What is a
Customer Data Platform?

The CDP: potential made actual

In today’s world, data isn’t just part of your business; it powers it. It’s the source of smarter decisions. Improved products and services. Happier customers, and more of them. There are thousands of industry sectors and business models, but data is a raw material common to all. So, what exactly is a Customer Data Platform?

Raising the question: how can you make best use of it?

Customer Data Platform is the answer— if you choose with care. Because like the data it deals with, the term’s used loosely, with lookalikes and pretenders ready to trip you up. Here are the attributes of a “real” CDP—like Distil.ai.

1.  A CDP collects together all customer data

Some think a customer’s data is a discrete set, integrated and enduring. But look across the average business and you’ll find customer profiles are more commonly torn to shreds and scattered to the winds. 

The same individual on a dozen databases, just because he bought at twelve different branches. A customer treated as an old friend by Sales, but a stranger by Customer Service. And these days, with the vast choice of channels available to any consumer, the more splintered the dataset can get as time goes on. The same person exists as different “instances” in your website logs, your email database, your social Followers, and even—if you’re lucky—your CRM. (!)

That’s not how the world should be. And with the right CDP, it isn’t. The most basic feature of a customer data platform is that it brings customer data togetherall data, from all sources—and joins the dots, into a Single Customer View that gives everyone authorised the Big Picture. So the Head Office knows what happened at the branch. Dave knows how Rosie handled it last time. And Sales knows about that service issue. Something as vital to smaller businesses as multinationals.

Collecting customer data into a unified whole, with all the jiggle and fizz intact: that’s attribute one of a CDP. But it’s only the entry ticket. A true customer data platform goes much further—and much deeper.

2. A CDP is a platform, not an application

There’s a lot of software out there describing itself as a Customer Data Platform, from CRM programme management to marketing automation tools. True, these tools involve a lot of customers—and a lot of data. But the key is that last word: platform.

There’s a difference between a platform—an enabling technology that gives you a level field on which to build your dreams—and an application, a method for achieving specific tasks. Look critically at most CDPs and you’ll find they’re applications, not platforms. 

A true customer data platform doesn’t send out emails; it gives you the reason for sending them. A true CDP doesn’t see campaign management as its goal in life; it provides the information that make such tools better. A CDP is the backbone that supports a multitude of applications on top.

So if it says customer data platform on the tin, look inside that tin with a critical eye, and decide if it’s platform or application. If it’s the latter, look elsewhere.

3. A Customer Data Platform doesn’t just collect data; it connects it . . .

A clean dataset—even a simple list of customers with descriptions concise and relations defined—is a beautiful thing. But with a CDP that’s just the start. Because the connections that add most competitive advantage aren’t as obvious as income and age group. 

Successful marketing today is far more about psychographic than demographic. It’s about finding that vivid idea that unites a thousand friends, the subtle factor that appeals to a diverse mob spanning twenty nations. Not so much what separates customers as what glues them together. Yet for most datasets, “People who love Springtime and like a shade of burnt orange” is a hard ask.

AI can tease out these less obvious linkages. Not slotting each customer into a box, but seeing boxes that weren’t there before, hidden commonalities that show you strange tribes and exotic tastes at play in your data.

Your customer data is an undiscovered country. Which is why Artificial Intelligence is a must-have for any CDP: it’s how you explore that frontier. Seeing patterns, noticing trends, grouping segments in creative ways you’ve never seen before. With each new audience ready to be turned into your lifelong advocates.

4.  . . . and connects cause with effect, too

The customer journey today isn’t a straight shot from A to B; it’s a landscape. Packed with paths and trails, with customers themselves deciding their route. Which creates an issue for marketers. 

Which marketing communication shortened the sales cycle? Where did a customer first hear about you? What initially intrigued a prospect enough to learn more? A 5% sales uptick after a campaign might have been down to your snappy headline, but probably wasn’t. Correlation is not causation. Actually, it’s often a trickster hiding the cause.

A customer data platform, again, joins the dots. Milestone to milestone, waypoint to waypoint, called attribution modelling. It’s more than business intelligence; it’s business insight. By teasing out the correlations that made a provable and sustained difference, a real CDP shows you what really drove each action, at every stage of the sales funnel. Giving you the opportunity to do more of what mattered most.

5.   A Customer Data Platform lets you operate at scale . . .

As companies grow in size, the more distant they grow from their customers. A product once made to measure goes generic mass-market. Friendly relations between CEO and customer become a faceless string of CRM emails. Scale can denote success. It can also be a killer of what made you special.

That’s another denominator of a true CDP: the way it lets you scale without suffering. By capturing data at every touchpoint, and keeping it in context as the volume of transactions broadens and deepens, your special relationship with each customer stays special. With a CDP in play, every customer still feels like your only customer, from Day One in the garage to Day 10,000 as stockmarket star.

6.  . . . and shows you insights in whatever works

Because a CDP operates as platform not application, it lets you plug in whatever applications work best for your goals. Your CRM app? A web API? Microsoft PowerBI? A true Customer Data Platform doesn’t limit you to a single user experience; it enables a huge diversity of them. 

After all, everyone’s got a favourite chart, an established view, a preferred way of keeping tabs on OKRs and KPIs. A CDP separates front-end application from underlying platform; it’s about effective communication, making sure the ideas and insights discovered in your data are clear and in a format you recognise. 

Of course, an analysis is only as good as the data that goes in. And that’s the point of a CDP: it all goes in. How you consume should be your choice. You do you.

Conclusion: turning customer data into business asset

That’s a Customer Data Platform. Not simply creating new data—nobody wants to make the deluge more complex—or even reorganising the old. But instead bringing all your customer data together . . . and bringing it to life. By tracking all actions and keeping them in context. 

A flat field of disparate data into a rich landscape of information. Numbers and metrics into insights and knowledge. And findings into wisdom. A CDP flips data from cost to investment, with rich returns from increased market understanding, stronger customer relationships, a rising sales curve on every metric.

And Distil.ai is where you start. It doesn’t matter how small your scale; if you’re big on ambition let’s talk.

If you use Shopify, install the FREE distil.ai Analytics Cards plug-in for Shopify here. Or if you’re already in the game to go further – why not talk to us directly and see what else distil.ai can do?