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CDP vs. marketing automation: What's the difference?

CDPs and marketing automation software collect customer data, automate processes and increase efficiency, but they also have features that set them apart from each other.

Customer data platforms and marketing automation software are tools that help marketers enhance customer experiences, but they are not the same.

Marketing automation tools give businesses many abilities, such as automating marketing communications and enhancing campaigns, which can drive ROI. While marketing automation brings many benefits to businesses, customer data platforms (CDPs) can take organizations to the next level by enabling access to customer insights across many data sources. 

Here are the key differences between customer data platforms and marketing automation systems.

Customer data platform

A CDP is a software application that gathers customer information from many sources -- such as exported files, or data from real-time access via APIs and microservices -- and displays the data in a unified platform. CDPs also bring together customer information from CRMs, ERPs, sales, marketing and legacy systems -- to create one golden record of the customer, and makes that information available to sales, customer support and finance teams.

Standalone CDP products include Amperity, BlueConic and Leadspace. Many big CRM vendors have also incorporated CDPs into their software, such as Microsoft Oracle and Adobe. Salesforce also plans to release a CDP called Customer 360 Audiences in October 2020.

Benefits of a customer data platform

A CDP can provide a more complete understanding of the customer than other software because it breaks down silos, unifies customer data and provides a single customer view to multiple business departments. This full view of customer data helps businesses deliver personalized customer experiences and enhances product delivery and customer support. CDPs enable real-time analysis of data, which businesses can use to predict when and what customers will buy and under which initiatives. 

Businesses use marketing automation software to eliminate repetitive tasks from their workflows and increase efficiency.

Customer data platforms also enable a deep analysis of customer data and customer behavior within their profile, which can help businesses adjust the customer experience to that person's wants and needs. 

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a type of software that enables companies to send customers automated messages through email, websites, social media and text messages. Businesses use marketing automation software to eliminate repetitive tasks from their workflows and increase efficiency. There are many types of marketing automation tools, such as account-based marketing software, analytics for customer relationship management, campaign management, lead management, email marketing and marketing ROI.

Marketing automation technologies plug into a company's CRM system. Some CRM systems have their own native marketing automation cloud service, such as Salesforce Pardot and Oracle Eloqua. HubSpot is also a popular marketing automation platform with its own CRM backbone.

Benefits of marketing automation

Marketing automation software benefits both B2B and B2C companies. Both types of companies can use marketing automation software to keep marketing materials current and deliver it to the right customers that are likely to act on it. B2C companies may benefit the most from marketing automation because they are able to personalize their messages to more customers than they could without it.

Email marketing tools can assist businesses in segmenting customers and delivering promotions to smaller groups of customers based on their campaign objectives or revenue goals for that territory. Businesses can segment their email marketing lists by different demographics, such as occupation, age, purchase history and geographic location. This helps get the right information to the right people. Organizations can use email marketing platforms, such as Mailchimp or HubSpot, to collect and store customer data, then use it for customer segmentation. 

CDPs vs. marketing automation systems

While many businesses use marketing automation systems, they may consider also incorporating CDPs to use personalization, organization and insight that marketers can act on much further. Here are a few of the key differences between CDPs and marketing automation systems.

  • CDPs pull together user data from all over, including the web, online channels, customer profiles and contact centers. Marketing automation software collects customer information from CRM systems.
  • Marketing automation platforms can link some channels -- such as email -- to drive targeted marketing campaigns. However, a CDP can deliver personalized experiences in real time and use data from many sources to recognize the customer and adjust the experience accordingly.
  • CDPs aim to provide actionable insights to marketers to fuel campaigns, while marketing automation systems aim to drive campaigns without generating insight for marketers.

Editor's note: TechTarget offers ABM and project intelligence data, tools and services.

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