Six months ago, we started a conversation about customer data platforms (CDPs). The timing was right; CDPs were driving attention toward a historically sleepy corner of the martech universe centered around data management, gaining traction among vendors, and racking up mentions in the marketing trade press.

Questions, hope, and more than a little confusion ensued.

It’s our job to prepare Forrester clients to navigate a highly fluid and complex martech landscape and to empower them to be smart technology buyers. New martech categories are particularly vexing. It’s difficult to parse the language, determine appropriate use cases, justify the financial investment, and assess which vendors are ready for prime time.

After interviewing numerous self-identified CDPs, current CDP customers, partners of CDPs, and potential buyers, we now have definitive answers on the impact and potential of CDPs for enterprise B2C marketers. In our new report, “For B2C Marketers, Customer Data Platforms Overpromise And Underdeliver,” we can confidently report back: Marketers, these aren’t the droids data platforms you’re looking for.

(Photo by Jean Zar)

CDPs promote a compelling story about solving one of marketers’ most critical challenges: collecting, managing, and activating customer data. This is an important endeavor, because we all know that managing data for marketing is really, really hard. And as consumer touchpoints proliferate, it will only get harder. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for marketers’ data management struggles. CDPs are still a work in progress. On average, CDPs lack the critical capabilities needed to adequately help marketers: Their identity resolution capabilities are nascent; their functionality is often less sophisticated than existing tools in marketers’ tech stacks; and CDP users report having to do more legwork than expected to stand up their implementations.

CDPs are working to address a very real market challenge, which we applaud, but as a group, they aren’t yet equipped to solve it. Instead of jumping to an additive — and expensive — marketing technology that provides a Band-Aid for significant challenges, B2C marketers should craft a comprehensive data management strategy and consider all their options. Marketing clouds (including Google) and identity resolution vendors are also ramping up to offer valuable tools and services to chip away at data management difficulties for B2C marketers.

Overall, we expect the CDP noise to settle down in the not-so-distant future. CDP vendors will consolidate, become more affordable, and focus on the midmarket. But enterprise marketers’ data management challenges will persist; after all, it’s a moving target. CDPs aren’t the first group of vendors to claim to have the fix, so if we’re lucky, we can revisit this report in a couple years when a category with a new acronym emerges, aiming to solve marketers’ data challenges. Thoughts? Questions? Feel free to send us a note or set up an inquiry.