What You Need to Know About CDPs

How to provide experiences buyers trust

This microsite will answer questions you have about common CDP use cases, how to measure the return-on-investment, what you need to consider for staffing your CDP initiative, and strategies for getting the most out of your technology. So, if you’re here to become more data-driven, please buckle up and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times. Here we go.

What is Customer Data?

Customer data is the key to every company’s future. It is the primary way to understand your customers’ attitudes and buying preferences. To own that destiny and to ensure the best experience, you need to be able manage and activate data in real time. 

And that’s where a Customer Data Platform enters the martech landscape: to help you make the most out of every drop of data and every tool you use to craft the customer experience… 

Marketing is getting more complex, but with a Customer Data Platform you can more easily:

  • Develop a single view of the customer to improve engagements and increase conversions;
  • Create a more trustworthy brand by simplifying customer data governance;
  • Empower multiple teams by unifying data and having one, accurate view of the customer ;
  • Deliver more value through the tech stack you already have.

What are the Benefits of a Customer Data Platform?

  1. Deliver a Single View of the Customer-CDPs unify first and third-party data sources to form a comprehensive 360-view of your customer across devices and channels, making that data available to your other tech and across the business.
  2. Impact Marketing and Customer Experience-Customers are using more channels and devices than ever before while demanding exceptional and relevant experiences. With a comprehensive set of customer data, CDPs fuel multi and cross-channel marketing with comprehensive, trusted data.
  3. Tear Down the Data Silos-The value of customer data extends across a business. CDPs give teams the ability to access and leverage customer data across departments accurately and effectively.
  4. Put the Customer at the Center-In order to enact customer-centered marketing, you must know your customers. CDPs equip you to manage your customer relationships and market with your audience in mind.

What is a CDP?

The Customer Data Platform industry is an evolving space. There are over 100 vendors with varied offerings: some were purpose-built, some were built through acquisitions, and some are part of larger marketing clouds. That’s why you’ll find a lot of different definitions of what the technology is, and you’ll discover a lot of overlapping value propositions achieved by wildly different means. This has made it challenging for buyers to get a clear sense of the industry. 

Oftentimes, the definition of a Customer Data Platform from analysts like Forrester, Gartner, or the CDP Institute have to provide a definition that ends up being the lowest common denominator. Take, for example, Forrester’s definition of a Customer Data Platform: 

A CDP centralizes customer data from multiple sources and makes it available to systems of insight and engagement.

It’s an incredibly vague definition, but that’s not the analysts’ faults; the definition has to be vague in order to accommodate the diversity in the industry. 

The CDP Institute, which defines a Customer Data Platform as “a packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems” suffers from a similar need for vagueness. 

Based on these definitions, you’d be forgiven for thinking a CDP is merely another type of structured database, and it may tempt crafty IT teams to try to build it in house. So let’s talk about what we think a CDP should be.

What differentiates a Data-First CDP?

We believe a Data-First Customer Data Platform excels in the following areas:

  • Vendor-Neutral Data Ingestion
    • The capability to take in data of any type from any source. Necessary for a single view of the customer that bridges the physical and digital worlds together. 
  • Identity Resolution
    • The capability to automatically tie different identifiers from different sessions, channels, and touchpoints together to a single visitor ID. Critical for any single view of the customer initiative.
  • Real-Time Functionality
    • The capability to activate data in real time by automatically triggering campaign modifications or other events. This is important to improve your customer experience initiatives, as it doesn’t restrict customer touchpoints to rigid journeys.
  • Privacy and Consent Management
    • The capability to govern the flow of customer data through all of your systems. Critical for regulatory compliance efforts.
  • Unified Audience Management
    • The capability to define audiences from a single place that is then disseminated across the entire tech stack. This is critical for improving the value of your current technology and optimizing marketing spend.
  • Ability to predict outcomes
    • Machine learning capabilities are the future of marketing technology; having them in your CDP enables all of your customer engagement touchpoints with unified predictive insights, instead of machine learning silos

Why are CDPs the Ultimate Technology Team Player?

If it’s not clear yet, CDPs are not a “standalone” technology. They rely heavily on integrations with numerous technologies to be successful; in turn, they make those technologies more impactful as well. This supergroup of technologies and strategies is what we call the Customer Data Supply Chain; this is how companies tame the tangled web of data silos that make up the customer journey.



As you can see in the diagram entitled “The Customer Data Supply Chain,” the Customer Data Platform sits at the center of the supply chain. You’re likely doing all of these things already, but with a Customer Data Platform at the center, you can turn what you’re doing today into a simple, coordinated strategy to customer data.

Let’s take a look at each stage individually.

The Customer Data Supply Chain begins with the points of collection because you need to have data to feed into the CDP. This includes your client-side collection (through Tag Management Systems) and server-side collection (APIs); sources can include your website, in-store point-of-sale systems, Customer Record Management systems, call center, in-store, mobile and app data.


The old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” holds for the Customer Data Platform. Every company needs to have its own business rules to uniformly define the disparate data sources. Many tech vendors provide their own ways to standardize data, but relying on third-party data definitions means your company has less control over your customer data. 


Transform and Enrich

A single piece of data from a single system does not provide a complete picture of the customer; in the transform and enrich stage, all of the data you’ve collected is brought together and aligned with individual customer profiles. From there, those profiles can be managed through audiences before being distributed to customer experience endpoints. On top of that, any consent preferences tied to the customer profile is integrated at this step, meaning those settings don’t need to be established at every activation point.



Most companies have dozens of tools that make up the customer experience—from Email Service Providers to Facebook. APIs and integrations help turn the Customer Data Platform into a single source of truth for all of these tools, updating them in real time with the same information.



With data standardized, unified in the customer profiles, and organized into audiences, companies can activate cross-channel campaigns and power BI tools with confidence. One of the main benefits of activating all of your customer experience endpoints as part of a Customer Data Supply Chain is that the profiles are continuously becoming better. The more engagement you get through your activation channels, the more data you have to collect and inform your individual customer profiles and audiences. 

How to Use a Customer Data Platform? (Key Use Cases)

Proven Examples of How to Utilize Your CDP

A critical element of investing in a CDP is understanding and documenting how you plan to use it.  Defining use cases upfront will help your organization align around a goal, process, and outcomes.  From getting buy-in from executives early on and helping stage proofs-of-concept with outside teams to dividing up responsibilities and delivering quick ROI, your first use cases will shape the perception of your CDP initiative across the organization.  There’s no single “correct” first use case; where you begin depends on the specific business challenges your company is trying to solve. 

Understanding the expected outcomes and how you’ll get there from an early stage is important for a product with as much potential and flexibility as a Customer Data Platform. 

Below we show a maturity curve and use cases that are common at each of the stages. Again, your organization may look different – but this is a helpful framework to get started if you need help. 

In the Adoption stage, you’ll want to

  • Define and integrate data sources
  • Data quality specs
  • Define core use cases, attributes and audiences
  • Define privacy and consent data

In the Growth stage, you’ll want to

  • Automate actions using audiences for core use cases
  • Expand data sources
  • Add file upload, POS data sources
  • Expand email, analytics and other integrations

In the Optimization stage, you’ll want to

  • Increase customer data supply chain visibility
  • Create a more comprehensive view of the customer
  • Orchestrate data across the customer lifecycle
  • Distribute regulatory compliance through the supply chain
  • Anticipate customer behavior and take proactive actions with machine learning

In the Expansion stage, you’ll want to

  • Add more data sources
  • Fully automate with business rules
  • Expand use of machine learning insights
  • Optimize the tech stack
  • Focus on future-proofing your customer data

Let’s take a look at some example use cases:


Adoption and Growth Use Cases

Use Case: Standardize and Syndicate Data

Defining and owning the data is a critical component for many companies, but keeping up those standards can mean lots of manual tasks. With a CDP, teams can manage the standardization and syndication of customer data from a centralized location that reduces the amount of manual processing required from these teams. Standardizing data by tying your channel-specific data sources (web, mobile, etc.) to a unique visitor ID will allow you to confidently implement downstream actions and build more advanced use cases later on.

Use Case: Single View of the Customer

Achieving a single view of the customer may seem like a use case that is only really valuable to marketing, but it’s key for data and analytics teams to drive timely actions and derive relevant insights throughout the customer journey. As the upstream source of the single view of the customer for your downstream activation technologies, you’re removing much of the manual labor that would be required to update each one individually—and doing so in real time.

In this example, you see eight channels benefitting from the insights of the CDP— four systems are taking actions while the other four systems are being updated with insights. The unified profiles in this example are being combined into groups of customers, known as Audiences, that allow for marketers and data analysts to work more intelligently. 

Use Case: Customer Acquisition

One of the most powerful ways that marketers use a CDP is for customer acquisition. Specifically, building audience segments using cross-channel data to better target prospects. Customer insights that would normally only exist in one channel—like your mobile data—can now inform other channels to create more personalized ad and content recommendations.

Here we see a slightly more advanced example where the customer profile has data from the website, mobile app and point of sale informing the lifetime purchases she’s made and insights into her behavior, like what topics she’s interested in. In this way, you could trigger an ad tied to past purchases on Facebook, even though Facebook doesn’t have data from your point of sale system.

Is a CDP Right For You? (How to Choose)

As customer experience continues to evolve and becomes more digitally fragmented, achieving a single view of your buyer will only become more difficult. If customer experience matters for your business, in addition to becoming more efficient, and improving revenue – a CDP is probably going to be a helpful addition.  Now, a small mom-and-pop store with just a Facebook page aren’t going to need (or have the ability to manage) a CDP, but many others—from SMBs to the largest enterprises—can benefit from a CDP.


So how do you figure out if a CDP is right for you— and which one’s right for you?


  • The Business Pain/Use Case

The best place to start when deciding whether you need a CDP is to identify the business challenges you are trying to address.  

 If your entire customer experience revolves around the in-store experience, with little emphasis on the online experience, a CDP is likely not going to deliver value. But if you compliment your in-person experience with a website, engage with consumers on social media, have a CRM to manage your customer base, or do some targeted advertising, a CDP will bring all of the data behind the customer experience together in order to improve all of those efforts. Clearly understanding the business challenge and the pieces to optimize is critical.

2. Technology and Data Infrastructure 

You want to get the most out of the technologies you’ve invested in already. However, your technology and data infrastructure probably is underperforming. According to Gartner, marketing leaders report utilizing only 58% of their martech stack’s potential. It’s little surprise; with so many technologies to keep updated and integrations to manage, marketers are going to let  some things fall through the cracks. Technologies aren’t being used and silos of data are sitting around.

You’ll need a Customer Data Platform that works with all of the customer data-reliant technologies in your stack. But the martech stack is volatile; look for a futureproofing CDP that is flexible enough to work with what you have today and what you’ll have tomorrow. A vendor neutral CDP not only ensures the longevity of the CDP investment, but in the longevity and productivity of your other martech investments.

  • Organizational Readiness (people / process)

The third is the people or team you have to propel your CDP initiative to success. You will need a strategic, data-driven thinker who “owns” the technology for sure. You’ll also need executive buy-in to support this transformative technology. But know that there is no set blueprint for the CDP team you need. Even small teams can deliver huge value with just a single use case.

Just like you need the right team, you need agreement on the goals and processes that are driving your CDP initiative. Understanding where your data maturity is at as an organization can help you determine what a CDP can do for your business.

Before Starting a CDP Project, Take Stock of Your Capabilities

It’s important to understand where your marketing organization and your data maturity stand before starting on a CDP initiative. A Customer Data Platform will do a lot to improve both, but it is important to have a holistic baseline to measure your growth in these areas. We’ve included a Marketing and Data Maturity self-assessment to help you guide your internal conversations as you prioritize use cases, roles, and responsibilities. 

What are the 5 Key Steps to CDP Success?

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What are some Tips for Buying a Customer Data Platform?

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What is the Future of CDPs?

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