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The Promise of CDPs Falls Short: Marketing Data Aggregation Platforms to the Rescue?

The explosion of the MarTech community has created many paths to achieve marketing and business goals through digital technologies. By plotting their own courses, the technologies are not inherently meant to be compatible with one another.


While some are walled by design, others are by virtue of constant changes, updates and improvements. What difficulties lie a coherent customer experience across platforms, product groups, brands and communication channels—including offline and online? Who owns the customer experience? Where is the single source of truth?

Cue the creation of the Customer Data Platform (CDP) space circa 2015 with inspiration from David Raab of the CDP Institute. Grouped from several categories, primarily multi-channel campaign management and tag managers, the benefits of combining like groups are multi-fold.

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First, re-categorization of existing and new vendors captures emerging but established trends within the space. With a set of minimum requirements, different but more similar categories can leverage a stronger marketing fit and presence within the ever-competing world of the MarTech landscape.

The stipulation of common requirements among the vendors to formalize a new category is no small task. These foundational CDP rules encompass:

  1. Flexible, real-time data ingestion and export tools
  2. Ability to standardize data at ingestion
  3. Deterministic, customizable identity resolution
  4. Real-time and bi-directional integrations
  5. Emphasis on data governance

One obvious benefit lies in greater allocation of budgetary dollars for more established segments. Brands and agencies are more aware of the category and therefore are more likely to create a line item budget. Without cross-organization recognition, for example, tag managers were merely a tool that required code on a company’s website for better efficiencies – less than essential.

In other words, the tool didn’t fix anything broken in the sense of not functioning. Of course, the employees who had to do the heavy lifting for everything tag-related, asynchronous/synchronous loading and rules-based decisioning held the tribal knowledge for the wonders of tag management.

Among other possibilities, perhaps their technical skills didn’t translate to people-based communication for internal knowledge sharing and needs awareness. Or conceivably a more basic reason, they lacked the time and bandwidth to become an employee exhibiting "citizenship behaviors" within a company.

Lastly, category consolidation solidified their audience to those of Digital Marketers. While the implementation of the CDPs were often beholden to IT/ dev cycles and their potentially long-tailed ticketing system to get the appropriate resources, fully deployed and running the knock-on benefits were significant for marketers, like:

  • Campaign agility
  • 1st-party data ownership
  • Cross-channel marketing at the user level
  • Better overall control of marketing activities

The CDP Realization Falls Short?

However, their inception was not without its downsides. Coupled with the increased recognition of CDPs came the misconception that selecting one would fulfill a company’s needs—like a check box. While strong commonalities exist among them, co-existing CDPs can fulfill different enough needs.

It rings especially true for tag managers which fulfill a very specific gap that other CDPs cannot. One common example within the e-commerce space, is the ability to make changes to your website html during the holiday code freeze - without any hard-coded changes.

A temporary or soft fix can be implemented immediately and when the freeze is lifted, a permanent change can be included in the next sprint cycle. CDPs with origins from multi-channel campaign management and data integration categories would not be able to do that because they have no tag management capabilities.

While CDPs differ among themselves, one of their biggest commonalities is arguably their largest downfall – incomplete or lack of implementation. The promise of a customer orchestration platform that is real-time, hyper-personalized and puts the marketer in the driver’s seat of their own data at the user cookie-level is dreamy.

However, the actual process to implement all parts of the customer experience so that it is coherent and flowing might require something akin to a retrofit of all legacy business parts that were never meant to be aligned in such a way.

The change could transcend technology and be an organizational, people or even mind shift way of thinking. Mayur Gupta, a MarTech leader, commonly notes how organizations are aligned around products and not the customer experience. That begs questions like:

  • If a customer purchases a product from a company, how coherent will their customer experience be across all marketing and communication channels?
  • Will the gaps in the customer experience be similar to the gaps internally between the Product teams, Marketing teams, hired agencies, etc.?

Greener Pastures Beyond?

Since many CDPs are woefully underutilized to their full potential, there has been a shift in expectations to other platforms. Particularly attractive with an ease-of-use theme, these other platforms are Marketing Extract Transform Load (ETL) companies, like Improvado.

Improvado automatically aggregates marketing data from various sources, and centralizes everything in a single dashboard that gets updated in real-time. Marketers can use their dashboard to analyze and visualize their data efficiently in order to make better business decisions. 

It has been no wonder that ETL tools tout one of their biggest strengths as the ability to get fully ramped in a matter of weeks if not days. On the same note, they often do not require Digital and Performance Marketers to step outside their team for support, implementation or otherwise.

Thus, everyone is more-or-less aligned and empathetic of another’s daily plights and target KPIs because it stays within the marketing family. Looking at the flip side, their IT counterparts would likely not prioritize a support ticket because a marketer, for example, wants to launch a campaign faster.

A Marketing ETL company’s purpose, like Improvado, is to pipe data from all marketing connectors to a single location, typically a dashboard or data warehouse. Unlike CDPs, they typically deal with aggregate marketing data like ad spend meant for back-end analytics reporting.

Other differences include decisioning capabilities. CDPs can apply rules at the user-level for targeting purposes. For Marketing ETL platforms any changes must be done outside of the platform and in the respective marketing source. They give the user a holistic visibility into how all the marketing sources compare against one another to eliminate marketing blind spots. That way, they can better understand things like:

  • How do paid media sources contribute to a customer’s lifecycle value?
  • What does organic social media do for website conversions?
  • Which marketing channel contributes the most to revenue?

Another key difference, real-time for Marketing ETL platforms are once or twice daily versus CDPs that are in the fractions of seconds. In other words, one is for aggregate-level data completion and accuracy while the other is meant for user-level targeting and speed. And while Marketing ETL platforms do have the capacity to layer in user-level information, it’s primarily meant for visualization and attribution purposes.

What’s increasingly being asked - or even made a requirement! - is the ability to do more with user-level data from Marketing ETL platforms, and that’s directly because of the complexities to do the same things within a CDP. In fact, most companies already leverage a CDP that is technically capable.

It speaks volumes to how much existing technologies are underutilized, and perhaps there is a larger trend in motion that favors no-code technologies with an easier lift to implement and ramp. To make something extremely complex into something simple makes accessible to companies and agencies that otherwise do not have the resources and/or bandwidth. The promise of CDPs is becoming the hope in others.

If you’re interested in learning more about Improvado, request a demo.

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