Adobe Adds Experience Cloud Profile: Why It’s Good News for Customer Data Platforms

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“A CDP by any other name still stores unified customer data.”

Adobe on Tuesday announced the Experience Cloud Profile, which it described as a “complete, real-time view of customers” including data from outside of Adobe Cloud systems. The announcement was frustratingly vague but some ferreting around* uncovered this blog post by Adobe VP of Product Engineering Anjul Bhambhri, who clarified that (a) the new product will persistently store data ingested from all sources and (b) perform the identity stitching needed to build a meaningfully unified customer view. Adobe doesn’t use the term Customer Data Platform but that’s exactly what they’ve described here. So, unlike last week’s news that Salesforce is buying MuleSoft, this does have the potential to offer a viable alternative to stand-alone CDP products.

Of course, the devil is in the details but this is still a significant development. Adobe’s offering is well thought out, including not just an Azure database to provide storage but also an open source Experience Data Model to simplify sharing of ingested data and compatible connectors from SnapLogic, Informatica, TMMData, and Microsoft Dynamics to make dozens of sources immediately available. Adobe even said they’ve built in GDPR-required controls over data sharing, which is a substantial corporate pain point and key CDP use case.

The specter of competition from the big marketing clouds has always haunted the CDP market. Salesforce’s MuleSoft deal was a dodged bullet but the Adobe announcement seems like a more palpable hit.** Yet the blow is far from fatal – and could actually make the market stronger over time. Let me explain.

First the bad news: Adobe now has a reasonable product to offer clients who might otherwise be frustrated by the lack of integration of its existing Experience Cloud products. This has been a substantial and widely recognized pain point. Tony Byrne of the Real Story Group has been particularly vocal on the topic. The Experience Cloud Profile doesn’t fully integrate Adobe’s separate products, but it does seem to let them share a rich set of customer data. That’s exactly the degree of integration offered by a CDP. So any Adobe client interested in a CDP will surely take a close look at the new offering.

The good news is that not everyone is an Adobe client. It’s true that the Cloud Profile could in theory be used on its own but Adobe would need to price it very aggressively to attract companies that don’t already own other Adobe components. The could of course be an excellent acquisition strategy but we don’t know if it’s what Adobe has in mind. (I haven’t seen anything about the Cloud Profile pricing but it’s a core service of the Adobe Experience Platform, which isn’t cheap.) What this means is that Adobe is now educating the market about the value of a persistent, unified, comprehensive, open customer database – that is, about the value of CDPs. This should make it much easier for CDP vendors to sell their products to non-Adobe clients and even to compete with Adobe to deliver CDP functions to Adobe’s own clients.

I’ll admit I have a vested interest in the success of the CDP market, as inventor of the term and founder of the CDP Institute. So I’m not entirely objective here. But as CDP has climbed to the peak of the hype cycle, I’ve been exquisitely aware that it has no place to go but down – and that this is inevitable. The best CDP vendors can hope for is to exchange being a “hot product” for being an established category – something that people recognize as a standard component of a complete marketing architecture, alongside other components such as CRM, marketing automation, and Web content management. I’ve long felt that the function provided by CDP – a unified, persistent, sharable customer database – fills a need that won’t go away, regardless of whether the need is filled by stand-alone CDPs or components of larger suites like Adobe Experience Cloud. In other words, the standard diagram will almost surely include a box with that database; the question is whether the label on that box will be CDP. Adobe’s move makes it more likely the diagram will have that box. It’s up to the CDP industry to promote their preferred label.

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*okay, the first page of a Google search. No Pulitzer Prize for this one.
** yes, I’ve just combined references to Karl Marx and William Shakespeare in the same paragraph, garnished with a freshly mixed metaphor. You’re welcome.

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