5 Ways to Make Your Customer Data Platform a Catalyst for Change

Shifting your tech stack requires you to rethink and transform your organization

In the past year, the confusion surrounding what a customer data platform (CDP) is and how it fits into the modern tech stack has significantly decreased. But the common misconception that CDPs are just for marketers still pervades. In actuality, CDPs can support the entire organization. The question has evolved from “What is it and how can I use it?” to “How can our organization think and operate differently to adopt a CDP?”

First and foremost, all teams must understand the value a CDP brings and how to best leverage it. A CDP will establish centralized data for real-time profile creation, access and distribution. But without a plan for using this data to create experiences across channels, the value is lost.

Here are five considerations for transforming your organization to successfully leverage a CDP.

Create multifunctional teams

With the adoption of a CDP, the entire organization must rally around the customer journey and experience. Teams must be agile, collaborative and customer-centric.

To achieve this, create cross-functional pods that combine all key marketing roles into a single team that includes customer strategy, creative, data scientists and audience managers. This type of team is better set up to work around your specific business goals and leverage the centralized customer data from the CDP. By eliminating silos between teams you’ll also get rid of redundant or contradictory messaging that results in bad customer experiences.

Align teams around a common goal

Every organization and customer journey is different, so these new teams are often aligned to varied intentions. Some organizations have found success aligning to a specific business objective while others find it is more effective to align around distinct customer segments. For example, a travel brand might align around macrosegments for prospects, customers who have booked but not traveled and lapsed customers who haven’t rebooked in a certain amount of time.

Rather than focusing on tactical, channel or department-level outcomes, establish pod specific KPIs that are aligned to desired customer outcomes. With all team members working toward a common, customer-centric measurement framework, there is no room for confusion.

Enable the transformation

Establishing a new organizational approach won’t happen overnight. Instead, take a thoughtful approach that allows teams to grow into their new operating model. Start by sharing a common set of attributes as part of the customer’s core profile. This profile will become a single source of customer truth that all channels can leverage.  By building upon the core profile and associated behaviors, you can create and share common segments and define each stage in the customer journey.

Where possible begin to share content to create consistent experiences across touchpoints. And finally, create a roadmap for adoption and choose team members who are excited about the organizational change to drive the plan forward.

Rethink your technology architecture

CDPs don’t replace your marketing data warehouse (MDW), but they don’t necessarily require one either. Each can stand alone for a time, depending on your priorities and roadmap, but they are always better together. CDPs provide analytic and reporting capabilities while the MDW is the system of record.

CDPs are also the home and hub for real-time profiles. They house core customer attributes, segments and states. When customers interact with your brand the CDP is the first to know. IT is then the first to react to these customer behaviors by making decisions about what to do, who to tell and what to tell them about how the signals they are receiving change the understanding of the customer’s intent and needs.

With this separation of data management responsibilities comes multiple data pipelines. It no longer makes sense to pass all data through a central MDW as the first step in the data lifecycle. There should be a bi-directional flow of information between the CDP and other data repositories such as your data lake or other consumption-specific data marts. For example, the CDP will augment customer profiles with insights developed in the MDW, and as the CDP captures events in real-time, it will pass them back to the MDW for analytics purposes.

Maintain your channel-specific tech

A CDP will never replace your channel-specific technologies. Instead, it will make them smarter and lighten their load by providing timely and intelligent information about customers.

The channels will still create the experiences but without you having to worry about complex data integration or management. Any microsegmentation or audience management occurring within a channel should be specific to that channel’s approach to creating unique experiences. The understanding of a customer’s profile, state and macrosegments should come directly from the CDP.

Though the mystery around the definition of a CDP has decreased, questions about adoption still linger. To learn more about the adoption process and the questions you should ask before diving in, check out Merkle’s eBook, 10 Key Principles for Successful CDP Adoption. 


Craig Howard leads Merkle’s solution architecture team where he is responsible for designing marketing technology solutions for all practices as well as providing thought leadership, innovation and architectural standards to enable solution deployments. During his time at Merkle, he has led technology CRM engagements for clients such as Samsung, Transamerica, DIRECTV, Taco Bell, SoFi and PNC Bank.