What is a Customer Data Platform and How Does It Relate to Marketing Automation?

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Customer data platforms, or CDPs, are words you might have heard thrown around in discussions regarding marketing automation software. And we know that marketing (especially its automated cousin) is flush with data already. Yet, so much of that data remains worlds apart and disconnected from other strategic points of information. That’s where CDPs step in. We’ll take a dive into an emerging technology and examine how these new data platforms assist marketers and marketing automation as a whole.

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What is a Customer Data Platform?

What Is a Customer Data Platform?

Well, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s crack open those textbooks and look at some definitions. According to the CDP Institute, a neutral body dedicated to informing and assisting marketers, a customer data platform is “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” It has three components:

  • Packaged software
  • Creates a persistent, unified customer database
  • Accessible to other systems

And if you’ve been following our work, you already know what a marketing automation system is, what its functions are, and how it can be used (if you’re not sure, check out our marketing automation blog page for a rundown).

Customer data platforms build unified customer data profiles that can then be accessed by other systems and programs. Let’s look at it another way: you’ve got some customer data in your CRM, and some customer data in your marketing automation suite. Oh, and you’ve also got some in your business intelligence platform.

What you have is three reservoirs of important customer information that’s stored away in databases that don’t always play nice with each other. This can present quite the roadblock when you’re working on a people-first automated campaign. How do you know what your buyer personas are if they’re in your CRM? And what if your BI data conflicts with what’s in your MA databases?

CDPs to the rescue! They give you one unified source of stored customer intel to pull from, eliminating any communication breakdown in your tech stack. The CDP institute says, “A CDP puts marketing in direct control of the data unification project,” and we couldn’t agree more.

What Data Is Collected by a Customer Data Platform?

There’s a lot of data for marketers to touch on when crafting their messaging. One major benefit of a CDP is the sheer amount of data they collect. When a customer leaves information behind after visiting your IRL store, blog, website, commerce portal, whatever, they create what we call first-party data. That data can be identity data such as:

  • Name info
  • Demographic info
  • Locational info
  • Contact info
  • Social info
  • Professional info
  • Account info

CDPs don’t stop at identity data, however. They also collect descriptive data, quantitative data and qualitative data, and that data can go so deep that it’d take us an entirely new article just to explain everything. Just know that CDPs collect data that goes far deeper than what a CRM might collect. Rest assured, they’re also GDPR compliant.

In all cases, before the customer hands over their data, they have to give consent. The collection process, while in-depth, is purely consensual. And a user can request that they have their data be deleted from the database at any time. Though this hinders your ability to personalize content and messaging, it’s also what lends the CDP its strength — flexibility and diversity.

Making CDPs Work With Marketing Automation

In simple terms, CDPs inform all types of marketing. They improve the organization of your company’s data and help spread information to all departments. With marketing automation in particular, the benefits are twofold:

  1. You’re getting better access to quality data to inform your marketing decisions
  2. CDPs unify cross-channel marketing efforts

You’re getting better access to quality data

Marketing (digital marketing in particular) may as well be an IT discipline at this point, considering how close marketers get to their tools. As professionals, we’re particular about the tools we keep in our toolbox, and the same goes for marketing automation. Heck, we’ve built an entire business on helping people find the right software for their business. If you’re looking for advice in that regard, click the link below. If not, or you just need time, keep on reading for our take on a CDP’s role in MA.

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Data isn’t just the realm of geeks anymore — it’s an essential asset in the modern business landscape. We make decisions every single day based on what we know about our customers, about our businesses and about our goals.

Marketing automation (and marketing in general, folks) requires something of a gentle touch and paramount to that: good data. When you’re working with a team of marketers and creatives (sometimes they’re the same people), you need to make sure you’re proceeding on not just good, quality data, but ALL the data your organization can put together. Imagine trying to play darts with one eye closed — you’d have no depth perception! And that’s what it’s like to market without the whole picture.

CDPs aren’t data silos. They’re data unifiers that have the whole picture in mind. You’re getting data from all departments and can then incorporate it into your automated strategy.

Customer Data Platform Dashboard

This is where we need to consider the implications of automating your campaigns with a data platform. See, marketing automation churns out massive profits, according to our research. It allows you to “set it and forget it” when it comes to marketing, which can be a boon… or do significant damage. We’ll call it a double-edged sword.

Customers expect their personalized communication to be topical pretty — they want their names and interests brought up in helpful, creative ways. They want their questions answered and then some. How do you go about doing that? With data? How do you fudge it up? Sending automated email blasts without using a CDP (thus proceeding on incomplete data). Not personalizing their experiences based on their information. The list of marketing sins goes on and on.

We use MA tools like A/B email testing and custom content every day, and none of those work without access to good data. In fact, a complete view of your buyer’s persona informs every aspect of your marketing efforts, which brings us to our next point.

CDPs unify cross-channel marketing efforts

Marketing comes in all shapes and sizes, and thanks to the internet we have a whole slew of new ways to reach our customers. CDPs do something special, that, thus far, no independent MA platform’s data can do: put customers front and center in your mission to serve.

They deliver immediate communications across all channels that customers have come to expect — they touch upon every part of your buyer’s journey. They supply merged and highly accurate data to your advertising team, sales team, marketing team, automation dweebs, creatives and beyond. No more asking sales for figures, advertising for customer information, or bugging your creatives to include elements in their work because your own data just revealed that your customers all own cats.

Often, we think a good manager is the unifying force behind a varied, multi-level effort. And while this is true, data has become nearly as important as solid leadership. A customer data platform could almost be considered a managerial voice in of itself.

Customer data platforms, to marketers, are

  • Marketer managed;
  • A persistent, unified database of customer information;
  • Accessible by outside programs and systems (we consider this a cardinal feature);
  • Systems that use a single identifier to link a customer to their data; and
  • GDPR compliant

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A Recap: How Marketing Automation Intertwines With Customer Data Platforms

Data is, and we’ll say it again, the lifeblood of businesses in the 21st century, and marketing is far from an exception. In fact, it might be one of the most data-driven professions at any company save for, well, your resident data scientists (if you have one).

A major roadblock for any department in your organization is that data can often be siloed and obscured, tucked away in a specific program or database that’s out of reach for marketing. CDPs are a more equal solution, providing all the same data for everyone to have access to.

And when you’re “setting it and forgetting it,” you can’t afford to stumble around in the dark. In terms of marketing automation, the wrong email blast to the wrong people is a great way to burn a few leads. Why risk it?

Jason KellerWhat is a Customer Data Platform and How Does It Relate to Marketing Automation?

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