Jumping on the CDP bandwagon? The enduring quest for a Single Customer View

Teavaros Nico Pizzolato explores real customer data platforms (CDPs) and how they tie-in to achieving a Single Customer View

Nico Pizzolato TeavaroAs data proliferates across many channels (emails, stores, call centres, customer logins) in different forms, the quest for a Single Customer View has become the Holy Grail of marketers. In this respect, it is no wonder that we have seen a rise in the number of Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) to spring up in recent years. Here is a system that unifies customers’ many data points and makes them accessible to other systems. But as with any solution that gains a modicum of popularity, there have been plenty who have, perhaps disingenuously, jumped on the bandwagon. It is telling that until recently, marketing cloud operators have branded CDPs as a passing fad; as adding little of substance to marketers’ overloaded tech stacks that wasn’t covered by their offerings. Yet as interest in CDPs has grown, these same vendors have moved to present themselves as CDPs, some making modifications to their platforms, others, just their marketing.

David Raab, founder of the CDP Institute (CDPI), and creator of the acronym ‘CDP’, has recognised that, with increased demand comes the need for better definition of his term. While clear to CDPs themselves, the idea has not been as transparent to the rest of the industry. According to an unforgiving Forrester Report published last year, the CDPs were ‘unfocused’, had ‘immature capabilities’ and often lacked ‘critical data capabilities’. Of those three, the first charge threatened to deprive the acronym of any real meaning, leading to buyer confusion. The other two charges stemmed from a general uncertainty about what a CDP really should do.

The CDPI’s announcement of a Certification Programme for ‘Real’ CDPs is a great, first step towards more clarity. Rather than capturing all of the offer of the multifarious vendors in this space, it distils five ‘core items’ that are necessary for the essential purpose of a CDP: to provide a unified view of customers profiles. In sum, whether you rely on the badge that CDPI provides with their programme or you make your own assessment, these criteria set the threshold for vendors to call themselves a customer data platform.

The checklist’s features are:

  • ‘Ingest all sources’ – Data comes in all shapes and some of it is unrefined. According to the Institute, CDPs should be able to onboard structured data (a customer’s address), semi-structured (web interaction logs) and unstructured (a chat transcript). This could happen in batches or in ‘real-time’, and could come with different privacy and governance permissions attached.
  • ‘Capture full details’ – Even though few companies might require all data to be stored in its entirety, a ‘real’ CDP should be able to ingest full details, rather than only selected attributes or summaries. This ensures a CDP can cater to all requirements without restriction.
  • ‘Persist data indefinitely’ – The CDP, unlike other tech platforms, is not only gathering data to pass it onto another system, it should store it indefinitely (again, privacy restrictions might apply). This implies actual storage, rather than the ability to query data from the source system. This also impacts the speed of data access.
  • ‘Create unified profiles of identified individuals’ – This is the signature characteristic of a CDP. It must have the ability to process raw data in different formats and stitch them together to make them usable. This might imply standardising information and creating segmentation.
  • ‘Be open access’ – It must make data available to external systems to action that data, rather than locking the company within a specific set of tools. A CDP should be agnostic in terms of the rest of the company’s tech stack, to allow for the best possible customised solution to arise.

This checklist ignores functionality that is ‘not core’ (analytics, privacy compliance tools, marketing automation tools, and so on), but that would provide marketers with a Single Unified View that would allow them to push a next best offer, a personalised experience or a marketing email to the customer thus identified. It’s a checklist that encompasses the different ‘flavours’ of CDP while ensuring that marketers can define what does not fall under that category. In this respect, Teavaro, as an example, hits all the core markers, despite evolving our offer incrementally over recent years to expand further into identity resolution and solve the current issues faced by marketers due to regulatory change and technical developments (e.g. browser privacy).

Such guidelines, and a certification attained through independent audit, will cement the status of CDPs and prevent the dilution of their capacities that is threatened through self-declaration. The recent announcements of Adobe and Salesforce that they too are entering the CDP fray have made this kind of clarity pertinent. As they describe it, Oracle’s forthcoming CX Unity is virtually indistinguishable from a CDP too. Meanwhile, Google, while yet to suggest the CDP term, has been assembling a number of key products to tempt marketers into building customer databases and marketing analytics into its cloud platform. These companies have the advantage of being already ingrained in the marketing stack of many organisations, but if marketing cloud operators want to play by the rules of a ‘real’ CDP, they would need to further develop their core offer in data acquisition and integration and reassure their clients that they will not drag them into vendor lock-in.

None of this solves the issue on how to decide whether you need a CDP in your digital marketing stack. This is a business decision that has to align to your overall data management strategy and be instructed by the use cases of your organisation. But more clarity on the ‘real’ CDP will help to focus these conversations on the nature of customer data management, and potentially away from dead ends and false promises.