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What Is a CDP?

What Is a CDP?

Customer data platforms (CDPs) connect a company’s customer data in a single place so different teams can see a 360-view of a customer's interactions with their brand.

The customer data platform (CDP) is one of the fastest-growing categories of marketing technology today. According to the 2020 State of Marketing Report, 86% of marketers are increasing or maintaining their use of CDPs. To understand why, you have to look at some underlying challenges in marketing related to data and personalisation

What does a customer data platform do?

We live in an era where the customer is in control. Amazon can predict what products we will buy next, Netflix recommends the shows we like with great accuracy, and Grab lets us customise trips right down to the type of vehicle we want to travel in.

Customers want personalised experiences and fast service, and expect companies to have an intimate understanding of their preferences. Delivering seamless experiences is no longer a marketing advantage, but a necessity.

Customers expect the interactions they have on a company’s website to translate to their mobile app experiences and even in-store visits. They want everything updated in real time, so their current needs are being met on every channel. The problem is that, for most companies, those environments operate off of different datasets — even though the customer is the same.

As customers move from channel to channel, they expect their experiences to be consistent and ‘in the moment’. Most customer journeys involve three or more different channels (email, web, and mobile app), and customers tend to move seamlessly and quickly between these channels. Most companies, however, don’t have these data environments connected in real time.

The result is disconnected experiences for consumers and the lack of a single source of customer data for companies.

That’s where a CDP comes in. It combines all of that data in real time for companies, allowing them to offer hyper-personalised experiences for customers. 

This is taken a step further by Salesforce Data Cloud, the first real-time CRM. It funnels a nearly infinite amount of dynamic data into Customer 360 instantaneously. Now, your data has been turned into real-time customer magic. It is continuously updating with new data from any of your customers touchpoints, faster than ever.

How does a customer data platform work?

The first thing CDPs do is connect all of a company’s customer data in a single place. That means not only stitching together a single customer ID from many different customer interactions, but also tying together databases that traditionally don’t share data, like marketing clouds, service software, and ecommerce engines. We call that customer resolution.

Next, CDPs match the data we have about our customers (like email and mobile numbers) to what we could find out about them (anonymous cookies and mobile device IDs, for example) to get a complete picture of each individual. This way, we can start to associate a journey that started with an email campaign and continued onto the website with the same customer. We think of this as a cross-device identity.

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Experience the magic

Once the CDP has created unified profiles of customers, the system has to make that data available in real time so companies can deliver personalised experiences. That means connecting customer data to many different types of systems, such as email-send engines, demand-side platforms, and content management systems. 

As the amount of consumer data grows, companies must be aware of and respect data privacy concerns. Many consumers are willing to have some of their data used to deliver magical, personalised experiences, but they expect that companies will protect this data and use it ethically. These are the building blocks of a trusting relationship with customers, and companies need to use consumer data in the right ways.

In a nutshell, CDPs are concerned with these primary tasks: data collection, data unification, data activation, and data insights.

What are customer data platforms used for?

So, what do companies use CDPs for? Here are a few examples.

The right ads at the right time

Sometimes the best use of data in marketing isn’t used to better target consumers — but to not target them at all. We’ve all had the experience of being targeted online by ads for things we’ve already bought. 

The reason companies have a hard time stopping ads for the sneakers (or car) we have already purchased is disconnected data. A unified profile that connects marketing and purchase data enables marketers to be smarter with their budgets by suppressing consumers that have already made a purchase and redirecting those dollars toward prospective customers, or recommending other products.


A consumer comes to your website, browses a particular product — say, a new red convertible — and leaves. Wouldn’t it be great if you could tie everything you’ve learned about that customer to a personalised offer via email or push notification? For example: “test drive this red convertible today, and get $500 off MSRP!” You can only do that by connecting that consumer’s identity to your marketing engine. 

CDPs solve this problem. Customers who see content tailored to their interests (test drive this red convertible today!) are more likely to engage with a brand.


What drives better marketing? The answer has always been better customer insights, but most analytics systems operate in silos. 

Email engagement data is separate from website analytics data, which is separate from display advertising data. Stitching that data together, and tying all of those interactions with the same consumer can take a lot of effort when you are using legacy systems.

What if an outdoor retailer had a customer’s marketing interactions (email and advertising engagement) tied together with their ecommerce data (purchase history) and website interaction data (products viewed multiple times) — and made that information available to a service representative in the call centre? 

A bit of data science (customers who purchased this tent online, and opened email promotions for these hiking boots, and spent between $250 and $1000 annually, usually buy this backpack) can reveal the right product recommendations to the call centre agent, who can make a personalised, relevant offer on the spot. This type of personalisation can turn a $15/hour call centre representative into a $100,000 a year salesperson. That’s the power of a CDP.

Discover if your business needs a CDP, and learn how to implement one.


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Check out these other posts to learn more about our products:

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This post originally appeared on the U.S.-version of the Salesforce blog.

Muralidhar Krishnaprasad

Muralidhar Krishnaprasad, or MK, is the executive vice president of software engineering at Salesforce.

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