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.

After all, you want to invest in a tech stack that solves your omnichannel challenges, whether you want to align fragmented data and collapse silos, or enhance your ability to understand and manage all your customer data for a clear, single customer view. You also want to keep it simple!

So, what is a CDP (customer data platform) and can it, alone, solve these data challenges?

This is where many marketers may be confused, as there is no single definition of a CDP! Even leading organisations provide slightly varied definitions:

“A customer data platform is a marketing system that unifies a company’s customer data from marketing and other channels to enable customer modelling, and optimise the timing and targeting of messages and offers.”Gartner

“A CDP centralises customer data from multiple sources and makes it available to systems of insight and engagement.” Forrester

A customer data platform is packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.”CDP Institute

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

  • 1 “Market Guide for Customer Data Platforms for Marketing,” Gartner, 2018
  • 2 “For B2C Marketers, Customer Data Platforms Overpromise And Underdeliver,”  Forrester, Oct 26, 2018
  • 3 “Customer Data Platform Basics”, Customer Data Platform Institute, 2017

2 / The Difference Between a Customer Data Platform and a Data Management Platform

A CDP can help to aggregate an organisation’s customer data into a single database. 

But marketers may need more than a CDP to achieve their omnichannel marketing goals and create an aligned data landscape.

The CDP Challenge

With varied definitions and more than 90 vendors claiming to offer a CDP, confusion not only exists about what constitutes a CDP, but also the breadth and depth of its capabilities. No two CDPs are the same!

Features, software maturity and capabilities (such as segmentation) will vary from vendor to vendor. Working out which CDP, if any, would enhance your existing martech ecosystem is a complex challenge and there may not be one CDP that solves all your data challenges.

This is where other tools in your martech ecosystem may come into play.

Understanding DMPs

There is often confusion about the difference between a CDP and a data management platform (DMP). Both tools can add an aspect of centralisation to your data ecosystem. But while a CDP helps centralise customer data into a single database, a DMP is more audience-focussed, helping marketers collate, manage and house first- and third-party data to create target audiences and use that insight to launch, analyse and optimise campaigns.  

Do I need a CDP or a DMP?

Essentially, a CDP helps aggregate your customer data into a single customer database, while a DMP manages and aggregates digital audience data (cookies, online behavioural data, look-alike audiences, etc.) and enables audience segmentation, analysis and optimisation.

Of course, there are other platforms that can be combined with a CDP, and a DMP, that can lead to improved results; for example, you may need to incorporate more sophisticated identity resolution within your CDP and DMP.

3 / Why Use a CDP?

If you’re considering a CDP, there are a number of benefits. Though the CDP market is still maturing, most CDP vendors say their solutions 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 and CRM.
  • Manage customer views; some CDPs claim to create universal and persistent consumer views by resolving customers’ and visitors’ identity across different channels.
  • Create segments for real-time marketing applications.
  • Expose data to other systems – including customer analytics and customer engagement platforms.

At first glance, because these benefits are helping achieve an integrated, centralised data platform, many marketers who are looking for an omnichannel solution believe a CDP is the right choice to address their key requirements. 

However, because the scope of capability varies from vendor to vendor, a CDP may still require additional support from other technologies and also professional services to properly use and integrate into a wider marketing business process.

“Wait. Isn’t there one data solution I can use to do everything?” 

Data marketers need a wide range of varying capabilities. Depending on your organisation’s unique situation, data ecosystem, existing martech stack, and specific requirements, you may need a range of technologies to achieve your goals—not just adding a CDP and hoping.

So, is there a different, centralised solution that’s a better fit?

The answer to this question lies in marketers properly assessing their target use cases, the capabilities needed to address them, and a sustainable data strategy to guide their pursuit of a solution. Acxiom provides both the experience to assess and establish a sustainable data strategy, and a framework for a client’s unified data layer to deliver data-driven solutions that can solve for enterprise-class data management needs.

Understanding Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer Framework

Acxiom’s unified data layer (UDL) framework provides an enterprise-class foundation and blueprint for unifying data and managing identity to activate key use cases. Depending on the use cases, UDL may include CDP technology, as well as DMP, campaign automation, analytics, machine learning, and other technologies.

The Acxiom UDL framework:

  • Provides a foundation for closed-loop omnichannel marketing and advertising ecosystems.
  • Brings together data from digital and offline channels, to resolve identity across known and anonymous consumers.
  • Enables marketers to address prospects and customers in a single solution, including closed-loop measurement and analytics.
  • Provides a privacy-compliant data and identity management foundation that can be leveraged independently or in combination with CDPs.
  • Allows an optimal marketing technology stack evolution, rather than simply “ripping and replacing” an existing technology with a CDP.
  • Is complemented with a wide breadth of professional services that support the integrated tool strategy across campaign, analytics and reporting and day-to-day management.
Learn More About Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer

4 / Customer Data Platform Common Capabilities or Features

The term ‘customer data platform’ or CDP is one that can cause some confusion for marketers. This is due to a growing number of companies adopting the term as a descriptor for technology that claims to address a wide range of data management capabilities.

Yet as the scope of capability varies widely between vendors, standard features for CDPs are fluid and evolving – and inconsistent features create confusion!

So why the inconsistency? One explanation is that a vendor has previously focussed on other related software categories, such as marketing automation, analytics, tag management or campaign management – and is evolving their positioning and technology with the rise of the CDP category.

In a changeable and flexible space that is still maturing, this means support for key capabilities can vary greatly between vendors.

So what common capabilities, features or support can be expected from a vendor who identifies their solution as a CDP?

Most CDP solutions are commonly able to support:

  • Collection and integration of customer data from digital and offline systems. Most CDP solutions support standard connections for source systems such as marketing applications and CRMs – a requirement to support data integration.
  • Management of customer profiles. A CDP solution should be able to create universal, persistent consumer profiles, using identity resolution to create accurate profiles of individual entities, customers, visitors or prospects across devices and channels.
  • Segment creation for real-time marketing applications. A CDP should be able to create segments for real-time marketing applications, enabling marketers to make segment data immediately (often instantly) available for use in other marketing applications – to drive relevant, real-time customer messaging and experiences.
  • Data availability with other systems. CDPs enable marketers to expose data to other systems – making that data available to places such as customer analytics, customer engagement platforms and more.
  • Compliance with governance and privacy legislation. Compliance with legislation such as the EU’s recent GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), alongside maintaining a transparent, responsible and secure approach to data must always be a priority for any data solution – and for anyone working with data.


As we’ve explored, the CDP landscape can be a confusing place. And while a quality CDP solution should support the points above, the scope of capability may still vary between vendors. As such a CDP investment may still require additional support from other technologies and professional services, depending on the range of capabilities required.

Because of this and because every organisation has a unique situation, martech stack, data ecosystem and more, it’s important to evaluate whether a CDP solution will really suit current and future needs before investing.

5 / Evaluating Whether a CDP Fits Your Needs

If a CDP is a potential fit for your target use case or requirements, where should you start in your search for a quality vendor? 


There are a number of considerations to take into account when evaluating a list of customer data platform vendors, such as heritage, experience, flexibility, scalability and scope of integration in the enterprise.


When evaluating a CDP:

  • 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, which CDPs include all the capabilities you need?
  • Consider if you have the resources and experience to implement the solution. Do you have the right skill sets? Or will you utilise third-party technology and services? Keep in mind that many organisations struggle to realise the value of a CDP.
  • Review your existing marketing technology. Does this support and align with your choice of CDP? How will they be integrated?
  • Evaluate if the CDP truly provides a complete and high-quality single view of the customer. There are some area of functionality required to attain an accurate single view of the customer where many CDPs are still maturing. If a CDP is lacking capabilities such as data quality and standardisation, identity resolution and identity management this may impact the results you can achieve.
  • Explore what data your CDP can manage. CDPs typically can manage known customer data, including personally identifiable information (PII). However, carefully review if each CDP you are considering manages customer data from all the source systems you need, and provides data governance rules and privacy-compliant processes to ensure the personal data is used correctly. For example, consider if you have requirements to manage sensitive or special category personal data (such as ethnic origin, sexual orientation, health, religious and political affiliation data), comply with strict regulations such as FCRA, HIPAA, PCI, CCPA or GDPR, or limit how the personal data is moved across national/regional borders. You need to ensure any CDP you consider can meet these requirements.
  • Make sure you have a data strategy and support in place for optimal use and implementation of your CDP. If you are unclear on whether you have this in place, then reach out to service providers such as Acxiom, who can provide specific work packages to support your decission making process.
  • Consider 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 your requirements. 





Marketers must assess and weigh these factors to determine the optimal path forward for addressing the full spectrum of brand needs for unifying and activating data.  This is why employing Acxiom’s experience in this space can help you to make the best decisions to meet your business requirements and needs.

6 / Acxiom’s Unified Data Layer Framework

Acxiom’s unified data layer (UDL) framework provides a foundation for your omnichannel marketing and advertising ecosystem. It aligns data from digital and offline channels, resolves identity across known and anonymous consumers, addresses prospects and customers in a single solution, and provides a privacy-compliant data and identity management foundation that can be leveraged independently or in combination with CDPs. 

Fundamentally, this solution framework provides a holistic and flexible approach to achieving the promise of a CDP solution, as dictated by the needs of the brand. 

Acxiom’s UDL framework provides several distinctions from many CDP options, enabling:

  • Enterprise-class data integration and management
  • Identity Resolution and Management for a complete and high-quality Single View of the Customer
  • Optimal marketing stack evolution 
  • Closed-loop, omnichannel measurement 
  • Best-in-class privacy and data governance
  • Second-party data and marketing collaboration
  • Expert professional services for day-to-day support, campaign planning, execution and analytics 

With a unified data layer, marketing leaders can also engage with Acxiom and have confidence they will leverage a partner committed to achieving their unique goals with a solution optimised around an omnichannel data foundation; leveraging best-of-breed technology and proven services designed to generate the best return on investment.

Winterberry Report - Deconstructing Customer Data Platforms

Is a customer data platform right for your needs? Download The Winterberry Report, ‘Deconstructing Customer Data Platforms - Myth vs Reality,’ for an assessment of the CDP landscape and provider capabilities.

Download our free POV