Sunday, April 26, 2020

Overview of Real-Time CDP

Companies are continuously innovating and coming up with new tools and technologies to enhance the experience of its customers. Optimizing and personalizing the experience of customers at every touchpoint needs to be the holy grail for all companies. I gave an overview of a Data Management Platform a few years ago and have written a few article about Adobe Audience Manager since then. 

In this post, I'll write about Real-Time Customer Data Platform which is the activation engine and a service built on Adobe Experience Platform and how it solves the ever evolving challenge of a consistent and personalized user experience. As you may be aware, Adobe Experience Platform is built with an API-first approach which makes integrating with other platforms easier and it also allows us to replicate what we can do in the UI via APIs as well.

It's always helpful to start simple so I'll give a brief overview of what a Customer Data Platform is. There's a lot of documentation which compares a CDP to a DMP so I won't go into that in detail but will just focus on what a CDP is.

According to Wikipedia, "A customer data platform is a type of packaged software which creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems. Data is pulled from multiple sources, cleaned and combined to create a single customer profile. This structured data is then made available to other marketing systems".

I define it as a system which consolidates known and anonymous customer information from multiple data sources to serve 1:1 real-time personalized experiences across multiple touch points and marketing channels in a privacy aware manner. Below is a visual overview of a CDP (taken from a 3rd party site). The diagram looks very similar to a DMP but a CDP differs with a DMP in the following ways:

  • The activation of both known (PII) and anonymous user data is possible in a CDP
  • Profiles have a much longer data retention period in a CDP
  • A complete customer profile (historical, demographic) is maintained in a CDP

Core Elements of Real-Time CDP

Below are some core components of the Real-Time CDP and how it relates to Adobe Experience Platform.
  • XDM Schema & Datasets: The XDM Schema describes the logical model of all data coming into Adobe Experience Platform and contains information about the identities used to build the id graph. Essentially, any data that will be activated by Real-Time CDP has to be mapped to the XDM schema format. Datasets are tied to a schema and collect data either sent either via streaming or batch format from various sources (E.g. Audience Manager, Analytics, 3rd party sources) into AEP. 
  • Real-time Customer Profile: The Real-time Customer Profile is a combined view of all customer identities collected across multiple channels. I recently wrote about the device graph which creates a holistic view of the customer across multiple touch points. Real-Time CDP taps into the device/id graph to create a unified view of both the known and unknown customer profile on the fly depending on the use case.

  • Real-Time Web Data Streaming: The introduction of the AEP Web SDK has changed the dynamics of how Adobe data collection will happen moving forward. This essentially allows clients to send data directly to AEP in real-time as well as to Analytics, Audience Manager and Target from our website or mobile app. A lot of new content is being created on this which I'll share soon.

  • Real-Time Activation of Profiles: Real-Time CDP allows us to send segments and PII profiles to external destinations quickly keeping in mind the rapid pace at how customers can interact with brands across multiple channels. 
  • Built With Privacy By Design: All Adobe products including Real-Time CDP is built keeping privacy in mind. In case of the AEP UI, customers can use Data Usage Labeling and Enforcement (DULE) labels to mark mark identities or restrict how data will be activated based on GDPR and other privacy laws. The official Adobe documentation provides more details on this.

A lot more information can be found in the official Adobe documentation in addition to what I've covered.

Adobe Solution Integration with Real-Time CDP

Visuals always help so I created a quick high-level data flow diagram outlining how data flows into and outside of AEP/Real-Time CDP from various Adobe solutions. Only the arrows coming into and flowing out of AEP/Real-Time CDP are colored and these connections can be enabled OOTB. The diagram should be self-explanatory but web data flows into AEP/Real-Time CDP via the AEP Web SDK/Adobe Analytics and 2nd/3rd party/other data flows into Real-Time CDP from Audience Manager. Data from Real-Time CDP can be shared with Adobe Campaign to personalize emails.

Real-Time CDP UI Overview

I'll now provide a high level overview of the Real-Time CDP UI but please be aware that these are likely to change as product is continuously making changes to optimize the user experience and add more enhancements.


A profile is a collection of an individual or entity which can be used to uniquely identify it. In this screenshot, the profile is tied to the ECID identity but there can be additional identities for this profile such as email address, phone number to name a few. This is embedded within the Adobe Experience Platform UI.


The segmentation UI for Real-Time CDP is the same interface which AEP uses and it looks very similar to the Segment Builder UI embedded in Adobe Analytics. Segments allow us to dissect very large amount of profiles into smaller and much more manageable chunks. 


The identity page contains identity namespaces which contain unique information about a person. As shown below, an identity namespace can be Email, address Phone number, ECID etc. This is also embedded within the Adobe Experience Platform UI.


The Sources->Catalog tab allows us to bring data into AEP/Real-Time CDP from various sources such as Adobe applications, CRM, Marketing automation to name a few. Data from these can be combined with each other and sent to various activation platforms. Again, this is also embedded within the Adobe Experience Platform UI.


The Destinations->Catalog tab allows us to activate the audiences and share them with ESPs, marketing automation and advertising platforms. This is the core feature of Real-Time CDP which you won't see present in the regular AEP UI. There are two ways to send data via destinations:
  • Profile Export which allows us to export PII data to ESPs and other platforms. 
  • Segment Export (anonymous) which allows us to export profiles which qualified for a segment to Demand Side Platforms and is similar to how Audience Manager exports data to DSPs. 
This UI as shown below shows us the standard connections but also lets us connect to Launch which allows us to forward raw signals captured in Launch using extensions to any 3rd party partner.

The following is a visual (representational) system view which shows how many profiles are connected to sources and are sent to a destination.

Finally, I want to emphasize that I've not heard anything about Adobe Audience Manager being impacted by Real-Time CDP as we s
till need AAM for 2nd and 3rd party data activation. Also, Audience Manager has over 100 destinations whereas Real-Time CDP only has a few (currently) with connections to CRM, cloud providers and email systems but the list will only grow. I don't know about the overall product vision around the total numbers destinations and AAM in general but I'm sure our product team will clarify that.

So, that was it! I'm sure I've left out other finer details about Real-Time CDP but this tool is continuing to evolve and will only get better as its adoption increases.