Replacing “Marketer Controlled” in the CDP Definition

April 17, 2017

Last month’s posts on Customer Data Platform objections and vendor replies have helped to clarify my own thoughts on CDPs. The most important insight has been that the “marketer controlled” piece of the CDP definition really represented the idea that CDPs are packaged software rather than custom development projects. It’s the packaged nature of CDPs, including pre-built connectors to source and delivery systems, standard data models, predefined processing flows, configurability, and standard deployment practices, that lets marketers control the systems with little technical support. These are also what makes using a CDP so much more efficient than having an in-house IT team, agency, or systems integrator create a custom system from scratch – even though those other groups can use exactly the same technology as the CDP vendors.

One practical advantage of this describing CDPs as packaged software is that it changes the discussion with IT. Instead of asking IT to assess suspiciously magical claims of solving a notoriously difficult problem, CDPs pose the familiar issue of making a build or buy decision. This is a choice IT groups face all the time. Even better, many IT departments treat buying as the default answer unless there’s a strong reason against it. That’s obviously a better starting place for CDP vendors and marketers than a pitch that seems to imply the IT group lacks some critical competency that only CDP vendors can provide.

Replacing “marketer controlled” with “packaged software” also removes “control” as an issue, or at least obscures it. This is good because control is always a sensitive topic and it’s often an unnecessary distraction: at most firms today, marketing and IT actually share control over marketing technology. In any case, IT always has some involvement in a CDP, even if it’s just to provide credentials for data access. So there’s no point to seeming to threaten them with a rogue system that in fact is not.

The “marketer” in “marketer controlled” is problematic as well. One of the objections to CDPs is that customer data is needed by all customer-facing departments, not just marketing. So defining CDPs as “marketer controlled” seems to imply that other departments will lack access to the data or that marketing needs will take priority over other departments. Both of these could happen, but there’s nothing inherent in CDPs to make it so. Getting “marketer” out of the definition would open up situations where any department can run the CDP, including sales, service, operations, or corporate IT. That seems like the right direction to move.

So, should we abandon “marketer controlled”? Before doing so, we should ask if there are any arguments in its favor. There is at least one, and it’s powerful: marketing departments are the main buyers of Customer Data Platforms. This is what vendors tell me and this is what I see in my own consulting. This may just be a matter of perspective: the equivalent of CDPs are already bought by other departments, notably customer success, but they don’t usually call them CDPs. Still, the last survey I saw about the broader notion of “customer journey” found marketing was in charge of it 54% of the time , compared with just 12% for sales, 5% for operations, and 4% for customer service/support. So it seems likely that marketing will remain the primary owner of CDPs for the forseeable future. Do we really want to throw away a label that’s accurate? And, if we did, would we scare off marketers who might think CDP isn’t for them?

Also, while it’s a separate issue, I’m also not sold on the phrase “packaged software” as a replacement.   “Packaged software” sounds like something that comes in a box, not a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service product, which is how most CDPs are delivered. “Packaged software” also sounds more rigid than most CDPs and doesn’t account for the services that CDP vendors provide. But if not “packaged software”, then what? “Packaged system?” “Productized software?” “Integrated solution?”  Nothing jumps out at me, somersaults to its feet, and sings “I’m perfect”.

Bottom line: I’m inching away from “marketer controlled” but need to settle on well-chosen alternative before making a change. Thoughts are welcome!