variety of use cases and benefits for different marketer. Ask yourself Who, Why, and What — in that order — before selecting your CDP to ensure it’s right for you.