A customer data platform is developed software that manages data collection and unification for the purposes of building customer profiles. It also manages analytics against these profiles, and delivery of datasets and individual profiles to systems that need them.
In order for a customer data platform to be effective at both ingestion and delivery of customer data, the software must also take a vendor-neutral approach to technical partnerships. It has to have technical partnerships in many areas. This is a key difference between marketing services providers out there building and hosting unified customer profiles on your behalf and a customer data platform.
How many are there, and what do they do? You're in luck! CDP Resource has just released its first "buyers' guide" for those seeking more information on the technology and providers. 95+ providers were covered in this initial release of an ongoing effort.
Most analysts seem to agree one way or another that most providers tend to lean more in an infrastructural direction, or an experience direction. To explain how this works in relation to the definition above, note there are four areas mentioned: collection, unification, analytics, and delivery. Each of these areas can be placed on a spectrum in between "infrastructural" and "experience". Below is a visual representation of this simplified version of the spectrum of customer data platform features.
The bottom of each green arrow notes the most basic features of customer data platforms within each of the four areas, while at the top we are looking at examples of strengths within those areas. In reality there are bullet points up and down each arrow, and more than four areas to evaluate.
Some CDPs started as tag management solutions. Some started as data-heavy CRMs. Some started in marketing automation. Some started in email. Some started off facilitating the use of entire-lifecycle customer data from multiple sources across multiple channels without vendor-based preference for the sources/channels. None of this matters, though vendors might want to convince you that it does. What matters is that the CDP is going to fit in with and improve your people, your process, and your other technology.