What is a Customer Data Platform?

A Customer Data Platform (CDP) is software that collects and unifies data about your customer in real time. Integrated into a wider marketing tech stack, a CDP ingests and centralises data (such as from a website, or Data Management Platform (DMP)) to create a more holistic customer view. 

Helping you create personalised, timely customer experiences on every channel, CDPs use this data, along with business rules and AI, to make intelligent decisions about what relevant content or service each individual customer needs.

Understanding CDPs

With so many data tools and platforms available today, it’s often hard to understand what each does, and, more importantly, which data tools and platforms marketers need to include in their tech stack.

Whether you want to unify and activate data for a single customer view, create personalised real-time customer experiences, master first-party identity in the face of cookie deprecation – or all of the above, and more – you want to invest in technology that solves your omnichannel challenges. You also want to keep it simple!

So, what is a CDP (Customer Data Platform) and can it solve these issues?

According to the CDP Institute: 

“A Customer Data Platform is packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” CDP Institute

At its core, a CDP is marketing software that works to centralise data from multiple sources, creating a unified customer database that other marketing systems can use.

CDPs broadly perform four key functions:

  • Collect: Data collection, ingestion and integration
  • Unify: Customer profile unification and management
  • Analyse: Real-time segmentation, decisioning and AI
  • Activate: Marketing and advertising activation

However, different CDPs enable these functions to different levels:

  • A Data CDP focuses on the collection and unification of data, linking it to customer identities, and storing it for use. These are the minimum functions required for a platform to be considered a CDP.  
  • An Analytics CDP provides collection and unification elements, plus it has the ability to analyse data and segment it, and in some cases it includes predictive modelling, revenue attribution and journey mapping. 
  • A Campaign CDP provides the collection, unification and analytics elements, plus additional customer campaign activation features; it can specify different approaches for different individuals within a segment, such as personalization, real-time interaction, or service/content recommendations.
  • A Delivery CDP provides collection, unification, analysis, and campaign treatments, plus it has the ability to deliver multichannel campaigns, such as activating paid and owned media. 

No two providers or platforms are alike, so it’s important to consider the support and features you need before selecting a CDP.  Where some providers may supply CDP software alone, others such as Acxiom support a holistic, end-to-end approach to CDPs – from implementation, to integration with other platforms, to data activation – to ensure the CDP has the data necessary to perform.

  • 1 https://www.cdpinstitute.org/learning-center/what-is-a-cdp/ Customer Data Platform Basics”, Customer Data Platform Institute

2 / The Importance of Unifying Customer Data

Today, customer expectations for real-time, personalised brand journeys that ‘show me you know me’ in every channel, have never been higher. 

To meet those expectations, you need to be able to recognise customers as individuals, and understand their values, preferences, and history of interactions with a brand. And you need to be able to do so in real time, across every channel and device, both on- and offline, to create the most relevant customer experiences, build trust, and grow loyalty.  

This requires a truly unified approach to data.

When integrated effectively into your martech and adtech ecosystem, a Customer Data Platform (CDP) is designed to collate, centralise and support that unified data view, giving marketers the clarity needed to deliver true relevance.

At a top level – and note that features vary between CDPs – they are designed to help marketers:

  • Address the need for a single customer view across marketing channels
  • Collect and integrate customer data from digital and offline systems – connecting with source systems, such as marketing applications, your CRM or DMP
  • Manage customer views (combined with an effective first-party Identity Solution, a CDP may support a true single customer view)
  • Create segments for real-time marketing applications
  • Expose data to other systems – including customer analytics and customer engagement platforms

However, a CDP is not a complete solution in its own right. 

It’s true that, at its core, a CDP works to unify information about your customer from on- and offline channels to support a single view. But a CDP should always be implemented as part of a wider data ecosystem, supported by an effective data strategy, identity resolution, and data management tools. 

A CDP can only be as good as the data that goes into it!

Creating a single, unified view – the cookieless challenge

With the ‘cookiepocalypse’ – or deprecation of third-party cookies – effective from 2023, brands face a major shift in how they understand, connect and engage with customers in the digital ecosystem. Brands who have not prepared a strong data strategy may lose a substantial amount of the insight they need to recognise and resonate with customers.

It is a sizable change. Yet the loss of third-party cookies does not equal the loss of truly relevant, real-time customer experiences; in fact, it’s the opposite scenario.

The ‘cookiepocalypse’ presents an opportunity to take control of first-party data, and prioritise your approach to first-party identity management. It’s a chance to connect digital and offline intelligence into a single identity graph, enabling truly personalised marketing that recognises each customer as the individual that they are.

When considered within your wider data ecosystem, prioritising your approach to first-party data not only supports effective identity resolution, and more relevant customer experiences – it also builds a much stronger, more accurate data foundation to support your CDP.

Many CDPs claim to collate a complete, unified and single view of the customer. Yet only with a considered identity strategy, identity management and data quality all feeding into them, can CDPs truly attain a holistic, single view of the customer. 

3 / Considerations When Selecting a CDP

A number of considerations must be taken into account when evaluating a customer data platform, such as heritage, experience, flexibility, scalability, and the scope of integration in the enterprise.

It is also important to remember that there are hundreds of CDPs available in the market. Not all do the same thing; some mainly look after the data, and some specialise in decisioning, or analytics, etc. 

Identifying the gaps in your organisation and the business objectives you want to achieve, and then using these as a guide to evaluate a CDP, is a good starting point. 

So, what else should you consider?

Acxiom follows six ‘pillars of success’ to guide you, as you evaluate, select and implement a CDP across your organisation, leading through:

  • Evaluation: Assessing which CDP you should choose, and what challenges you need it to resolve
  • Use Case Roadmap: Identifying your CDP use cases and plotting a 6-, 12-, 24-month roadmap
  • Data: Identifying the data fuelling your CDP, its origin, and how to activate it
  • Operational readiness: Assessing if your organisation is ready to adopt a CDP, and what changes it will introduce
  • Planning: Determining your CDP rollout
  • Governance: Identifying the appropriate governance model for your rollout

Evaluating the best fit CDP for your ecosystem

For the best success, considerations when evaluating a CDP should include:

  • Platform fit: Be sure to step back from the ‘hype’ to conduct a careful assessment of your organisation’s needs. Is a CDP truly the right solution for your use case, and if so, does it include all the capabilities you need? Start by reviewing your existing technology and identify the gaps in your organisation and data ecosystem. Use this to determine CDP requirements. For example, do you need a solution to unify your data and give you a single customer view? Do you need a next-best-action engine?
  • Scalability: Is the solution scalable, both from a configuration and SaaS perspective? 
  • Decisioning and Real Time: Do you need a decisioning capability within your CDP to inform your next-best action? A good CDP will ingest and activate real-time data, supporting your single customer view, so you can act and serve relevance in the moment.
  • Usability: Can your wider marketing team operate and use the CDP, create segments, customer journeys etc? Some CDPs require more technical expertise – check that your technology and your internal skill sets align.
  • Data Strategy: Make sure you have a data strategy in place that supports your CDP use case. Remember – your CDP is only as good as the data that feeds it, so explore what data your CDP can manage. Make sure the solution can manage data from all systems needed and can provide data governance rules to ensure personal data is used correctly.
  • Implementation: Consider if you have the resources, experience and skill sets to implement the solution. Will you need third-party technology and services? Keep in mind that many organisations struggle to realise the full holistic value of a CDP without expert support.
  • Measurement: Many CDPs are not designed to support omnichannel analytics and closed-loop measurement use cases. Consider if you have – or require – a solution to achieve this, and whether the declared capabilities of a particular CDP can address all your requirements.

Assessing and weighing these factors is key in order to determine the best solution that will align with your existing technology – and that addresses the full spectrum of your organisation’s needs and objectives.

Of course, this path can be complex, and with many solutions available, it often helps to partner with an experienced expert. Providing end-to-end, holistic support, Acxiom can provide the flexible foundation, advice and support your organisation needs, to create and implement a scalable, enterprise-class solution.

Learn More About Acxiom's CDP Solutions

4 / CDP Implementation & Integration

A CDP is not a standalone solution; it must integrate effectively and be supported by your existing marketing technology ecosystem. 

From assessing your capability to identifying technology gaps – and ensuring you have the right data assets, strategy, identity solutions, governance support, and more – there’s a lot to consider to ensure your CDP is fuelled by, and can output, the quality data and insight your strategies need. 

Integrating a CDP: Acxiom’s 5 Es Framework

Working to inform, advise, and make recommendations to clients as they navigate through the complex martech landscape, Acxiom follows a modular professional services framework – ‘the 5 Es’ – designed to help you select, implement, integrate and get value at speed from your CDP.

These 5 Es are:

  • Evaluate: Validating the current and required capabilities from an audience, investment, technology, people and skills perspective.
  • Experience: Ensuring the solution meets all business requirements for achieving your goals.
  • Enable: Designing the right end-to-end solution to meet business objectives in prioritised phases.
  • Engage: Developing the required marketing communications strategy and processes based on the power of the technology platform.
  • Embed: Supporting internal teams to realise the full potential of the new platform.

Learn more about Acxiom’s CDP Solutions


Implement a CDP

Planning to implement a CDP

Before any rollout or integration of a CDP, a number of considerations can streamline its effective implementation, keep it aligned with your organisational goals, and ensure every stakeholder is on board:

Secure Internal Buy-in

Do you have the internal skill set to implement, integrate and optimise a CDP within your data ecosystem? Or, are you partnering with an implementation expert who can support these skills? 

Whichever approach you take, it’s important to make sure that all internal staff who participate in your data ecosystem are ‘on board’ with your CDP implementation, and have a plan to commence fuelling your CDP with data. Your internal IT teams, stakeholders and partners all need to be involved and briefed, and must understand the plan, goals and objectives, well in advance of any implementation. 

Secure External Buy-in

Just as your internal team needs to understand the implications of a CDP rollout, your external teams and partners must also be on board, aligned and prepared in advance. Be sure to allow time for impact assessments.  

Support Discovery

Running planning workshops and discovery sessions that include all subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders within your business is key to a successful CDP rollout, and its effective long-term use.  In these sessions, you should make sure all the stakeholders are on board with the investment, and identify and resolve any concerns, gaps or roadblocks that may arise.

Assign Ownership 

To keep the implementation process running smoothly, once all stakeholders understand and are on board with the implementation, it helps to assign key project ownership roles and responsibilities to each SME per functional area.


Finally, you should plan simple, clear weekly updates, and track how the CDP implementation project is progressing. This should highlight key milestones and give each of your stakeholders a clear update of the status of implementation, rollout and use. 

With the right consideration of project management and framework, implementing and integrating a CDP into your organisation and data ecosystem can be straightforward. 

Getting it right is key; without effective integration with your other data tools, your CDP will not have the insight necessary to perform well. Equally, ensuring your wider team are on board with the rollout, understand use cases, and are trained in how to use the CDP is critical for its effective long-term use – and ROI. 

Not all CDP providers offer this level of end-to-end support, so it is wise to check that you’ll have the insight, expertise and support level your organisation needs for success, ahead of any CDP investment.

5 / Customer Data Experience Platform

Of course, choosing, implementing and integrating the right CDP into your organisation is just one half of the CDP picture. 

The other is remembering why getting it right is important in the first place. 

Having the correct data technology ecosystem in place that will allow you to cut through the noise, and earn people’s brand love and trust, is paramount. 

With the ability to create truly personalised experiences for people – with interactions that are relevant and meaningful to them, in the moment – brands can demonstrate a deep, ongoing understanding of customers’ needs, and maintain truly outstanding customer experience (CX). 

Integrating the right CDP into your organisation is just one piece of the puzzle – but when it comes to enabling superior CX, and growing long term, quality relationships with customers – it’s a truly key piece to get right. 

6 / Acxiom’s Professional Services

Having the right technology, data, insight, and advice is critical for businesses looking to maximise their investments, and to elevate their customer experiences today.

By choosing a professional services partnership with Acxiom, marketers can gain the confidence and clarity needed when making a CDP decision – one that helps the business achieve its unique goals.

As experienced data leaders, Acxiom provides the foundation to help marketers make the best decisions mapped back to their business requirements; following proven frameworks, leveraging best-of-breed technology, and implementing core services designed to generate the best return on investment.

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