5 things about what a customer data platform (CDP) is

There has always been a page linked at the top of this site: "What is a CDP?"

There's other stuff there, but the provided definition is:

Customer data platforms are marketing technology that facilitate the use of entire-lifecycle customer data from multiple sources across multiple channels without vendor-based preference for the sources or channels.

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Yuk. The points made in this definition are also strewn about within various blog posts on this site. Still, there is something missing, and so falling back on good old structure, here are 5 things about what a CDP is:

1. Good at unification (for you)

As varied as CDP definitions may be, all would agree that unification is part of the deal. Creating an individual profile. A 360 degree view. 1:1.

There are different levels of unification. Some customer data platforms do not feature any account-based unification of data, for example. Even when there may be ABM-related features, sharing account-level data across profiles may not be as easy as it seems.

There are also different levels of unification needs. Some organizations are online-only and don't really attempt to identify their visitors. Some are club-like and won't allow a customer in the door without an identity.

It's important that the selected CDP unifies customer data by resolving/mapping customer identifiers through a scheme that works within your organizations data strategy.

2. Good at collection (for you)

Unification is not only about data that are already out there, being collected. It is also about adding value to these unified profiles by finding new data to collect. Not selling internet-connected coffee makers? IoT collection might not be necessary. Have no web data, or is data locked in a silo (free GA)? Solid web collection is absolutely necessary.

Sometimes non-customer data is required. For example, to understand the next-best interaction it might be important to know how many support reps are available. That's not customer data. Or, which reservation times are available at locations close by? That's not customer data, either.

The best customer data platforms ingest customer data and auxiliary data for models, communications, and even general analysis.

3. Good at delivery (for you)

The entire point of CDP is not just to unify data. It's more about making use of that unified data, which is what "delivery" is. Delivering profile data and related decisions to various marketing and communication channels is where value comes from with customer data platforms. Whether the delivery is simply to populate a customer profile presentation for the call center, or to activate a coordinated cross-channel campaign, it is important that near- and long-term use cases are possible.

Pro tip: In considering long-term use cases, don't stop at better activation of data in what is already happening. New delivery methods (on floor reps, SMS, push notifications) may drive more value, just as new optimization paradigms (contextual machine learning applications, for example) may.

4. Vendor neutral

Unifying and delivering customer data involves multiple sources and destinations. Next year, the roster of systems that generate data of importance to your organization will be different from the roster of systems your organization works with today. Unification simply can not happen in an environment that is not vendor neutral. Same with delivery. Aside from storage/processing/effort costs, nothing should prohibit the combination of data from another system when working with a true customer data platform. This is why it is hard to imagine a marketing cloud / suite acquiring a customer data platform and staying in the space for long.

True customer data platforms are vendor neutral. To be vendor neutral means that connections to other systems are being built and maintained. Multiple systems per category. API and other import/export patterns are available.

*At the most hardcore level of vendor neutrality, there are customer data platforms that can sit on top of multiple cloud service providers, or even in-house. I think the line is drawn just before this point, making this a differentiator for platforms that support such flexibility but not a requirement of being "vendor neutral".

5. Marketing technology != for marketing only

Customer data platforms were developed for marketers. This does not mean that only marketers can or should use a customer data platform. Support teams, product teams, even executives will find use cases for customer data at times when they, too, interact with customers.

How'd I do? 

I hope breaking the definition up a bit helps folks who are still trying to understand what a CDP is. Drop a comment, send a note, let me know if this is helpful or if you have any questions!

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