Customer Data Platforms (CDPs): A Smart Tool for the Enlightened Marketer

Customer data platforms (CDPs) unify first-party customer data from multiple online and offline systems to create a single centralized view of all interactions and touchpoints between each customer and a product or service.

These tools gather information from various disparate sources where customers interact with a company—including websites, social media, email, live chat, digital assistants, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, e-commerce solutions, and contact centers—align this information with transactional data (customer purchases, returns using information from e-commerce or purchase order systems, and so on) and with demographic data (such as name, address, gender, and age), while keeping it all compliant with customer privacy and data protection regulations.

In the Beginning

CDPs have grown out of personalization systems that have been around for more than 20 years. It all began with web content management systems (WCM) collecting data from website interactions such as clicks, page views, navigation through a website, and abandoned visits for both known and anonymous users. This data could be aggregated and analyzed to gain an overview of the popularity of specific pages or content, and to provide useful statistics such as the content with the most page views, least popular content, and the point during a transaction when visits were abandoned.

A/B testing was also available, which involved testing two or more versions of a web page, with visitors to the site being shown one version often selected randomly, and the most popular version being declared the winner (in terms of sales or further interaction with the website). The prize was: the winning content became the version viewed by all visitors.

The Rise of CDPs

While the bones of personalization have been there for many years, the technology has been evolving rapidly over the past few years, with the result that we now have dedicated solutions that manage various stages in the customer lifecycle, including:

  • The ingestion of customer data used for profiles that comes from a wide range of sources that customers interact with.
  • The ability to segment customers into smaller demographic, interest, and behavioral groups.
  • The ability to build customer journeys that reflect the lifetime of the customer’s relationship with the organization.

While there is nothing new in using analytics to personalize experiences, it is a relatively new idea for a single platform to bring together customer data from disparate sources and provide many of the capabilities required to manage customer interactions, such as segmentation and personalization, A/B/multivariate testing, analytics and insights, and cross-channel orchestration.

CDPs are a Marketer’s Dream

A CDP should be seen as a marketer’s best friend. It was designed to be used by marketers and sales teams. Used appropriately, it is an extremely valuable tool for helping marketers to create engaging, personalized customer journeys that will keep a customer returning and buying, and to create marketing campaigns that are appropriate to the customers being targeted.

A CDP should include capabilities that help the marketer drive sales and reduce churn. It must integrate with a range of sources, both online and offline, that contain information about customers that is ingested into the CDP in real-time to build a 360-degree view of each customer. The more interactions the customer has with the organization, the more accurate the profile, and the more targeted the experiences become. The data should be cleaned to eliminate inaccuracies and duplicates. It can also be enriched with second and third-party data, which organizations can buy. The profile information is segmented according to pre-defined criteria and enables customer journeys to be built using dedicated customer journey tools.

Every Organization with a Marketing Department Should Consider a CDP

Any organization with a B2C marketing department should consider investing in a CDP. Simply put: the ability to aggregate data from multiple sources into a single system to provide a 360-degree view of the customer and a single source of truth can mean the difference between success and failure in the extremely competitive world of retail e-commerce. It allows marketing teams to create targeted campaigns and engaging, highly targeted customer journeys, which gives organizations a valuable competitive advantage.

Planning a CDP Deployment

Planning and selecting a CDP requires careful consideration and a number of steps should be followed:

  • Make a list of must-haves: specific out-of-the-box integrations, particular dashboards, or reports that are required and quiz vendors on whether they provide those capabilities.
  • Ensure that marketers can use at least most of the system without any IT input; after all, they are the main day-to-day users.
  • Make certain that the solution supports the favored deployment model and, if it’s cloud, that the data can be stored in the appropriate region to ensure data sovereignty.
  • Ensure that the vendor supplies migration tools to ingest legacy data that provides historical customer information.
  • Examine what resources are available in-house for the implementation and which skills need to be brought in, then figure out how professional services from the vendor or a partner can supply them to meet these needs.
  • Check out what is included with the CDP, what features are add-ons and are charged separately, and the way the solution is licensed – as it is likely that resources will need to scale up and down to cater to peaks and valleys in demand.

The CDP market is very much a buyer’s market right now, with a large selection of solutions to choose from and finding the optimum CDP can be a tricky process. Investigating the roadmap of a vendor, if available, is a good way to discover how innovative the vendor is and the direction in which the product is headed. Vendors increasing the AI capabilities in their solutions are likely to be among the most innovative.

Next Steps

To learn more, take a look at GigaOm’s CDP Key Criteria and Radar reports. These reports provide a comprehensive overview of the market, outline the criteria you’ll want to consider in a purchase decision, and evaluate how a number of vendors perform against those decision criteria.

If you’re not yet a GigaOm subscriber, you can access the research using a free trial.