Everything you need to know about customer data platforms

Download the e-Book
As marketing organizations look to gain efficiencies and target customers in parallel, Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) truly are a marketer's best friend...

Table of Contents

1.Introduction to CDP
What is a CDP?
How does a CDP work?
CDP vs. DMP vs. CRM
How is the CDP market evolving?
Who are the top/best CDP software providers in the market?
2. Relevance to my business
Why is a CDP important to my business?
What are the benefits of a CDP?
Customer data platform case studies
Why not build a big data solution in-house similar to a CDP?
3. How to get started
How long does it take to implement?
How much does a CDP implementation cost?
How can I measure RoI on a CDP?
How do I prepare my organization?
How do I evaluate CDP vendors?
Who are the experts in CDP space?

Introduction to CDP

Marketing organizations are facing more challenges than ever. There are now more channels to target, higher levels of competition, and a much more fractionalized audience. The only way to truly have an edge over the competition is to deliver highly targeted, intent-based content and messages. In order to personalize marketing for the customer, the marketing and operational systems need to talk to one another. With many organizations using between 10-30 marketing technologies, the amount of data being collected is growing at an exponential rate. But there's limited integration among the systems resulting in data silos in which data resides within one system or organization and is not shared in a collaborative manner. This results in data inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and a reduced ability to use it for insightful analysis. Marketers are starting to understand the data issues and the importance of implementing a comprehensive data strategy to better control end-to-end customer experience.

A customer's data is captured via different channels to create a 360-degree view of the customer.

Customer data platforms (CDPs) are gaining popularity as a highly valuable marketing tools that help create a unified data platform to enhance the customer journey. The industry is currently experiencing huge growth, with cdpinstitute.org stating that the number of CDP vendors and employment have both doubled in the past year, while funding has increased by $280 million (29%). The total revenue for CDP vendors is expected to exceed $1.2 billion by the end of 2019.

"86% of CMOs believe that they will be able to own a complete, end-to-end customer experience by 2020."

The Economist

Given the magnitude with which CDPs have the potential to transform the marketing industry and customer engagement, it is important for marketers to understand how this can become part of their marketing toolkit.

What is a Customer Data Platform?

Customer data platforms empower marketers to seamlessly organize customer data to produce a 360-degree customer view. CDPs bring together data science and artificial intelligence to unify multiplicand marketing data to create personalized customer experiences across customer life cycle journey. David Raab, Founder of the CDP Institute defines a CDP as “a marketer-controlled system that supports external marketing execution based on persistent, cross-channel customer data.”

Customer data platforms intelligently stitch the data collected from different sources to create a comprehensive customer profile. This enables organizations to implement data-driven initiatives. Since many of the marketing technologies are in silos, the CDPs enable marketers to tie the data together in real time, enabling them to segment and target their customers better.

The different digital marketing channels and the marketing objectives each one achieves.

The process of data collection, mining and analysis for taking appropriate cross-channel actions.

How Does a CDP Work?

Despite the many capabilities and functions of a customer data platform, the premise on which they work is fairly simple. They function by pulling data from multiple sources, cleaning it, and re-structuring it in a way that makes it available to other marketing systems for personalized marketing activities. Depending upon the capabilities of a specific platform, they may also have additional functions such as advanced data analytics, content marketing, predictive capabilities, etc.

The workflow of a Customer Data Platform (CDP) from data collection to actioning.

Key Capabilities of a CDP (per definition by Raab)

These include the ability to:

  1. Personally identify customers and their contact information.
  2. Load and store the client’s customer data.
  3. Accept input from multiple data sources and different formats.
  4. Link data from different sources to the same customer.
  5. Make the data available to external systems.
  6. Allow for marketer control.
  7. Apply processes that make the data more useful for marketing.

Given the scope of functions these platforms provide, they are incredibly robust and can greatly simplify the personalized marketing process.

Distinguishing Customer Data Platforms, Data Management Platforms and Customer Relationship Management

There may be a tendency to believe that a customer data platform provides the same functions as a data management platform (DMP) or a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, but this is not the case. In fact, organizations use CDPs in tandem with DMPs and CRM tools.

Real-Time Data
Marketing Owned Yes No Yes
Type of Data 1st party data (Known IDs) 1st party data (Known IDs) 3rd party data (Anonymous data)
Storage Persistent Persistent Temporary
Real-Time Data Yes (e.g. website/app behavior) No No
360-degree profile view Yes (ability to integrate data from various systems) Limited view No

A data management platform (DMP) allows organizations to target an anonymous audience based on 3rd party data. It helps identify potential individuals based on demographic data including age, gender, salary, etc. based on the behavior or data provided on 3rd party sites. This data is not persistent (i.e. you can’t pull up the past data), is temporary and contingent upon the lifespan of a cookie, which usually is around 90 days. They usually have limited ability to integrate with 1st party data.

CRMs are one of the most frequently used customer engagement tools, and they do capture persistent customer history. However, like a DMP, they only capture data from a limited amount of transactions, usually direct transactions and interactions. They are typically not managed by marketers.

Customer data platforms, on the other-hand, store 1st party data that is assimilated from various 1st party sources such web, mobile, CRM and other offline data sources, transactions, and other behavioral data. It can also integrate with 3rd party data platforms in order to further create a 360-degree view of the clients. Customer data platforms are typically owned by marketers and are real-time tools that allow marketers to take an action immediately when a trigger occurs. Also, since the data persists within a CDP, marketers can look at the past data and create custom audiences as needed with a lot of flexibility.

So, DMPs and CRMs are only capable of providing a snapshot of a part of the customer profile, and sometimes for a brief period of time. Whereas a CDP provides comprehensive and persistent customer profile.

When a CDP is integrated with a DMP, it can provide a significant value to organizations to not just understand the customer based on 1st party data, but also the 3rd party data. The diagram below displays an example of various profile data that can be leveraged for campaigns when a CDP and DMP are combined, leading to a highly personalized customer experience.

Web Behavior Icon.


  • Pages viewed
  • Location/time zone
  • Source URL
  • Browser
  • Operating system
  • CTAs/buttons/links clicked
  • Time spent on page
  • Number of visits
  • First/last time seen
  • Cross-domain cookie data
  • Content affinity
Social Conversations Icon.


  • Social shares
  • Social likes
  • Social followers
  • Public social profile info
  • Links shared
  • Brand sentiment on social media
Campaign Activity Icon.


  • Emails opened
  • Email links clicked
  • Ads clicked
  • Ads shared
  • Landing pages visited
  • CTA buttons pressed
  • Links shared
  • Campaign-related social actions
Call Center CRM Icon.


  • Name
  • Contact info
  • Products purchased
  • Previous interactions
  • Brand sentiment
  • Complaints
  • Suggestions
  • Inquiries
  • Praises
  • Return/replacement
Demographics Icon.


  • Age
  • Location
  • Ethnicity
  • Hobbies & interests
  • Salary range
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Industry
Mobile Apps & Internet of Things (IOT) Icon.


  • App usage statistics
  • Screens visited
  • Actions performed
  • Purchases made
  • Location data
  • Custom metrics
* Through 3rd party

How is the CDP Market Evolving?

The customer data platform market is currently characterized by huge growth and rapid deployment. The number of data sources has grown astronomically, which is providing the opportunity for CDPs to integrate these sources quickly and in real time. According to David Raab at cdpinstitute.org, 27 CDP vendors collectively generated more than $300Mn in 2006 and is growing to touch $1Bn by 2019. The total funding across all businesses exceed $1.2Bn at the start of 2018 with over 4000 enterprises deploying CDPs within their organizations.

  As of: One Year Change
  1/17 7/17 1/18
Vendors 24 40 52 117%
Employees 1,991 3,149 4,388 120%
Funding $960 $1,038 $1,239 29%

CDPs are starting to implement Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning capabilities within. They are starting to recognize patterns and make recommendations. Overtime, their predictive capabilities is expected to become more accurate, leading to better value recognition from CDP investments.

“Our old friend segmentation is not going away in this new CDP-led world, in fact, segmentation becomes more powerful and more important with any CDP.”

Garry Lee

Who are the Best CDP Software Providers?

There has been explosive growth in the customer data platform industry which has led to an influx of new vendors. There are several established industry leaders that are worth mentioning.


One of the largest CDP companies by employee count and total funding, Tealium may be the most recognizable CDP brand. The company was founded in 2008, and focuses on its universal integration of data coming from the web, mobile sources, offline sources and even the Internet of Things (IoT). Tealium has deployed CDP solutions to over 700 businesses globally.


  • One of the most mature CDP vendors in the market
  • Robust product set that supplements CDP (e.g. tag manager, event stream, etc. for data collection)
  • Over 1000 pre-built integrations with other vendors available
  • Strong API toolkit available
Visit Tealium Website


With over 50 employees, Lytics allows for aggregation of data in a central hub that also resolves the data for each customer. The platform also incorporates machine learning algorithms to provide data-based insights.


  • Easy to use and seamless interface
  • Good web personalization capabilities
  • Interesting AI capabilities (that might be useful for some businesses)
Visit Lytics Website


Founded in 2006, RedPoint global services B2C businesses across various industries. They built an ecosystem around its Customer Engagement Hub, working with various vendors to provide data solution to their customers.


  • Provides highly robust data quality, data stitching and enrichment capabilities
  • Provides strong data segmentation and workflow capabilities
  • Tight integration with 3rd party vendors to enable data enrichment services
Visit RedPoint Global Website


Founded in 2011, Segment has experienced rapid growth and funding. The company boasts integration of over 200 data tools and a customer base that exceeds 15,000 companies worldwide including IBM, 21st Century Fox, Intuit, and Time. Segment focuses more on being an enterprise integration hub across SaaS services where the data needs to be tied. It may not provide some of the features that other CDP vendors provide, such as data cleansing, 360-degree view, etc.


  • Strong out-of-box integrations with 200+ SaaS vendors
  • Lower cost entry compared to other CDP players
Visit Segment Website


With customers across the globe, Treasure Data was founded in 2010. It offers CDP with over 100 plug-and-play connectors in order to unify raw data into a single customer view.


  • Many out-of-the-box connectors
  • Strong data workflow capability within the system
  • Strong reporting and AI capabilities via partners
Visit Treasure Data Website


With over 57 employees and based out of Boston, Blueconic is a fast growing CDP vendor. Based on Amazon cloud infrastructure, Blueconic leverages many of the AWS services as part of their product.


  • Good ML based product & content recommendations engine
  • Easy to use interface
  • Highly scalable solution
Visit BlueConic Website

Why is a CDP Important to my Business?

With the many data tools available, many marketers might be wondering why they need a CDP. Here are a few reasons why enterprise marketing teams could benefit from a (CDP):

  1. Growing MarTech fragmentation. With more marketing technology investments, the greater the probability that these systems are not talking to each other. A CDP can become a single point of integration among existing as well as future marketing tools.
  2. Data driven marketing. Gone are the days when customers purchased or interacted with a company through one linear channel. This necessitates the need for brands to better understand customer behavior across multiple channels and implement an omni-channel campaign. This can only be done with a unified and comprehensive customer profile.
  3. Real-time personalization. With marketers wanting to personalize the customer experience in real time, CDP can provide them the right capabilities to segment and act on the right audience based on their personae & behavior.

“Unless you deliver highly targeted, intent-based content, the right people aren’t going to see it. Personalized content has proven time and again that it drives more conversations, but if you don’t make the conversion process seamless, your prospects will give up before they’ve even begun.”

— Will Waugh, MarTech in 2018

What are the Benefits of a CDP?

Customer data platforms enable businesses to take their marketing to the next level. Below are some of the benefits.


1.Complete Customer View

A CDP provides the comprehensive, accurate, and persistent customer profiles that make customer engagement much easier. It allows for raw customer data to be organized in a meaningful and actionable way for marketers to make informed decisions. The system reduces redundancy and inaccuracy and ultimately serves to maximize efficacy of any marketing strategy.

A person's icon surrounded by semi-circles to represent the customer 360-degree view.

2. Improved Advertising ROI

Since a CDP provides the ability to segment audiences in a targeted way, the return-on-investment by leveraging CDPs for online advertising can be significantly increased. When CDPs are integrated with DMPs, you can gain more insights by integrating 1st party data and 3rd party data, leading to a substantial increase the effectiveness of online advertising.

A dollar icon with circular arrows to represent Improved Advertising ROI.

3. Simplifying Customer Data

Many marketers are currently tasked with the challenge of synchronizing data from many sources and organizing it in a way that provides insight into customer behavior. A CDP automates this process, allowing marketers to focus on creating the best marketing strategies possible, rather than getting bogged down by the data itself.

A stacked bar graph with an upward arrow, from left to right, indicating simplified customer data.

4. Real-Time Web Personalization

In addition to customizing advertisements, a CDP allows you to create a personalized customer experience directly on your website. But this can only be done when you have the capacity to receive real-time information about the visitors, which can be implemented with a CDP.

A target customer icon to represent Real-time web personalization.

5. Consumer Insights via Data Mining

By mining data about consumer behavior across various channels, businesses can gain significant insights into consumers. This enables marketers to experiment and test various hypothesis and gain better results, thereby making marketing organizations more agile.

An idea icon representing the consumer insights obtained via data mining.

CDP Case Studies

There are thousands of companies that have already implemented CDPs, although it is worth seeing how different enterprises are using this platform

Providence St. Joseph Healthcare

Providence St. Joseph Healthcare is pioneering in how it could leverage the Tealium CDP to tie online and offline data to provide its patients a seamless experience, all within the confines of HIPPA compliance. By integrating patient’s online behavior with call center CRM, the support reps are able to provide a seamless experience, while quickly resolving customer issues.

City of Hope

As one of the top cancer treatment and research centers, City of Hope is using Lytics Customer Data Platform to implement a multi-phase rollout for email campaigns, web personalization, A/B testing and more. The CDP is enabling the marketing team to segment the audience at a broad level and provide them relevant content and information.

United Airlines

After merging with Continental Airlines, United Airlines implemented the Ensighten CDP to improve data quality and enhance their customers’ experiences. The company reported several benefits, including an 8-digit ROI within ten months of implementation and enhanced marketing agility.


With teams spread across the globe, 3M had the challenge of data silos across business groups. Using the Tealium Customer Data Platform, 3M was able to build inter-organizational relationships by creating a streamlined and consistent experience. Using CDP, 3M was able to collect needed data, segment customers and act upon it.

Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC)

The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions adopted the Blueconic CDP in order to effectively create continuous communication with individual users, and has reported several notable outcomes. The organization was able to see an increase of 4.5% in conversion rates for website banners, the absolute number of travel bookings increased and they gained additional, valuable insights into its anonymous site visitors to provide an enhanced experience.


As a leader in digital, mobile payments, Venmo was looking to improve its customer experience. They needed to overcome challenges such as the presence of data silos, poor data quality, redundant engineering cycles, and the large size of their app. With the implementation of mParticle’s CDP, the company has unified many functions and profiles, leading to a reduction (by half) of vendor costs and a rate of 30% increased user engagement. Learn More

Why Not Build a Big Data Solution in-House Similar to a CDP?

Businesses can build a solution similar to a CDP in-house, but the build decision should not be taken lightly. Organizations with dedicated and talented developers may be in the best position to attempt this, but even then, the result tends to be far more expensive and much less integrated than a vendor-based solution. Off-the-shelf CDPs already provide multiple integration connectors with other systems and have built identity resolution capabilities which stitch visitors across various devices into a single comprehensive profile. They also have artificial intelligence and machine learning features that can help to score customers based on their level of engagement. These features would be expensive to develop in-house and should be undertaken only if, after a thorough evaluation of CDPs in the market, none meet business requirements.

How Long Does a CDP Take to Implement?

While laying out a CDP strategy, it’s a good idea to plan multi-phase release with each phase showing clear ROI. This allows the businesses to show the value quickly and get buy-in to implement a more comprehensive solution using CDP. Typically, it takes about 1-2 months to get the initial use-cases implementation. As you start integrating more data sources, the value that the CDP provides can be further enhanced.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to implementing the complete solution and the length of time can vary greatly depending upon the overall scope of work. This is typically contingent upon the scope of their current data capturing methods, integration complexity, and output requirements. Additional components that may create complexity and lead to a longer implementation period include data cleansing, unique business rules, identity merging needs, detail of data attributes, any custom calculations and machine learning models that may need to be created.

What is the Cost of a CDP Implementation?

As with the time of an implementation, the cost varies with the scope of the project and size of the company. In order to get a true idea of the cost, it is worthwhile to review a few CDP providers that meet your data criteria and contact them for quotes. The following aspects need to be considered while determining the cost of implementation:

Assessment Costs License Costs Implementation Effort Ongoing Costs
Proof-of-Concept Effort CDP Product License (generally recurring) Product implementation costs Data quality management
Vendor Evaluation Effort Related Products, as needed:
  • Tag Manager
  • Storage Hosting
  • Offline-to-Online Tracking Systems
  • Identity Resolution Systems
Integration between various systems Data sciences – reporting, visualization & recommendations
    Data cleansing & unification scripts Ongoing enhancements & integrations with new systems

Depending on the business needs of the organizations, the effort varies greatly across these various areas. Let us provide you a customized quotation for the overall CDP implementation for your organization.

How Can I Measure RoI on a CDP?

In order to calculate the ROI of a customer data platform, businesses need to look at various costs and benefits that a CDP can bring to the table. First, understanding the value of your audience profile is important. These data enable businesses to make better decisions leveraging data. CDP allows you to create better initiatives such as advanced segmentation; make better media buying choices; improve personalization to better meet customer needs; enable automation, and more. It is important to determine cost savings attributable to these functions.

Additionally, remember to think of the near- and long-term benefits rather than focusing on the time it takes to recoup the cost. A CDP should be part of a long-term strategy to engage customers. Finally, recognizing that AI, automation, and the advancement of predictive analysis can contribute to a longer-term plan should be a part of the ROI equation.

cdpinstitute.org provides a great model that highlights how businesses should measure ROI on CDP.

The ROI Model of a Customer Data Platform (CDP).

How Do I Prepare my Organization for CDP?

There are many different steps that should be followed to prepare for the implementation of a customer data platform. If you are uncertain where to start, a good first step would be to talk to any vendors you are considering for the project and determine their recommendations for specific actions.

Additionally, there are a few things that can be done to help the process go smoothly. The first is to gain organizational alignment from top to bottom. Getting leadership buy-in across various departments before the selection of CDP is critical to its success.

Businesses should also identify which data should be included for assessment and which should not. The data points are significant because they ultimately determine what your customer profiles look like—essentially defining the information you need and filtering out what you don’t need to create an efficient interface. Business rules are also tricky because they are highly individualized by the company itself. Identifying these up-front will prevent problems and inconsistencies in data collection and analysis later.

How do I Evaluate CDP vendors?

The next step in Customer Data Platform adoption is to evaluate vendors to determine which of them are the best fit for your business’ specific needs. Since a CDP is a long-term part of infrastructure, it is crucial to find a vendor that will meet your current and future needs. One way to get a good idea of the products available is by performing a proof of concept (POC). Vendors often provide a trial period of their product in order for potential customers to test their different capabilities, and if this is available, it is a great idea to leverage this opportunity while determining the best option.

“Each organization is going to use their customer data differently, so it is necessary for your CDP to be flexible and customizable to these diverse needs.”

— Sheila Lindner, Octacom

Another great step would be to evaluate the vendors on different aspects of their product and performance. A comprehensive list may include some or all of the following topics:

  1. Data ingestion and storage
  2. Data quality and enrichment
  3. Identity unification
  4. Data segmentation
  5. Reporting capabilities
  6. Data actioning
  7. Data security
  8. Performance and scalability
  9. Architecture
  10. Business and pricing evaluation

This whitepaper on Customer Data Platform Vendor Evaluation provides a detailed look at the 10 broad areas and what questions organizations should ask vendors while evaluating the CDP vendors.

Who are the Experts Within the CDP Space?

As CDPs are becoming more popular, marketers are looking for key industry thought-leaders to help navigate this new frontier. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, there are a few people listed below who can provide great knowledge and insight into CDPs:

David Raab, Founder at CDP Institute and Raab Associates

“The greatest need is for proficiency in understanding what new technologies can really do, so you deploy them effectively.”

Scott Brinker, MarTech

“The greatest need is for proficiency in understanding what new technologies can really do, so you deploy them effectively.”

Jeff Lunsford, CEO of Tealium

“We are helping marketers do something they’ve never been able to do before, not without investing heavy resources in data warehousing projects.”

Venu Gooty, Data-Driven Marketing Practice Head at HGS Digital

“As organizations look to use data to make better business decisions, Customer Data Platforms are now becoming a must-have instrument within the marketers toolkit.”

Robert Romano, VP of Digital Strategy at NGDATA

“A customer data platform aggregates and integrates data from a multitude of channels and data sources to provide a comprehensive source of truth about every customer on an individual level.”