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4 Types of Customer Data Platforms: Which Is Right for You?

September 6, 2023 6 minute read
Not sure which type of customer data platform is right for you? Here are important factors to consider.
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Customer Data Platform

Evaluating a customer data platform (CDP) can be overwhelming. The software industry throws confusing swirls of capabilities, solutions, and buzzwords — CDPs are no exception — that render decision-making a formidable challenge. 

We’re here to help cut through that noise and make sure you find the perfect CDP for your organization. 

Deciding between types of customer data platforms starts with organizational self-reflection and research. What do you want to get out of a CDP? What’s your organization’s overall roadmap with a CDP?

Start with those questions before ingesting this mind-bending stat: Organizations are projected to spend over $922 billion on enterprise software in 2023. I’ll bet plenty of them aren’t getting their money’s worth – likely because of lax consideration processes, knee-jerk decision-making, or buying new software just to have it. You don’t want to be one of those cases. 

To avoid burning cash on a CDP that’s not right for you, you should put a few different types of CDPs under the microscope to match them against your needs. Let’s run through a handful of CDP types for a clearer idea of what’s best for you. 

What does a CDP do? 

A CDP is a central hub for all of your organization's customer data. The increase in digital channels that modern businesses market to has led to an increase in customer data coming in from multiple sources. A CDP collects the data from these digital channels and stores it in one place for you to access, analyze, and use to personalize marketing campaigns. 

That’s the general gist of what a CDP does, but some more specific functions include: 

  • Identity resolution
  • Analytics
  • Machine learning
  • Data sharing
  • Cohort analysis
  • Single customer view


A CDP is a powerful tool that helps organizations store and analyze massive customer data sets to influence data-informed personalization tactics targeted to customer groups. But, it’s not one-size-fits-all, so let’s explore some different types of CDPs and how they fit in the customer data ecosystem. 

What are the different types of CDPs?

Lumping all CDPs into neat little groups can’t really be done; it’s much more complicated than that. Still, we can map out the four main types of customer data platforms and see where it leads us. 

Marketing cloud CDPs

CDPs have become fashionable in recent years. Larger enterprise software companies — Acquia included — have built and deployed their own CDP solutions. The big draw, of course, is for these organizations to integrate and enhance the capabilities of their own existing tool sets. 

Basically, if you’ve got a bunch of Adobe solutions, Adobe’s CDP plays nicely with them. Same goes for Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle — you get the picture. These full-purpose marketing cloud CDPs are wonderfully well-rounded if you’re working in the corresponding system. Proprietary software is notoriously picky about not playing nicely with others (which is why open CDPs, like Acquia’s, should be top of mind).

The main idea is that marketing cloud CDPs collect and manage data, put it into unique single customer views, and connect all that to corresponding tools within their own software ecosystems. 

CDP engines and toolkits

This solution allows organizations to tailor their CDP to hyper-specific organizational needs that might fall outside the capabilities of even the best CDP solutions.

Generally, these engines and toolkits are more tech-heavy solutions that IT teams use to build tailored applications on top of an existing CDP. If you’re not a tech whiz, these solutions aren’t known for being user-friendly or as common as other types of CDPs we’ll cover next. They also tend to have a heftier price tag. Most organizations don’t need this level of customer data handling for their use cases, though, but some use these solutions to go above and beyond the reach of most CDPs, making it worth their while.

Marketing data-integration CDPs

These CDPs key in on data operations. That means the solution boasts powerful data manipulation and governance capabilities that’d make any geek giddy, but all of that is housed in a non-technical, user-friendly interface. Both IT and marketing teams can get their hands dirty in these CDPs and work without a hitch.

This CDP type is also great for activating and delivering segmented campaigns to multiple channels, but it lacks comprehensive views of analytics, dulling your decision-making. What’s most helpful is that marketing data-integration CDPs mainly focus on the original purpose of CDPs: organizing first-party data to generate single customer views.

CDP smart hubs

The marketer’s dream: a plug-and-play CDP built with personalization and execution at the forefront — all from a single source.

The “smart” part of CDP smart hubs is its ability to time and target responses based on user behavior and event data. If a user takes an action, the smart hub triggers a response tailored to that user’s behavior. Smart hubs help look into user data and formulate predictions based on real-time analytics to better sculpt the customer journey to the particular dimensions of a single customer. 

Which type of CDP is right for you?

Gartner identifies these as the four vendor types you’ll most often see available. Choosing what works for your organization is another task altogether. And you can’t let vendors lead you doe-eyed hand in hand through a moonlit dreamscape full of empty promises just to get in your pocketbook. You run the show.

What’s right for you begins with your organizational needs and technical resources, but you’ll want any CDP you’re considering to enable: 

  • First-party data collection from multiple channels, both online and offline
  • Single customer views through data-profile unification
  • Audience segmentation to inform better personalization
  • Strategic execution and campaign activation


Without at least these four capabilities, I’d argue that you’re not getting a CDP; you’re being sold CDP snake oil. Within these defining characteristics, each CDP might have its own unique features. It’s your job to suss out what’s most and least important to your organization’s customer-data success.

A note on your organization’s technical resources: Matching your needs with what your technical teams are able to successfully implement is vital to selecting the right CDP. Don’t be distracted by solutions and grand plans to revolutionize your organization’s customer data. Balance those goals with what your teams can feasibly achieve and you’ll find a CDP solution that fits. 

What’s next?

Start by gathering your teams together and discussing what you can do with your customer data now, what you can’t do yet, and what you want to do eventually. Identify low-hanging fruit, make your expectations realistic, and define the business value behind having a CDP – regardless of its type. 

Once you’ve done this, then it’s time to go hunting, and we can help you get started. To learn more or see a demo of Acquia CDP, drop us a line. We’d be happy to help.