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You heard it here first: 2017 is the Year of the Customer Data Platform

January 5, 2017 | By

So declared Todd Belcher, our inimitable director of customer success, when he joined the Digital Analytics Power Hour Podcast for their first episode of the new year (minute 47:37 in the record or transcript if you want proof that you really did hear it here first).

Listening to this podcast was sort of meta for us on the marketing team – more so than usual. We market a marketing tech product while using that product in order do said marketing – all while listening to the guy who helps other marketers use that product do their own marketing. Insert dizzy face emoji here: 😵

It was also super interesting to hear the questions that (brilliant analytics professionals and) hosts Michael Helbling and Tim Wilson have about customer data platforms, as well as the way they worked through where CDPs fit in the landscape and in the marketer’s stack. A lot of the questions (e.g. “How is it different from a DMP?” or “Isn’t it like my analytics tool?”) are ones we’ve heard and answered (here and here, respectively) before.

Point 1: A CDP relative to DMPs and CRM

Michael asked, “Does the CDP fall somewhere in this weak spot that brings both [CRM and DMPs] together or no?” on the premise that CRM records the known individual while a DMP is focused on media and audience.

Todd got into a really nuanced answer that I won’t regurgitate here, but the idea of putting at least part of a CDP’s purpose on a continuum of customer relationship management and data management platforms is pretty cool. We’ve talked a ton about how CDPs are not either of those platforms, but in terms of capabilities it’s a solid, base-level framework to consider the CDP as the translator between the marketing activities that take place in the anonymous and the known domains. That’s not where the functionality stops, but it’s a helpful starting point for sure.

Point 2: Known customers with anonymous data

I listened to this on the train during my commute and nearly burst into applause at back-and-forth on this topic. Michael posited, “Known customers but anonymous data, and so it’s potentially known customers, everything that you’re collecting, you’re saying, “It may be anonymous now, but I have a pathway to where you would become known?”” Or, as Tim put it his way, “Do you have to be a customer to be in a CDP or no? You just have to maybe, gonna be a customer?”

That pathway is the magic of a CDP: the ability to know a distinct person regardless of whether or not they’re known uniquely. If you have interacted with the brand, you have a profile that identifies you and your behavior as distinctly you – even if you never link your identity to an email address or customer ID, for example. Because maybe, one day, you’re gonna be a customer. Or maybe not. But we’re still glad to know you. Tim said it better:

In essence, instead of bringing in a customer ID, you’re building a customer ID that may or may not have a customer attached to it. So it could be like, “Hey, cookie 123 has visited us five times and never purchase so all I have is just their behavioral information but they match all of these characteristics or attributes that I defined at this segment. So now I’m gonna just keep putting them in this segment the next time they come to the website.”

Point 3: Activated and real-time by nature

Todd made two points during the discussion that aren’t features of a CDP but rather fundamental traits: that it functions in real-time and that the data is activated by nature (both right around the 16-minute mark in the podcast). Not all platforms that identify as CDPs are as emphatic about these points as we are but it’s pretty hard to get around either while making an argument for a CDP being a new, essential solution. (More on this here.)

Why real time matters, as summarized by Tim: “Adobe has a marketing cloud visitor ID, so it’s trying to be their bridge over top of everything. And in a certain sense, it could be thought of as a customer data platform. However, there is something really key there which is worth noting, I’m sure Adobe loves that I’m gonna bring this up right now, but it takes about 24 hours for attributes or segments you create to be available on the other tools. So this is where that real-time piece that I asked about earlier makes a big difference potentially for marketers ’cause if I find out something new about you as a visitor today, the first time I can target content at you… So like I learned something about you via Adobe Analytics, then tomorrow, I can use Adobe Target to content target you but I couldn’t do it on your next visit 30 minutes from now.”

(We’d also add that the Adobe ID doesn’t exist out of the box with the platform – it’s a services offering that you need to pay for and create, limited to the Adobe ecosystem. But I digress.)

And why the data being activated by nature, by default, distinguishes the old from the new. Again, Tim: “In a lot of sense it’s like, as marketers, we’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time in terms of trying to integrate, back-end customer data with sort of digital behavioral data and building logic, and stuff like that. We’ve just been doing it in different platforms of what’s now called the CDP…[meaning] it’s basically now accessible. I can now hook into this in all the different ways.”

If you’re a marketer with an interest in analytics, customer data, or marketing technology, this is 50ish minutes well-worth your time to listen – or at minimum, read through the whole transcript because there are many nuggets of wisdom in there not to be missed.

Here’s to the year of the CDP!

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