Customer Data Platforms (CDPs): Where Are They Headed Post-Pandemic?

  • Posted: 11th November 2021
  • Written by:

    Sean Burrell & Sue Murray

I. Introduction

Marketing organizations are facing more challenges than ever. There are now more channels to target, higher levels of competition and customers with expectations for products/services to be delivered in as close to real-time as possible! The only way to truly compete is to deliver highly personalized, intent-based content & messages. This means an organization’s marketing & operational systems need to seamlessly integrate with one another. With many organizations using between 20-30 marketing technologies, the amount of data being collected is growing at an exponential rate. However, there’s limited integration among these systems, causing data silos to continue to propagate. Data resides within one system or organization, rather than being shared in a collaborative manner. This results in data inefficiencies, inconsistencies and a reduced ability to use it for insightful actions. Marketers know the data problems and the importance in implementing a comprehensive data strategy to better control end-to-end customer experience as they live it day-to-day.

II. Customer Data Platforms (CDPs)

A Customer Data Platform (CDP) is one such technology that can address these issues.   Fueled by pandemic-inspired marketing transformation projects, there are now an increasing number of CDP vendors available to choose from, and existing CDP vendors have dramatically increased their development efforts to increase their platform’s functionality.

A CDP excels at collecting data in a regulated way from sources like websites, mobile, in-store, call center, 3rd party sources and IoT. It then fuses it to create unique customer profiles in real-time and makes it available to, and actionable for, other tools and technologies. It offers a balance of quickness and responsiveness— unifying customer data into profiles in real-time with stability— providing one source of truth for your marketing activities.

By collecting and cleaning customer data from many different channels and unifying it into one location, CDPs can provide various business units throughout your organization (e.g., marketing, customer service, customer success, leadership, sales, analytics) with a single, accessible and real-time view of a customer.  This means the CDP can be a silo-breaker and can help ensure everyone within an organization gets access to trusted customer data when they need to action it.

The base functions that a CDP needs to provide include:

  • Ability to personally identify customers and their contact information
  • Functionality to load, clean and store customer data
  • Processes to accept inputs from multiple data sources in all sorts of formats
  • Capabilities to link data from different sources to the same customer
  • Functionality to make the data available to external systems
  • Ability to apply processes that make the data more useful for marketing
  • Access to a UI that gives marketers easy access and control over the data

II.A How is a CDP different from a CRM, SCV or a DMP?

The definition of a CDP can sound similar to that of a CRM, Single Customer View or a Data Management Platform. However, DMPs, SCVs and CRMs are really only capable of providing a snapshot of a part of the customer profile, and sometimes only for a brief period of time, whereas a CDP provides a comprehensive and persistent customer profile. Below are some of the additional differences between the technologies:


A Data Management Platform (DMP) allows organizations to target anonymous audiences based on 3rd party data. Typically, DMPs are utilized to influence advertising to better target ads and reach audiences. They help identify potential individuals based on demographic data including age, gender, salary, etc. based on the behavior or data provided on 3rd party sites. A DMP generally will rely on browsing or cookie-based information to segment customers. This works well for retargeting communications but is limited by cookie expiration information (e.g., typically 90 days) and the lack of an actual customer profile when it comes to using the data beyond this. DMP data is not persistent data (i.e., you can’t pull up the past data)’ it is temporary, and DMPs usually have limited ability to integrate with 1st-party data. 

A CDP however, can act on this same kind of data but also bring in the ‘known’ elements of a customer and enable real-time actions based on facts as well as derivations.


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 number of transactions, usually direct transactions and interactions. They are adept at analyzing the sales pipeline, producing forecasts and enabling a business to engage with their customers over various channels while keeping an up-to-date profile of those customers. However, that data is restricted to the managed customer data and typically doesn’t incorporate the depth and breadth of other interactions a customer could have with your business on other channels (e.g., a website or in store). Another key difference between a CRM and a CDP is that CRMs are typically not managed by marketers.


The “traditional” Single Customer View (SCV) approach to marketing data can bring together large numbers of data sources and does provide a good level of segmentation capabilities based on a wide range of customer interactions. The disadvantage compared with a CDP is that this data can be hard for marketers to leverage without some kind of technical or coding ability. Alternatively, a 3rd-party interface could sit on top of this single customer view, but this gives further overhead to the marketing team.

II.B How Does a CDP Work?

CDPs have extensive capabilities and functions, but the foundation on which they work is fairly straightforward. 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.   They can also have additional functions such as advanced data analytics, content marketing, predictive capabilities, segmentation and campaign management. Below are the 5 steps a CDP is typically responsible for:  

  • Collecting the Data
    The process begins with the collection of data to feed into the CDP. This includes client-side information and server-side collection (APIs) through the various channels, CRM systems, call center, in-store, mobile and app data. Typical types of incoming information include personal and demographic data, online behavioral data, engagement data, transactional and POS data, and IOT and device data.
  • Unifying, Transforming & Standardizing the Data
    This is where you would bring your business rules to the process to uniformly define the disparate data sources. Various CDP vendors provide their own ways to standardize data, but relying on third-party data definitions means you have less control over your customer data. Specific activities done in this step include data validation, data derivation, data cleansing and identity unification.
  • Enriching the Data & Creating Segments/Audiences
    In the enrichment process, all of the data you’ve collected is aligned with individual customer profiles. From there, those profiles can be managed through segments or audiences before being pushed to customer experience endpoints. On top of that, any consent preferences tied to the customer profile are integrated at this step (those settings don’t need to be established at every activation point).
  • Integrating & Updating the CDP
    Most companies have dozens of tools that make up the customer experience—from ESPs to websites to social media. APIs and integrations populate the CDP so that it becomes your single source of truth for all of these channels, updating them in real-time with the same information.
  • Activating Your Communications
    With the information cleaned, unified into customer profiles and organized into segments/audiences, you can now activate cross-channel campaigns and power BI tools with confidence to your targeted audiences. This could include web personalization, ad campaigns, email campaigns, push messaging, social campaigns and direct mail to name a few.

One of the main benefits of activating all of your customer experience endpoints via the CDP data is that the profiles are continuously becoming better. The more engagement you get through your activation channels, the more data you have to collect and inform your individual customer profiles and audiences.

II.C Is It Time to Implement a CDP at Your Organization?

Undertaking implementation of a CDP is a fair amount of work, so ensuring that your organization is (a) ready for the challenge, (b) has articulated the business pain/problems that a CDP can help solve and (c) has staff that can take it on, are all critical to consider. Below are eight questions that can gauge your organization’s readiness for a CDP project: 

  1. You have identified the business insights needed, the data required and you have supporting use cases that warrant the use of CDP technology
  2. You utilize multiple channels to market to your customers, and you need unified omni-channel data in real-time to execute personalized communications 
  3. You’re currently tackling organization-wide challenges like data governance (CCPA, GDPR) and additional privacy issues
  4. You can’t get a full picture of the customer journey via your current CRM or DMP applications
  5. You are looking to achieve personalization and targeted advertising at mass scale
  6. You have executive sponsorship for your CDP project and a strategic owner in Marketing, IT, or data science/related department that will take on ownership of the CDP 
  7. Your company sees customer data as a strategic asset and is supportive of technology to advance customer data insights 
  8. You have the basics in place to measure ROI from delivery of personalized real-time communications and campaigns that will be supported via the use of the CDP 

II.D What to Look for When Comparing CDPs on the Market

As you embark at looking at potential different CDP solutions, here are a few things to put into your evaluation criteria: 

  • Does the CDP eliminate (as many as possible) data silos and allow for access via a variety of data collection capabilities (e.g., built-in connectors, SDKs, webhooks, APIs) to the other parts of your MarTech stack?
  • Is it data agnostic – meaning, can it work with information from different or disparate channels & databases – even if the data is in dissimilar formats?
  • Does it have the ability to ingest various types of data [e.g., profile data, real-time interaction data (behavioral, demographic, transactional), Marketing Automation data, customer support data, mobile, POS restaurant data, device data]?
  • Is the CDP powered by AI and Machine-Learning algorithms to help identify actionable insights across the various channels (e.g., predictive analytics)?
  • Can all of your brands’ data points be consolidated in a centralized place across all channels used?
  • What is the CDP’s data unification methodology (i.e., sometimes referred to as ‘identify resolution’)? How is a unique profile of each customer to be made available for each record? Are the profiles enriched with 2nd- & 3rd-party data?
  • How close to real-time is the process of reconciliation of both on- and offline data? 
  • Does the tool have the ability to segment the customer data and then have it available to push to external third parties for communication at or near real-time? 
  • How deep is the customization of the customer segmentation within the CDP?  
  • What does the UI for the CDP look like, and how easy will it be to come up-to-speed for the various marketing end-users?

III. Leading CDPs in the Market

There are many powerful CDP options currently on the market. In this document, we’ll look at four of the leading CDPs available for marketing organizations and end-users today. These four in particular have robust offerings and are exhibiting behaviors (such as billion-dollar acquisition strategies) to position themselves as the solution provider of CDPs on the market:

  1. Twilio’s Segment CDP  
  2. Acquia’s CDP  
  3. Simon’s CDP
  4. Adobe’s CDP

Other leading vendors that aren’t covered in this document but are interesting contenders include:

  • Emarsys (purchased by SAP)
  • Bloomreach (via acquisition of Exponea in 2021)
  • Tealium AudienceStream CDP
  • OptInMove – considered a Relationship Marketing Hub with a CDP at its core

III.A Twilio’s Segment CDP

In the fourth quarter of 2020, Twilio purchased and folded into their organization “Segment” at a price of $3.2B. The intent was to combine Twilio’s cloud communication expertise with one of the leading CDP solution providers.   Twilio’s vision is to be the customer engagement platform of the future, and this is a major step forward for them. 

Segment is one of the top CDPs in the market and helps Twilio solve three business problems. First, data ingestion – “Segment” allows for the absorption of data from both on- and online and offline sources. Secondarily, Segment provides crucial data management and the creation of the unified customer profile of each user. Finally, they also offer a complete toolkit to standardize data collection, unify the user records and route customer data into any other systems where it is needed (e.g., Adobe Campaign).

Examples of customers using Segment now include IBM, Peloton, Intuit, Instacart, Staples, edX,, Zendesk and Petco.

Twilio’s vision can be seen from a recent investment presentation shown below:

Currently, Segment has an integration to Adobe Analytics out-of-the-box. 

Other considerations when looking at Segment as a potential CDP: 

  • It can be pricey at scale – based on the volumes of data that you are working with, this is a consideration to dig deeper into
  • As most CDPs are dealing with enormous quantities of information, it’s important to validate Segment’s ability to handle your specific data levels 
  • Consistency across data connectors should be inspected and assessed
  • If you are accumulating historical data and exporting it out for analysis, explore how Segment will handle those types of requests  
  • They have a toolkit for end-users, which will be important to scrutinize to determine the volume of data presented, the customization of the UI and the potential learning curve for your intended marketing users.

III.B Acquia’s CDP Solution

Aquia, known for its Drupal CMS framework, acquired AgilOne’s CDP in December of 2019. Similar to Twilio’s Segment, Acquia’s solution also unifies all online & offline data into a single, persistent customer record through their UI and various APIs. It is one of the few CDP offerings that has been certified by the CDP Institute as a ‘RealCDP’.  

The tool is considered to be focused on B2C, enterprise-class with the ability to successfully process and support large volumes of transactions, events, and profiles. The underlying data model is metadata-configurable through its UI, allowing users to see unique attributes across the whole data pipeline. An advantage of Aquia’s Interactive Queries built-in SQL query editor is that it allows marketers simple and direct access to the unified CDP data without the need to involve IT.


Aquia’s tool offers unique advantages for organizations which have web assets already using the Acquia CMS framework.

Examples of customers currently using Acquia’s CDP include Godiva, lululemon, Arcelik, Moosejaw, Tumi, JoAnn Stores and Lids.

Other considerations when looking at the Acquia CDP include:

  • The original AgilOne product has built in campaign design and campaign execution, so there may be redundancies if you are utilizing another campaign tool such as Adobe Campaign
  • Similar to Twilio’s purchase of Segment, Acquia purchased AgilOne’s solution, so the integration between the two separate products can sometimes be an issue while the solution is weaved into the rest of the Acquia organization. However, as per a recent press release from Acquia, they indicate: “The first step was to integrate the CDP with Acquia’s existing campaign management and personalization solutions in Acquia Marketing Cloud. Now we’ve also integrated it into the Drupal Cloud, so we have one consistent digital-first platform.” Having Acquia speak to how this integration has been going and what issues may still be there will be important to know going in

III.C Simon’s CDP Solution

Simon’s CDP capabilities are in the strength of their customer unification and centralization capabilities from any source of static or streaming data. Similar to the other CDPs discussed in this document, they allow marketers to build segments from both real-time and historical data. Predictive models and personalization, using any customer attributes, can also easily be created within the platform. Finally, Simon CDP will automate customer data management and has strong APIs alongside content, data governance and alerting capabilities. 

Examples of customers currently using Simon’s CDP include TripAdvisor, ASOS, Canary and Travel & Leisure.

Some considerations when looking at the Simon CDP include:

  • Are there any issues with Simon’s ability to process database updates, synching up changes automatically, and ensuring no delays in usability for the marketing end-users?
  • What does the UI for the end-user look like from an ease-of-use standpoint, and what are Simon’s plans on new updates to the UI coming in the future?
  • Are there any limitations on the number and complexity of segments that end-users can create? This would be another question to speak to the Simon sales team about, so they can indicate how this functionality is supported within their solution

III.D Adobe’s CDP Solution

Adobe’s Real-Time Customer Data Platform is a service that is built on the Adobe Experience Platform. Out-of-the box integration is then easy with Adobe Campaign; however, with one of the key characteristics of a CDP being its easy integration, this advantage for Adobe is somewhat less important. Their CDP helps brands activate known and unknown customer data to manage the entire customer profile and journey seamlessly in one system, without the need for third-party cookies.

According to Adobe: “Adobe’s Real-Time Customer Data Platform allows marketers to collect, normalize, and unify known and pseudonymous consumer and professional data into real-time profiles. These person or account-based profiles then power B2B, B2C, and hybrid customer experiences at scale.”

Below shows a screenshot of the UI a marketer would see for Adobe’s CDP:


Some of the more important potential benefits for utilizing Adobe’s CDP, in combination with the current use of Adobe Campaign, would include the following:

  • Increased speed. There is the opportunity to increase the current speeds of ingesting, segmenting and actioning data immediately for the purpose of campaigning
  • Reduction in production times. Campaign production times could be improved. Data within the real-time CDP is collated in the unified profile and segmented for campaign selection, which can be done in the interface where customer-level profiles for campaigns can be selected
  • Rapid customer data consolidation. As 3rd party, web, mobile, loyalty and ad data are aggregated in the application alongside the unique profile data, AC clients will save time and avoid waiting to get this data pulled into the marketing database or integrating these separate point solutions into Adobe Campaign to ingest
  • Reduction in technical workflow and ETL creation. There will likely be ETL and technical campaign workflow effort reductions as there could be a decrease in the need for technical workflows in Adobe Campaign to do complex data transformation tasks. It can also reduce the need for adjacent systems having to do ETL work loading data into the current database. The resources required for these processes could be freed up to undertake alternative business tasks as a result
  • Spread the load of customer segmentation. Marketing end-users may be more empowered to make powerful selections of real-time data and view and select segments for Adobe Campaign via a listening tool to activate campaigns
  • Increased personalization at higher volumes and speeds. As more data points on customers can be consolidated with less effort in real-time, these new data points can be used to build out more personalized campaigns that Adobe Campaign can push out automatically as the data becomes available
  • Multiple ESPs can be supported. CDPs can connect to other ESPs, giving AC users the flexibility to select the tool desired for broadcast. Naturally, the features each ESP can provide with the data once received can vary considerably

IV. Final Thoughts

A CDP has a strong propensity to win your current marketing team members back time through the consolidation of real-time data sources alongside having these data sources connected to a customer profile and be executable in a campaign immediately. You could find yourself in a fortunate position where the level of campaign personalization and targeted advertising could increase in-line with campaign speed on a mass-scale. Coinciding with this is a reduction in data preparation and campaign production efforts. 

When choosing which CDP is right for your situation, it will be important to understand which vendor will integrate the best with your current MarTech stack. What is the ease of use between them? What third-party applications do you currently use that come out-of-the-box?  

It is Celerity’s view that the strongest contender for organizations that are utilizing Adobe Campaign would be Adobe’s Real Time CDP. However, both Adobe and Twilio are seen to be re-factoring their products around the CDP offering as they see this as one of the most critical foundational solutions for the next five years.  With the privacy changes being adopted by Apple & Google and the upcoming third-party cookie changes coming, tapping into the wealth of data that enterprises have is going to be vital. Both Adobe (and Twilio) are spending incredible amounts of money to win this race to deliver the top CDP.  

All of us at Celerity would be happy to work with you to help provide additional information and services to support you on this very important decision and how it can positively impact campaign and marketing operations.

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