The customer data platform (CDP) has experienced a rapid rise in popularity as a marketing technology platform over the past three years, as marketers have increasingly sought a way to make sense of reams of customer data and create a 360-degree view of the customer.

Distinct from a data management platform (DMP) or customer relationship management (CRM) system, a customer data platform is defined as “a marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems”.

It can connect all types and sources of customer data, whether internal or external, structured or unstructured, batch or streaming, to create a comprehensive view that marketers can act on, even in real-time.

Small wonder, then, that marketers are keen to invest in CDPs. However, it’s more common than it should be for businesses to implement a new piece of technology without knowing how to use it to best effect, or to neglect to put the right processes in place beforehand to get the most out of its functionality.

Econsultancy’s recently-published Customer Data Platforms Best Practice Guide contains a wealth of advice and expert opinion on the benefits of using CDPs, the challenges to implementing them, and the steps to a successful implementation. Here are four tips from the guide on how to use a new Customer Data Platform to its full potential.

1) Set the right goals

A customer data platform is a very broad tool; this ability to bring together all kinds of disparate datasets is one of its main appeals, but it can also be an obstacle to getting the most out of it as a platform if there isn’t a crystal-clear reason for implementing it. Therefore, it’s important to be absolutely clear on that the end business goal is from the outset.

James McDermott, CEO at customer data platform Lytics, cautions against making gaining a 360-degree customer view a goal in and of itself. “The biggest challenge we see is from those who come to the project with a sole goal to get data together to build a customer 360 profile. The project will fail,” he told Econsultancy’s research team.

According to McDermott, most companies are already well-equipped with the data they need to deliver relevant and personalised experiences, so quantity of data isn’t the problem. “Marketers need to interpret the data that they have so that it is valuable for one-to-one marketing, or personalisation. If the project is only a ‘customer data infrastructure’ project, there is 100% failure in delivering marketing use cases to shift towards a more dynamic customer-centric approach.”

2) Create an operational plan

Once you’ve selected a CDP, careful planning of operations and processes before letting loose on the tool can help to avoid obstacles in the future. Remember that the implementation of a CDP means that all data is connected across different parts of the business – which might require the business to restructure or hire new talent in different areas.

Meredith Albertson, VP Marketing at marketing software company Tealium, notes the challenges this can present in practice. “Firstly, you must consider how to bridge this tool across multiple business units or departments. Secondly, you need to think about whether the teams in place today are going to actually thrive with CDPs in the future. Old team structures may have been designed to work in silos and may not have needed to be data-driven. It may be that customers weren’t thought about in a holistic fashion.”

Creating an operational plan for who will use the tool both internally and externally (i.e. agencies), what the required internal structures are, and if there are any skill shortages that need to be addressed can help you get out in front of this before it becomes a problem.

3) Invest time – and take the long view

Many of the experts interviewed for the Customer Data Platforms Best Practice Guide spoke about the long-term challenges of getting the most out of a CDP. A business doesn’t stop once CDP implementation is complete: business needs will change, teams and individuals will move, and the technology itself will evolve.

Therefore, it’s essential to take a long-term view when assessing the value that a CDP will provide, setting goals for it, and making sure the technology is resourced appropriately.

Moreover, emphasises Hayley Clifford, Senior CRM & Loyalty Manager at Wickes, platforms are only as good as the time you invest in them. “Unfortunately, when you go through an implementation like this … you still have to deliver everything that you have committed to do, and regular business needs still need to be met. It’s just a challenge being able to dedicate the time we need to really get under the skin of how to use the platform.”

4) Start small

Once you get started with your new customer data platform, don’t try to take on too much at once. Experts advise starting with one or two channels, a limited number of use cases, and realistic timeframes, before working your way up.

Omer Artun, CEO at workforce solutions provider AgileOne, advises that having a clear sense of priority on particular use cases will also increase your chances of success. “The implementations where we have seen huge traction is where the organisation implementing them are clear on what they want to see by when. For example, when they say, by August 15th I want to be able to run these four campaigns and I want to be able to create a report that shows me these five things.”

In other words, setting clear, manageable goals for your platform will go a long way.

Learn more

Subscribers can download the Customer Data Platforms Best Practice Guide for even more research and guidance on using a CDP.