Martin Kihn is senior vice president, strategy, Marketing Cloud. In a former life, he was a research vice president at Gartner and has advised numerous Fortune 500 clients on marketing strategy. This post is part of our Moment Makers series, which dives into how marketers use technology to build data-driven customer experiences that feel natural, relevant, and right on time. 

During the five years I covered marketing technology as a Gartner research analyst, I never saw a category take off like the customer data platform (CDP). In 2016, the CDP shot up Gartner’s well-known Hype Cycle – which tracks buzz – more vigorously than anything in memory. By 2018, the most common question I got from clients was, “What is a CDP, anyway?

To answer the question, I eventually pored over hundreds of proposal requests from enterprises of all shapes and sizes, outlining their detailed requirements for a CDP. In addition to eyestrain, this exercise gave me the conviction that buyers were looking to this seemingly brand-new product to solve just about every problem they had. What they didn’t realize was the CDP wasn’t new: it was – and remains – an evolution of CRM for marketing.

High-tech promises are common in emerging categories, of course. But the CDP got so frothy that David Raab, founder of the CDP Institute, delivered a presentation at the MarTech Conference titled, “CDP Cures Baldness: Getting Past the Hype About Customer Data Platforms.”


CDPs connect customer data

Well, CDPs don’t cure baldness (at least as far as I know), but there is a lot they can do to connect customer data. Even as their hype abates, true enterprise CDPs such as Salesforce’s Customer 360 Audiences are emerging to help marketers face their biggest challenges. In particular, CDPs address three core issues:


Disconnected Data

This makes customer connections harder. Our most recent State of Marketing research revealed that the number of data sources used by marketers alone grew 50% from eight in 2019 to 12 (projected) in 2021. Other research showed the average enterprise has about 900 different applications, an average of only 28% of which are integrated with a system of record. 


Incomplete Identities

Identity and privacy management are key capabilities today. Many data sources have customer IDs that aren’t mapped to one another to build a more complete customer profile. And our research found only one in three marketers said they were “satisfied” with their ability to reconcile identities across data sources. 


Scattered Segmentation

Any data scientist will tell you there is no algorithmic magic that can beat bad – or missing – data. Customer profiles that are incomplete, disparate, lagging, or just plain wrong lead to ailing analytics and predictive models.


How can an enterprise-grade CDP help marketers solve these three problems?

One of my favorite examples is Casey’s. Casey’s logo is a beacon across the Midwest and South, boasting 2,200-plus locations in 16 states. It has a customer base devoted to its heart-of-the-community convenience stores, which are famous for comfort foods like the tasty Taco Pizza and friendly staff that treat you like a neighbor.

Like many retailers, Casey’s aspired to deliver a more personal digital experience to its customers in 2020, one that paired relevant promos with the soul of the brand. “When you look at all the things that people love about Casey’s,” said Art Sebastian, vice president of digital experience, “it’s authentic to be friendly and relatable.”

Casey’s launched a loyalty program in January and signed up 2.5 million active customers when the pandemic hit. It became a pilot user of the Salesforce Customer 360 Audiences CDP to improve customer data management. Sebastian found actions such as engaging lapsed customers and suppressing emails to people who recently made a purchase can yield big benefits, but they’re often difficult to do.

“What our customers want is more relevance,” Sebastian told me. “They don’t want to get the same thing as everyone else. They want relevant promotions and personalized messages that speak to them.”

But the guest experience can’t be improved if the data about that guest sits in disconnected systems. Connecting data from online orders, in-store transactions, and emails via Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Casey’s was able to display a hero image of the most recent pizza type each guest had purchased directly in the body of the email.

This simple tweak led to a 16% lift in conversion rates on pizza alone. Such is the power of connecting disconnected data – which is where CDP shines – and Casey’s is all-in on improving customer data management as part of its overall transformation journey.

“No one jumps into a CDP,” said Sebastian. “This pilot was a good step forward in our shift to becoming more relevant to our guests. What we built with Customer 360 Audiences is a tool that enables marketers to import data sets, create audience segments, and do data discovery. It just lets us move faster.”


What’s next

At Salesforce, we believe we’re only in the opening innings of the CDP game. As Kevin Mannion of Advertiser Perceptions told us recently, “We are most certainly in the top of the first [inning], perhaps the first batter.”

That’s why we’re excited to launch Salesforce Customer 360 Audiences later this month as part of the new Salesforce Digital 360. Now is when the game gets interesting.

Marketing Cloud offers solutions for digital marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, customer journey mapping, marketing analytics, marketing automation, and B2B marketing to help you personalize customer communications across every digital touchpoint — from anywhere.