Digital marketers these days are awash in data. In the first Forester Wave report on the subject, the industry research firm tries to sort out the current state of data management platforms (DMPs).

The report, The Forrester Wave: Data Management Platforms, Q3 2013, points out that DMPs have evolved beyond being simple tools for managing third-party audience targeting, and have become uber-platforms for customer marketing and communications in an increasingly complex multi-touchpoint environment.

Three Core Functions

To accomplish this, today's platforms deliver three core functions, according to the report. First, they ingest and normalize many different kinds of data streams, including those from search, display, email, on-site, offline and other sources, which are used to determine user profiles, audience segmentation and targeted marketing.

Then they have to turn all this data into insights about customers, would-be customers and audience targeting. The report quotes one customer of the Adobe AudienceManager platform as saying that marketers need "to be able to see where traffic is coming from and know who those people are to give them different experiences."

Finally, platforms have to maintain connections between various systems in order to accurately deliver up-to-date messages. This includes integrations with ad servers, demand-side platforms for ad bidding, content management systems and other systems.

Not-Yet-Realized Capabilities

But, the report determined, DMPs are not yet fulfilling their promise. For instance, Forrester said, no vendors "can credibly offer a complete mobile solution today," largely because of marketing's current dependence on browsers and third-party cookies. Additionally, most DMP's do not fully integrate traditional campaign management and marketing automation systems, which means that they do not fulfill marketers' needs for complete life-cycle management from targeting to acquisition to retention.

Then there's also the fact that the real world is still there. The bulk of sales, the report noted, are "still generated in brick-and-mortar stores," and, although this Forrester Wave found "early signs" of integration with offline data, such as direct mail or television advertising, such capabilities are still largely being developed.

To assess the top DMP vendors, Forrester chose seven that have proprietary technology, offer the option of using the DMP as a standalone product, and have experience working directly with marketers.

The Leaders

The Leaders were Adobe, X Plus One, Blue Kai and Aggregate Knowledge. Adobe AudienceManager stood out among the Leaders because of the quality of its current offering, a well-defined strategy and the backing of its multibillion-dollar parent company. It scored highly in data collection and normalization, segmentation and user profile management, scoring and modeling, decisioning, user interface and client service.