CDP Blocks

CDP, CRM, and DMP: What’s the Difference?

If you’re in business, you’re no stranger to acronyms. In fact, you’ve probably been in an email chain where someone said something like this: “The SOW for UAT on the MAP needs to be signed in a PDF by EOW.”

The verdict is still out on whether we use acronyms to speak more efficiently with our colleagues, or finally achieve our childhood dreams of coming up with a secret language. 

Regardless, there’s a good chance you’ve recently started to see the acronym CDP showing up in podcasts, blogs or hallway conversations.

So, what does it mean? And does your company need a CDP?

A CDP is a customer data platform, and if you haven’t heard much about what it is, you’re not alone! Customer data platforms primarily entered the MarTech landscape in the last 3 years in response to the desire to see data more holistically, and less siloed. Many CDPs actually started as CRM systems or DMPs. 

Now you may be asking - what’s CRM and DMP?

A CRM is a Customer Relationship Management system such as Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics or Sugar, to name a few. The primary responsibility of a CRM is to manage interactions with customers and prospective customers. 

On the other hand, a DMP is a data management platform, which supports your advertising by targeting relevant and engaged audiences. Some of the most well-known DMPs are Adobe Audience Manager and Oracle BlueKai.

So, what exactly are the similarities and differences between a CDP, CRM and DMP? Keep reading to deep dive into each type of platform. But spoiler alert: a CRM + DMP ≠ CDP.

TLDR; check out the venn diagram at the end.


In an age of more tools and technology than you could ever imagine or need, it’s crucial to not purchase tools that over-promise and underdeliver. While a CDP can support the creation of exceptional omnichannel customer experiences, there’s also a number of imposters in the martech landscape. Beware of platforms that have recently “transformed” into CDPs, but are really just dressed up CRMs, DMPs or data warehouses.

As discussed, CDPs are still gaining traction, so finding a single, succinct definition is near impossible. At its core, what most would agree is that a CDP must be able to do the following with your customers’ data:

  1. Collects

  2. Integrates

  3. Organizes

  4. Unifies

  5. Activates

One of the best CDP definitions is from Todd Belcher, who created He describes a CDP as a “...developed software that manages data collection and unification for the purposes of building customer profiles. It also manages analytics against these profiles, and delivery of datasets and individual profiles to systems that need them.”

Pro tip: If you are evaluating a CDP, has a great buyer’s guide available (it even highlights the imposters I referenced before!)

A CDP will be able to connect to and integrate with your CRM, customer service, POS/transactional, social media, email and website analytics platforms. This connection is what creates a single view of the customer, which is also a distinguishing characteristic of a CDP.

Customer data platforms can ingest data from first-party, second-party and third-party sources, including PII (personally identifiable information), such as name, email address and phone number.


One of the final requirements of a CDP is its ability to activate data. Often, CDPs are managed by the marketing team because the platform supports more intelligent ways to engage or retain current customers with personalized messaging. 

It’s more important than ever to maintain an omni-channel relationship with your customer. A CDP helps organizations reach that standard by deeply understanding the who, what, where, when, and why of customer interactions. Data from your CDP should be able to feed into your marketing automation, email and paid advertising platforms in order to powerfully market to your current customers.


As noted earlier, many CDPs actually started out as CRMs. Similar to CDPs, CRM tools store information about an organization’s customers. However, one of the main differences between CDPs and CRMs is the type of data stored

While both types of platforms can store first-party data, CRMs contain information about the interactions between the customer and your sales team, and typically requires manual entry. A CDP would be more focused on the different engagements the customer makes on the various channels in which your company lives, with a real time feed of data enriching the customer profile.

A common setback with CRM solutions is their inability to fully integrate data, which creates a limited view of the customer. While a sales representative may see a log of all the phone calls or emails and purchases a customer has made, they often don’t see their interactions on social media with your brand, or which pages they’ve been viewing on your website.


Unlike CDPs or CRM, a DMP (if you’ve already forgotten, that’s a data management platform) can only store 3rd party data. This means no PII, such as name or email address, can be captured and stored by the platform. So, why would you need a DMP?

DMPs are primarily used by advertisers to help inform and feed media campaigns for use in advanced targeting. It still collects and organizes data, but records are anonymous; rather than using customer attributes, it leverages a user’s IP address, cookie information or device information to target users.

If you’ve been keeping up with data privacy, you know a number of changes have already been rolled out, and many updates are still to come.  Between tracking protection, such as Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) and Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), and recent legislation like GDPR and CCPA, third-party tracking is being regulated heavily to protect user’s privacy. How does this impact a data management platform?

Data will be more often short-lived because cookies will clear faster, and generally it will become increasingly difficult to stitch together interactions from visitors to your website using third-party tracking. 

Platform Differences Visualized: Venn Diagram

Venn Diagram

Still need help deciding what platform you need to create the best customer experience? Our analytics team can support platform evaluation, selection, and implementation. Make it happen!