The best new technologies are the practical ones. When there are real and tangible use cases from the start, you will see the kind of growth we've seen with customer data platforms in the last year. Vendors saw tremendous growth in 2017, with industry analyst Martin Kihn noting in a podcast linked below that in the "first two months of this year we probably had ten times more questions than we had all of last year."
There is something within CDPs for every marketer. You can't get much more practical than enriching, combining and activating customer data, especially data you already have. As shown in Scott Brinker's 2018 marketing technology landscape, there are already dozens of vendors out there classified as a customer data platform. Approaches taken by vendors to this point vary wildly, though, which has resulted in a field of platforms that are dissimilar. When you add capability and pricing differences to the mix, heads start spinning. Rightfully so. Here are three things you can do over the next week or so to start getting more comfortable.
Trick #1: Podcast it up
If you are evaluating customer data platforms, or starting to research them, get ready to do whatever it is you do while you listen to podcasts.
Spend the next week or so listening and relistening to the invaluable first two episodes of Brian L. Poe’s Digital Measure Show podcast. There is plenty of discussion with both Martin Kihn of Gartner and James McDermott of Lytics around the different types of CDPs out there and what problems they are meant to solve. You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and RSS.
To summarize what I think is the most important common takeaway from these episodes, the best approach to selecting and starting with a customer data platform is at the use case level: what will you need out of it in the next year? What do you want it to enable in the long run? There is so much differentiation within the category, these questions really need to answered before the journey begins.
Trick #2: Get institutional
After or during your time the time listening and re-listening to those two podcast episodes, I suggest you head to the Customer Data Platform Institute, especially to check out this CDP vendor comparison chart. David Raab gets into extensive detail on 24 vendors, populating an immense table based on vendor responses and David's own research into these capabilities.
Perhaps one of the most useful components for folks just starting out will be the “Shared CDP Features” list at the top. These are features considered to be core to any customer data platform worthy of sitting in the category. Without these features that provide a sound first-party data source, there is no ability to properly support the rest of the CDP features.
Beyond the comparison chart, the CDPI website is chock full o' information. I highly recommend you sign up for their newsletter and follow them on Twitter @CDPInstitute.
Trick #3: Tap your network
Customer data platforms have been around for long enough now that you can find folks in your own professional network who can help you get a handle on what it means to work with a CDP. Ask! More perspectives will yield more insights, but remember that your organization is not their organization. Your people aren't their people. Alluding to the importance of your people, Mr. Kihn notes that "failures won’t be caused by the tech – they’ll be caused by you."
The real trick
For now, the real trick is identifying the near- and long-term needs and opportunities for a CDP, and sorting through the vendors to find a good partner.