Learning Center

What is a CDP?

CDP Definition

Customer Data Platform is defined by the CDP Institute as “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” Key elements of the definition are:

  • Packaged software.

    The CDP is packaged software, usually bought and controlled by business users, most often in marketing. This distinguishes it from a data warehouse or data lake which is usually custom-built by the corporate IT department. The packaged nature of the system makes it much easier to deploy and change as new needs arise. Corporate IT must cooperate to set up and maintain the CDP but most technical resources are usually provided by the vendor or an agency hired by marketing.

  • Persistent, unified customer database.

    The CDP creates a comprehensive view of each customer by capturing data from multiple systems, linking information related to the same customer, and storing the information to track behavior over time. The CDP contains personal identifiers used to target marketing messages and track individual-level marketing results. CDPs work primarily with data gathered by a company’s own systems about identified individuals. They may also include data from external sources and about anonymous individuals. The CDP is able to retain all details of input data indefinitely, although users may restrict what is stored and how long it is kept.

  • Accessible to other systems.

    Data stored in the CDP can be used by other systems for analysis and to manage customer interactions. The CDP restructures the data, adds calculated values such as trends and model scores, and shares the results in formats that other systems can accept. Access methods typically include APIs, database queries, and file extracts.

These features distinguish CDPs from other systems that work primarily with their own data (such as Customer Relationship Management), store only limited details for limited periods and include large volumes of externally-owned data (Data Management Platform), do not maintain a permanent database (Integration Platform), and interact directly with customers (Email, Mobile App, and Web Content Management).

Other systems may provide similar functions to a CDP. These include data warehouses and software suites or marketing clouds. Often these are limited to structured data or internal inputs.

Types of CDPs

The CDP Institute groups CDP vendors into four categories based on the functions provided by their systems. Each category includes functions provided by the previous categories. There are great variations among vendors within each category. Categories are:

  • Data CDPs.

    These systems gather customer data from source systems, link data to customer identities, and store the results in a database available to external systems. This is the minimum set of functions required to meet the definition of a CDP. In practice, these systems also can extract audience segments and send them to external systems. Systems in this category often employ specialized technologies for data management and access. Some began as tag management or Web analytics systems and retain considerable legacy business in those areas.

  • Analytics CDPs.

    These systems provide data assembly plus analytical applications. The applications always include customer segmentation and sometimes extend to machine learning, predictive modeling, revenue attribution, and journey mapping. These systems often automate the distribution of data to other systems.

  • Campaign CDPs.

    These systems provide data assembly, analytics, and customer treatments. What distinguishes them from segmentation is they can specify different treatments for different individuals within a segment. Treatments may be personalized messages, outbound marketing campaigns, real time interactions, or product or content recommendations. They often include orchestrating customer treatments across channels.

  • Delivery CDPs.

    These systems provide data assembly, analytics, customer treatments, and message delivery. Delivery may be through email, Web site, mobile apps, CRM, advertising, or several of these. Products in this category often started as delivery systems and added CDP functions later.