The Marketer’s Guide to Customer Data Platforms

May 22, 2018
Contributor: Chris Pemberton

The customer data platform is the “shiny new thing” in marketing technology, and marketers need a practical guide to get the most from this promising technology.

Marketing leaders surveyed in Gartner’s 2017-2018 CMO Survey invested two-thirds of their budget in supporting customer retention and growth. With so many customers oscillating between phones, tablets, game consoles, desktops and laptops, many marketers are desperate for a unified view of the customer. They seek an effective way to efficiently collect, manage and use their first-party customer data. Yet like unicorns and yetis, the illusive unified single view of the customer is easier found in dreams than in reality. The technology systems identifying as customer data platforms (CDPs) have yet to settle on standard capabilities.

“A CDP is a marketing system that unifies a company’s customer data from marketing and other channels.”

“Determine whether a customer data platform is best suited to meet your needs and don’t succumb to hype. Given the overlap between the CDP and other related technologies, you might be surprised to find that an alternative system is a better solution,” says Lizzy Foo Kune, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner for Marketers.

What are CDPs?

A CDP 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.

Offerings have evolved from a variety of mature markets, including multichannel campaign management, tag management and data integration. At the same time, pure-play, purpose-built CDPs have launched to capitalize on investor fervor and martech spending. Rather than a new technology, CDPs can be understood as a repackaging of already existing features that are inconveniently distributed and thus untapped across various alternatives.

“It’s important that CDPs have the ability to consolidate profiles at the person level and connect attributes to identities.”

The new and novel aspect of a CDP is the productization of these features and acknowledgment that marketers are still struggling to get value out of their enormous investments in both customer data and technology.

To fit Gartner’s definition of a CDP, the technology product must feature a marketer-friendly, web-based interface that enables data collection, profile unification, segmentation and activation.

Read More: Do You Need a Data Management Platform?

Data collection

A central feature required of CDPs is the ability to ingest first-party, individual-level customer data from multiple sources in real time, without storage limitations. Data persists as long as it is needed for processing. CDP data collection must include first-party identifiers such as emails or device IDs and attributes such as demographic information.

Profile unification

It’s important that CDPs have the ability to consolidate profiles at the person level and connect attributes to identities. This must include linking multiple devices to a single individual once they’ve been personally identified and deduplicating customer records.

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At a minimum, CDPs must contain the ability to create and manage rule-based segments. Advanced segmentation features may include automated segment discovery or propensity models.


CDPs need the ability to send segments (and instructions for those segments) to specific tools for execution of email campaigns, mobile messaging, advertising, and other campaign or channel activity. Marketers still need execution tools for the final mile. CDPs may include activation features such as next-best recommendations, dynamic creative optimization, and testing and self-optimization capabilities.

The path forward

Examine the goals of your marketing program to identify the most appealing features of the CDP market, such as marketer-friendly data access or a unified customer view, and assess the ability of your technology systems to help you achieve those goals.

Audit your customer data management and analytics ecosystem. Analyze the root cause of your marketing inefficiencies against the core CDP features of data collection, profile unification, segmentation and activation. Identify a solution to each inefficiency by discussing the technologies and systems your organization already has in place as well as those detailed above.

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