Customer Data Platform (CDP)


Time to read: 5 minutes

Customer Data Platform’s (CDP) are becoming an integral part of the modern marketer’s playbook. According to the 2020 State of Marketing Report, among marketers who say they use CDPs, 86% are increasing or maintaining their use of them. If you’re still at the point of considering whether to adopt a CDP, our guide can help you to make the best decision for your business.

What is a CDP?

CDPs are for when you need a marketing database with user-level data. A CDP usually includes a customer database, marketing automation, multichannel campaign management and real-time interaction management. Data legally collected through a customer’s interaction with the company’s website is collected by a CDP to help companies have an intimate understanding of their purchase preferences, develop personalised experiences and create a fast, seamless service.

Most customer journeys involve over three different channels or data sources (such as email, web and mobile app), and customers tend to move seamlessly and quickly between these channels. However, most companies don’t have these data environments connected in real time. The result is a disconnected experience for consumers and the lack of a single source of truth about customers for the marketer. Customers expect their experiences to be consistent and “in the moment” as they move from channel to channel. CDP technology helps to fill this gap for organisations.

This technology is now utilised by the top brands in the world. Amazon can predict what products customers are likely to buy next, Netflix recommends the shows they like with great accuracy, and Uber lets them customise trips right down to the type of vehicle they want to travel in. As these leading brands evolve, so will the market’s expectations. This will impact how your company interacts with customers to continue sustainable growth for the future.

Understanding CDP basics

The first thing CDPs need to do is connect all of a company’s customer data in a single place. This means not only stitching together a single customer ID from many different CRM instances, but also tying together databases that traditionally don’t share customer data, like marketing clouds, service software and ecommerce engines. This is often described as the customer resolution.

The next thing CDPs must do is reconcile the identities organisation have about their customers (like email and mobile numbers) with what they know about customers before they share their data with companies (such as anonymous cookies and mobile device IDs). This way, marketers can start to associate an interaction that started with an email campaign and continued onto the website with the same customer. This is a cross-device identity.

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. This involves connecting the customers behavioural data to many different types of systems – email-send engines, demand-side platforms, and content management systems.

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

The CDP data process:

  • Acquire: CDPs need user-level data from common marketing services.
  • Process: This involves cleaning data, and matching fields and identities.
  • Expose: Subsets of data are stored for fast access for analysis.
  • Analytics: This stage will use segmentation and prediction and will help personalise customer journeys.
  • Delivery: Data can be fed to messages, sites, apps, ads and social as well as customer service agents.

How a CDP uses customer data

There are certain functions that are suited to CDPs. The following explores some of the key functions that a CDP provides end users.


A customer comes to a website, browses a product and then leaves. CDPs gather the data from the customer’s website visit to make the unified profile available to all addressable channels, enabling personalisation and relevancy. Customers who see content tailored to their interests are five times as likely to engage with a brand.


Sometimes the best use of data in marketing isn’t to better target consumers — but to not target them at all. A unified profile that connects marketing and purchase data enables marketers to optimise their addressable spend by suppressing consumers that have already made a purchase, and redirecting those dollars toward new customers.


Many analytics systems operate in silos. A CDP allows an outdoor retailer to have a customer’s marketing interactions tied with ecommerce data (purchase history) and website interaction data (products viewed multiple times). When this information is available to a service rep in the call centre, this type of personalisation can turn a $15 per hour call centre rep into a $100,000 a year salesperson.

Types of CDP technology on the market

CDPs are just an evolution of CRM, finely tuned for the high-scale, real-time requirements of the digital-first modern B2C marketer. They’re a natural extension of the kinds of tools Salesforce has been building for enterprises of all sizes around the world for decades. CDPs share CRM’s goals of managing customer data to drive relevant and productive experiences for both customers and the end user.

Unfortunately, the CDP market is very cluttered, including over 130 vendors (at last count according to the Customer Data Platform Institute) who call themselves a “CDP", and no two are the same.

But instead of focusing on vendor-driven definitions, we asked hundreds of marketers what they need from a CDP and quickly came to realise there are not one but two different types of CDPs:

1. Insights CDP
Builds a single view of the customer by integrating data from multiple disparate sources, handling integration and data management, and enabling analytics and data activation.

2. Engagement CDP
Helps users with real-time personalisation, for example, of websites and mobile apps, and powers real-time next-best-offer and action engagement.

The vast majority of CDPs on the market today are either insight CDPs or engagement CDPs — not both. Salesforce believes a true enterprise CDP must encompass both insights and engagement to create a truly holistic view.

Companies can leverage CDPs to go beyond marketing and advertising — and use connected customer data to tie together their organisations, create cross-company insights, and truly value their customer data as something they can put on the balance sheet.

See first-hand how Marketing Cloud Customer Data Platform helps you collect and unify all your customer data — so you can humanise every moment. Learn More about getting started with a CDP.


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