Customer Data Platforms Are Different From Other Marketing Technologies

February 20, 2018 | By

I’m an avid reader and as a child, I was a devoted Reading Rainbow viewer. As an adult, not much has changed, except now I get my dose of LeVar Burton’s dulcet tones from his podcast. Anyone who watched the show or listens to the podcast today would instantly recognize when Mr. Burton says, “But you don’t have to take my word for it” and then launches into the story.

I bring this up because recently, I realized how much I’ve been asking marketers to take my word for it that CDPs are a powerful and awesome category of marketing technology, distinctly different from what exists in your tech stack today. The realization came in a few parts:

  1. A well-respected martech analyst expressed doubt that CDPs are a separate category, but rather represent a distinct set of functionality that might even be found in other kinds of martech
  2. The CDP Institute released its annual state of the market report, and there were 50+ vendors in it – more than double the previous count
  3. Michele Szabocsik just joined the BlueCrew in January as our new VP of marketing, and since joining, she is constantly asked by just about everyone, “So what does CDP stand for? And what do they do? And how is that different than a DMP?”

For a while, I was admittedly a little frustrated and confused about the state of things. Hadn’t I, and many others, spent the last few years explaining CDPs, showing off our delighted customers (like Scott from Franklin Sports and Natalie from America’s Test Kitchen!), and appearing in analyst reports? What wasn’t there to get?

Scott Kennedy and Natalie Vinard a.k.a two of our coolest, greatest customers

And then I thought about it more and had the epiphany that this current state of affairs isn’t surprising at all. Indeed, because CDPs have taken on several attributes of perhaps dozens of existing martech tools in order to solve for something that those other technologies promised, but failed to deliver, it’s not immediately obvious that the whole (CDP) is greater than the sum of its parts. Furthermore, given the definition of a CDP is pretty vague (and also not universally agreed upon), and the list of CDP vendors, broadly defined, might look a little bit like a collection of misfit toys (and is also not universally agreed upon), it’s no wonder that marketers struggle to articulate what it is or what challenges it solves!

To review: the original definition – “a marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems” – is quite generous in who it allows to claim a stake under the CDP tent. And it sets a relatively low barrier to entry for other types of existing martech – say, a campaign management platform – to add a feature and there, and then suddenly call itself a CDP.

So we set to work on doing the thing that we didn’t do well enough in the first place, which is to:

Define what a CDP is and what a CDP isn’t.

As he usually does, Gartner’s Marty Kihn got the ball rolling with a recent piece in AdExchanger, which was spot on in its observations of the CDP space today. Some of the most important points he calls out are:

  • A CDP does not replace your CRM or DMP
  • A CDP is more than tag management
  • A CDP isn’t an identity resolution service in the way companies like Acxiom are with their identity graphs, although they can complement each other

According to Kihn, a CDP “facilitates data collection, unification around a persistent ID, flexible storage and easy access from outside.”

But I bet you’re still wondering, SO WHAT?

And you’re right. Which is why we held a webinar to not only contrast CDPs to other martech and explain the differences in plain English instead of buzzwords, but also tell you why that matters. For instance, you’ll find out why:

  • The way a platform stores your customer data affects the scope of your customer journey view – from an unknown prospect that engages for the first time, to a known customer that has made a transaction
  • Building persistent, person-level profiles as the foundation of your customer database is a more reliable source of customer experience insight than a platform that merely offers “access” to customer data via a complex implementation of tags and triggers (#marketingclouds)
  • You don’t need to concede control of your customer data anymore! Marketers (you!) can have complete access and control over data collection, unification, organization, and activation (not you plus IT, plus a data scientist, plus several technology vendors, plus a walled garden)

If you’re already bought in (awesome) but need to know where to start, we’ve got you covered. If you’re skeptical but want to talk about it rather than listen to a webinar, hit up the chat in the lower right of your screen, or shoot me a note. CDPs can change your marketing world, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

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