Customer Data Platform (CDP) technology is an emerging category in the MarTech stack. David Raab coined the term and defines it as:
"A marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database accessible to other systems."
The rationale seems almost self evident. A typical enterprise interacts with its customers across multiple channels: one or more web properties, CRM platforms, social media channels, mobile apps, third party sites, offline (e.g., POS), gadgets (e.g., watches), other Internet connected devices, and manifold other end points. A customer could have bought a product via your website, abandoned a shopping cart on your mobile app, left a comment that shows her “intention to buy” on an FB post, and so forth.
Now, if you could associate all these interactions with a single user profile, combine all that information, and then use the resulting insights to engage this customer across channels, you’d probably increase your chances of success. This is where CDPs come into picture. They let you access information form multiple data sources, integrate that into a unified repository, potentially offer insights via machine learning algorithms, and then integrate with customer-facing tools for you to engage.
Isn’t That What Integration Tools Were Supposed to Be Doing?
Yes and No.
Traditional integration approaches such as Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and Business Process Management (BPM) hold similar objectives and might promise similar outcomes, but these tools are really complex and not marketer-friendly. You need deep resources (hardware, software, and people) and lot of time to effect even simple integrations.
CDPs on the other hand provide subset of those integration features, but add several marketing-oriented features such as connectors to common MarTech systems, and segmentation / personalization services.
Where Are the Big MarTech Vendors?
The CDP marketplace is evolving at a very rapid pace. There are dozens of vendors, mostly smallish (50-250 employees) and mostly providing SaaS-based services targeted for marketers. These vendors all have different strengths and weaknesses but they essentially offer the services I described above. The big vendors — Oracle, Adobe, IBM, Salesforce, et al. — can offer various kinds of EAI technology, but go missing when it comes to CDPs.
Yet I strongly believe it is only a matter of time before the big players start entering this marketplace. In fact, the large MarTech platform vendors may need a CDP just to integrate the potpurri of products that they have cobbled together to create their so-called marketing clouds. The fact is all of them have the necessary pieces to develop a CDP-type offering themselves if they wanted.
In fact, Salesforce recently announced it is acquiring MuleSoft. MuleSoft will become part of Salesforce's integration cloud; to quote from the press release:
... will enable all enterprises to surface any data—regardless of where it resides—to drive deep and intelligent customer experiences throughout a personalized 1:1 journey…
Image source: Salesforce.com
And that’s not all. They also acquired Entropysoft, another content integration vendor, in 2013.
Oracle has also acquired several products and already sells Customer Data Management Cloud that offers some subset of CDP capabilities.
So I believe it won’t be long before the big MarTech players attempt to package some of these capabilities into CDP-type, marketer-friendly offerings. Or perhaps they'll acquire one of the incumbent upstarts and go from there.
This is a rapidly evolving marketplace and we will be watching is closely. In fact, RSG is working on a brand new research stream and will soon be releasing our CDP evaluations. If you have experience with these platforms or would like to provide any feedback, please feel free to reach out to me directly, and in return, we'll share our research with you.