Is Adobe Real-Time CDP Right for You?

14 Jun 2023

Adobe’s Real-Time CDP was a hot topic at Summit events this year. Beginning in March and continuing into the London event we attended in June, Adobe was eager to talk up its new customer data platform (CDP).

Well, not new, exactly. 

Real-Time CDP is an application that rounds out the Adobe Experience Platform offering alongside Customer Journey Analytics, Journey Optimiser and Mix Modeller. Together, the applications form a centralised data foundation for personalised marketing at scale

“Adobe Experience Platform makes large-scale personalisation possible with our unique technology that streamlines collecting, managing, and acting on customer data across current and future applications.”

Real-Time CDP is the “collecting” and “managing” part of that mix. It also plays a role in “acting on” customer data, although the bulk of that work is still carried out by delivery applications like Adobe Campaign (B2C) and Marketo Engage (B2B). 

In other words, it’s a CDP. 

But it’s also more than that. 

As customer expectations and technology innovations jointly push marketing towards hyper-personalised experiences as standard, CDPs are becoming essential. The big question is which CDP – and there are many – suits your company’s needs.

A quick refresher on CDPs

A CDP or customer data platform is software that allows businesses to collect, organise, and manage customer data from various sources. The aim is to centralise an organisation’s customer-related information and create a unified, comprehensive and actionable profile to deliver personalised marketing experiences.

A good CDP does many things:

  • Combines data from known/unknown, online/offline, and behaviour/transactional sources
  • Consolidates user profiles to stitch identities across owned channels
  • Breaks down data silos to make customer data accessible to other teams and systems
  • Derives insights by analysing patterns, trends and customer behaviours
  • Continually updates user profiles with new data

Underpinning all those benefits is a governance layer that keeps organisations compliant with privacy and data usage requirements.

CDPs collect and manage data from multiple sources, then feed it to engagement platforms. This creates a “shared services”-style foundation for customer data, removing the need to build 1:1 integrations. 

For example, a user’s website browsing behaviour can trigger an app notification. Their purchase history with one product line can be used to inform marketing for another. Anonymous website visits can be stitched together with known app users to fill out a customer’s profile.

CDPs enable personalisation beyond a single channel. This is also the easiest way to define the difference between CDPs and DMPs (data management platforms), which support single-channel journeys.

What makes Adobe’s Real-Time CDP different?

There were over 170 CDPs on the market as of January 2023, according to The size, scope and sophistication vary about as much as you’d expect with so many vendors in the space.

Adobe’s Real-Time CDP is targeted at the top end of the market. As a native Experience Platform application, it’s better suited to (and priced for) enterprise organisations with multiple brands and/or millions of records distributed across several business systems.

Companies that have seen success with Real-Time CDP include global heavy-hitters like Major League Baseball, Henkel, The Home Depot, Coles Group, Dow Chemical and US Bank. Meta (yes, that Meta) has even enlisted Adobe to improve ad targeting because Real-Time CDP’s first-party data handling enables compliance in personalised marketing.

Real-time personalised marketing

Adobe breaks down “real-time” into three core components:

  1. Real-time data collection from live interactions and organisational systems
  2. Real-time data processing and management for a better understanding of customer intentions
  3. Real-time data activation through integrations that enable the CDP to push data to delivery platforms within milliseconds

Responding to user signals isn’t new. Collating data from different systems isn’t new. Personalised marketing isn’t new. What is new is the ability to provide access to company-wide data within milliseconds, enabling all those tasks to happen in the moment.

Adobe has invested in a global server network to power what is essentially a step-change in how CDPs enable personalised marketing. 

Data collection in a cookieless world

Adobe brokered partnerships with data providers to allow third-party data that has consent and is not cookie-based to enter the Experience Platform ecosystem without compromising compliance.

That means that regardless of where data originates, it can be used to stitch user journeys together and deliver personalised marketing experiences.

Speaking on the LinkedIn podcast Marketing Today, Adobe’s Head of Product Marketing and Real-Time CDP and Audience Manager, Ryan Fleisch, said the aim was to scale up from 360° to 3D customer profiles.

It’s no longer what you as a brand know about them. It’s also what other partners know about this customer. This gives you a better understanding of how this customer wants to be engaged with.

Ryan Fleisch speaking to Alan Hart on Marketing Today

More connections than other CDPs

It’s not a surprise that Adobe’s Real-Time CDP integrates with hundreds of other platforms, but it’s still worth mentioning.

The main benefit here is that organisations aren’t constrained to an Adobe-only martech stack. Real-Time CDP unifies data better when it comes from like-minded sources, but in our experience, that’s not always realistic due to the significant investment these software applications represent.

Adobe Real-Time CDP draws data from just about every touchpoint you can envision. Some connections are out of the box, while others – especially offline data sources – require custom configuration from a CXM consultant.

The software then sends data to engagement platforms and advertising partners, so brands can progressively personalise experiences across all channels as the user interacts.

Data governance from the ground up

Adobe is eager to stress its commitment to responsible data usage, which is a good sign. Global brands often face challenges with data crossing borders or being shared between teams.

Although it’s unclear exactly how Real-Time CDP enforces data governance in the back end, we’ve seen the user’s experience and can attest to the platform’s performance. 

Real-Time CDP can draw privacy-safe third-party data to enrich first-party data. According to Adobe, this gives brands “the ability to market responsibly while ensuring customer privacy and preferences.”

Sensei AI built-in

It’s also worth noting Adobe’s plans to expand generative AI capabilities within the Experience Platform. After years of development, we’re starting to see AI in features like audience segmentation and predictive analytics.

Real-Time CDP even features guided playbooks for the most effective customer journeys. 

We expect to see more in the coming years as Adobe scales up and rolls out its Sensei generative AI engine with applications to help marketers design and launch highly personalised marketing programs.

Is Adobe Real-Time CDP right for you?

Right off the bat, we’ll say that Real-Time CDP isn’t for everyone. Yes, personalisation is non-negotiable, and yes, an integrated stack is often the most effective way to deliver it at scale.

And while it’s arguably the best in its class, it’s too far a leap to say Real-Time CDP is the best solution for everyone. 

To understand why, it helps to remember three key things:

1. It’s built on the Adobe Experience Platform

Each application in the Experience Platform does something different. While you don’t necessarily need Adobe’s products to make the CDP work, you will require an analytics engine and journey optimiser to tie it all together.

2. It’s built for big brands

Adobe’s impressive client list is an indication of the scale of Real-Time CDP’s capabilities. However, it also telegraphs the high investment point that sees Real-Time CDP priced out of the consideration set for smaller brands.

3. It’s built to handle enormous data sets

The primary use case for Adobe’s Real-Time CDP is large organisations operating multiple brands or product lines that generate millions of data points, either weekly or monthly. 

Again, the muscle to manage that much data doesn’t come cheap. We’re not trying to labour the price point – Adobe software is priced according to its industry-leading capabilities – but budgets will be a consideration, even for global brands.

There’s also the question of setup. CDPs are only as good as the data they receive, so there’s often a separate project involving database cleansing and process evaluation.

Building for the future of experience-led growth

When we step back and consider the CDP landscape as a whole, Adobe Real-Time CDP stands out as a vanguard. It’s unlikely that challenger vendors will catch up soon, although some bigger players are working on real-time capabilities.

But for all its advantages, of which there are many, Adobe Real-Time CDP isn’t an instant solution for any organisation. No CDP (no software of any type) will solve personalised marketing challenges in one fell swoop.

As CXM consultants, we help brands piece together their marketing puzzle in the most effective way. Sometimes that means designing an Adobe Experience Platform solution; other times, it means overhauling existing processes and systems to enable personalisation.

The best solution is always the one that helps an organisation achieve its goals.

So before pitching for a bigger martech budget, invest time evaluating the organisation’s challenges, goals and capabilities. 

Unbiased advice from CXM consultants who know the market

TAP CXM helps ambitious brands make the most of their marketing opportunities. As Adobe implementation partners, we have significant experience with Experience Cloud solutions. And as independent CXM consultants, we understand that new technology isn’t always the answer.

Our approach is to understand our clients’ requirements in detail before even breathing the words “martech” or “implementation”. 

If you’re looking for unbiased advice from highly experienced CXM specialists, reach out to schedule a consultation. 

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