Customer Data Platform: Is It About Marketer Control or Data Access?

Over at Customer Data Platform (CDP) Institute, David Raab raised an interesting point: Does a CDP need to be “marketer-controlled”? His argument against the very definition he coined comes down to two points, each addressing “marketer” and “controlled”:

  1. “marketer”: In reality, marketing is one of several teams that can benefit from centralized, unified customer data. Other teams include customer operations, sales, product among others.
  2. “controlled”: The “sensitive” connotation of the word aside, in reality, marketing ends up granting access to many data sources, if not outright own them. Hence, “marketer control” is a misnomer if not wishful thinking.

As a marketer who was once a software engineer, I can relate to the nuances of this definitional exercise. On one hand, many sources of customer data come from systems that are operated by IT, and they often keep them locked away from marketing. I’ve heard countless tales of marketing analysts “waiting for IT to give access to data”. At the same time, I can see IT’s side of the argument. Their job isn’t calculating conversion rates or making people click on ads but to keep lights on the servers and keep vigil on data breach. For them, giving access to more data to marketing teams is a waste of time at best if not an outright risk.

But let’s step back: marketers actually don’t care to control data. Many of us don’t even know how databases exactly work nor care to learn about them. We think of databases as something scary even (the last thing we want is delete important customer data because we mistyped a database query). We just want to ACCESS, and to some extent collect, customer data whenever we want without asking for IT help.

That’s what we mean by “controlling”. We want to have greater control over our ability to access the data we need. Better yet, we want greater visibility to which data is available in the company so that we can come up with creative data-driven campaigns. If IT can provide that to us, we’re more than happy about it.

This is how tag managers became so popular. Tag managers arose from marketers’ (or really, web developers’) pain of embedding a lot of HTML tags into the website. By using a tag manager, marketers can ask their developer to embed the tag manager’s snippet once, and for each subsequent tag, they could just add it themselves from the comfort of a web UI. Tag management solutions were all about marketer accessibility, not marketer control (In fact, marketers still didn’t exactly control their data: if IT decided to remove the tag manager, there was nothing marketers could do about it).

Coming back to customer data platforms, I see the same scenario playing out. All CDP vendors today are SaaS, which means marketers don’t truly control their data but access them through APIs provided by each CDP vendor. CDPs just make data way more accessible than IT-built data warehouses.

This is why I prefer to think about data accessibility rather than control. Control is not (and should not) be something marketers care about. Control means maintenance, which we should leave to others, be it IT or CDP vendors. If anything, we should strive to control our destiny with greater access to customer data.

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Kiyoto Tamura
Kiyoto Tamura
Kiyoto began his career in quantitative finance before making a transition into the startup world. A math nerd turned software engineer turned developer marketer, he enjoys postmodern literature, statistics, and a good cup of coffee.
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