With so many data tools and platforms available today, it’s often hard to understand what each does, and more importantly, which data tools and platforms marketers need to include in their tech stack.

After all, you want to invest in a tech stack that solves your omnichannel challenges, whether you want to align fragmented data and collapse silos, or enhance your ability to understand and manage all your customer data for a clear, single customer view. You also want to keep it simple!

So, what is a CDP (customer data platform) and can it, alone, solve these data challenges?

This is where many marketers may be confused, as there is no single definition of a CDP! Even leading organizations provide slightly varied definitions:

A customer data platform is a marketing system that unifies a company’s customer data from marketing and other channels to enable customer modeling, and optimize the timing and targeting of messages and offers.1 – Gartner

A CDP centralizes customer data from multiple sources and makes it available to systems of insight and engagement.2– Forrester

A customer data platform is packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.3– CDP Institute

So, a CDP at its core is marketing software that works to centralize data from multiple sources, creating a unified customer database that other marketing systems can then use.

  • 1 “Market Guide for Customer Data Platforms for Marketing,” Gartner, 2018
  • 2 “For B2C Marketers, Customer Data Platforms Overpromise And Underdeliver,”  Forrester, Oct 26, 2018
  • 3 “Customer Data Platform Basics”, Customer Data Platform Institute, 2017

2 / The Difference Between a Customer Data Platform and a Data Management Platform

A CDP can help to aggregate an organization’s customer data into a single database.

But marketers may need more than a CDP to achieve their omnichannel marketing goals and create an aligned data landscape.

The CDP Challenge

With varied definitions and more than 90 vendors claiming to offer a CDP, confusion not only exists about what constitutes a CDP, but also the breadth and depth of its capabilities. No two CDPs are the same!

Features, software maturity and capabilities (such as segmentation) will vary from vendor to vendor and finding one CDP to solve all your data challenges can be complex.

This is where other tools in your marketing tech stack may come into play.

Understanding DMPs

There is often confusion about the difference between a CDP and a data management platform (DMP). Both tools can add an aspect of centralization to your data ecosystem. But while a CDP helps centralize customer data into a single database, a DMP is more audience focused, helping marketers collate, manage and house first- and third-party data to create target audiences and use that insight to launch, analyze and optimize campaigns.

Do I need a CDP or a DMP?

Essentially, a CDP helps aggregate your customer data into a single customer database, while a DMP manages and aggregates digital audience data (cookies, online behavioral data, look-alike audiences, etc.) and enables audience segmentation, analysis and optimization.

Of course, there are other platforms that can be combined with a CDP, and a DMP, that can lead to improved results; for example, you may need to incorporate more sophisticated identity resolution within your CDP and DMP.

3 / Why Use a CDP?

If you’re considering a CDP, there are a number of benefits. Though the CDP market is still maturing, most CDP vendors say their solutions help marketers:

  • Address the need for a single customer view across marketing channels.
  • Collect and integrate customer data from digital and offline systems – connecting with source systems, such as marketing applications and CRM.
  • Manage customer views; some CDPs claim to create universal and persistent consumer views by resolving customers’ and visitors’ identity across different channels.
  • Create segments for real-time marketing applications.
  • Expose data to other systems – including customer analytics and customer engagement platforms.

At first glance, because these benefits are helping achieve an integrated, centralized data platform, many marketers who are looking for an omnichannel solution believe a CDP is the right choice to address their key requirements.

However, because the scope of capability varies from vendor to vendor, a CDP may still require additional support from other technologies and also professional services to properly use and integrate into a wider marketing business process.

“Wait. Isn’t there one data solution I can use to do everything?”

Data marketers need a wide range of varying capabilities. Depending on your organization’s unique situation, data ecosystem, martech stack, and specific requirements, you may need a range of technologies — including a CDP, DMP and others — to achieve your goals.

So, is there a different, centralized solution that’s a better fit?

The answer to this question lies in marketers properly assessing their target use cases, the capabilities needed to address them, and a sustainable data strategy to guide their pursuit of a solution.  Acxiom provides both the experience to assess and establish a sustainable data strategy and a unified data layer framework to deliver data-driven solutions that can solve for enterprise-class data management needs.

Understanding Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer Framework

Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer (UDL) framework provides an enterprise-class foundation for unifying data and managing identity, while helping brands activate key use cases that may require capabilities beyond those of a CDP, or address limitations inherent in some CDPs.

The Acxiom UDL framework:

  • Provides a foundation for closed-loop omnichannel marketing and advertising ecosystems.
  • Brings together data from digital and offline channels, to resolve identity across known and anonymous consumers.
  • Enables marketers to address prospects and customers in a single solution, including closed-loop measurement and analytics.
  • Provides a privacy-compliant data and identity management foundation that can be leveraged independently or in combination with CDPs.
  • Facilitates an optimal evolution of a brand’s marketing stack, rather than a “rip and replace” approach.
  • Is complemented with a wide breadth of professional services that support the integrated tool strategy across campaign, analytics and reporting and day-to-day management.

4 / Evaluating Whether a CDP Fits Your Needs

If a CDP is a potential fit for your target use case or requirements, where should you start in your search for a quality vendor?

There are a number of considerations to take into account when evaluating a list of customer data platform vendors, such as heritage, experience, flexibility, scalability and scope of integration in the enterprise.

When evaluating a CDP:

  • Be sure to step back from the hype to conduct a careful assessment of your organization’s needs. Is a CDP truly the right solution for your use case, and if so, does it include all the capabilities you need?
  • Consider if you have the resources and experience to implement the solution. Do you have the right skill sets? Or will you utilize third-party technology and services? Keep in mind that many organizations struggle to realize the value of a CDP.
  • Review your existing marketing technology. Does this support and align with your choice of CDP?
  • Evaluate if the CDP truly provides a complete and high-quality single view of the customer. CDPs often claim to do so, yet many lack the data quality, identity resolution and identity management features required to attain a single view of the customer.  
  • Explore what data your CDP can manage. Though many CDP providers claim their solutions manage known customer data, including personally identifiable information (PII), they might not manage customer data from all systems or provide data governance rules and privacy-compliant processes to ensure personal data is used correctly. For example, CDPs are not designed to manage sensitive customer data and adhere to strict regulations such as FCRA, HIPAA, PCI.
  • Make sure you have a data strategy and support in place for optimal use and implementation of a CDP.
  • Consider measurement. Many CDPs are not designed to support omnichannel analytics and closed-loop measurement use cases. Consider if you have – or require – a solution to achieve this and whether the declared capabilities of a particular CDP can address your requirements.

Marketers must assess and weigh these factors to determine the optimal path forward for addressing the full spectrum of brand needs for unifying and activating data.  This is why employing Acxiom’s experience and leveraging a unified data layer framework can provide a flexible foundation for a scalable, enterprise-class solution that meets the brand’s needs, whether or not those needs include the use of a CDP.

5 / Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer Framework

Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer (UDL) framework provides a foundation for your omnichannel marketing and advertising ecosystem. It aligns data from digital and offline channels, resolves identity across known and anonymous consumers, addresses prospects and customers in a single solution, and provides a privacy-compliant data and identity management foundation that can be leveraged independently or in combination with CDPs.

Fundamentally, this solution framework provides a holistic and flexible approach to achieving the promise of an enterprise customer data management solution, as dictated by the needs of the brand.

Acxiom’s UDL framework provides a framework of important capabilities for your marketing stack:

  • Enterprise-class data integration and management
  • Identity Resolution and Management for a complete and high-quality Single View of the Customer
  • Optimal marketing stack evolution
  • Closed-loop, omnichannel measurement
  • Best-in-class privacy and data governance
  • Second-party data and marketing collaboration
  • Expert professional services for day-to-day support, campaign planning, execution and analytics

Marketing leaders can engage Acxiom with the confidence they will leverage a partner committed to achieving their unique goals with a solution optimized around an omnichannel data foundation; leveraging best-of-breed technology that can include a CDP, with proven services designed to generate the best return on investment.

Is a customer data platform right for your needs?

Download The Winterberry Report, ‘Deconstructing Customer Data Platforms - Myth vs Reality,’ for an assessment of the CDP landscape and provider capabilities.

Download the Report