merge sign on a highway
PHOTO: Matty Powell

Last month IgnitionOne, a longtime database marketing / adtech / CDP vendor, announced it planned to liquidate. The vendor had already shed much of its adtech portfolio over the past few years, so what remained was essentially a CDP with a managed services business. Unable to secure that financing or find a buyer for what remained, CEO Will Margiloff told shareholders he needed to shut the doors.

An obvious question ensues: Does this mean consolidation is coming to the CDP market?  

I don't think IgnitionOne is a canary in a coalmine, but as an existing or potential CDP customer, you'll want to understand some of the dynamics here.

CDPs and Supporting Digital Ads

First, IgnitionOne was more of an adtech play, at least before selling off its demand-side platform and other ad-related tech and service offerings in the past few years, leaving it with primarily a data management and intelligence story. Adtech is undergoing major consolidation right now.

Note, however, that supporting advertising remains an important CDP use case, especially for early adopters. But it's only one of nine potential business scenarios for this technology, and likely not enough to win over broad-based enterprise marketing stakeholder support on its own.

In other words, even if IgnitionOne received more financing, the product runway may not in any case have proved long enough.

9 CDP vendor scenarios
Fig 1. There are nine canonical business use cases for CDPs. Source: Real Story Group CDP Vendor Evaluations

Related Article: Lessons Learned From CDP Implementations

A Diffuse CDP Marketplace

The CDP market remains extraordinarily fragmented, and pundits sometimes consider this profusion unsustainable.

CDP Logo Landscape from Real Story Group
Fig 2. The CDP market is highly fragmented, with large vendors putting their toes in the water, and well-funded independents swimming along with some success. Source: Real Story Group CDP Vendor Evaluations

Yet the marketplace continues to grow. Most large enterprises that subscribe to Real Story Group's research and advisory services have not yet adopted a CDP. But nearly all of them are in some stage of considering it. Nor is market consolidation a foregone conclusion. The web content and digital experience management (WCM) marketplace has remained fragmented for more than two decades now.

Related Article: How to Categorize the Web CMS Marketplace

What's the Case for Consolidation?

Even as I don't predict near-term consolidation of the CDP marketplace, let's acknowledge it could happen:

  • Some CDP vendors may pursue roll-up ambitions where they acquire other CDP solutions and compress them into their own platform or force customers to migrate. This would prove difficult and likely unprofitable given the diverse architectural and information models across the market, however. Noteworthy here is that IgnitionOne looked for — but could not find — a buyer.
  • Infused with venture cash, many CDP vendors are running in the red today and will need regular access to capital markets that may not remain as flush in the coming years.
  • Some vendors are young and not yet well managed, bringing roadmap volatility risk in particular.
  • Major MarTech suite vendors have not yet made an impact on the CDP market, though they have all targeted it. Revealingly, none have decided to acquire a CDP; they are all building their own. 

Yesterday's news that Acquia is acquiring longtime CDP vendor AgilOne also doesn’t signify consolidation in the marketplace, since the latter isn’t going away — it’s just getting a new owner. So while your CDP vendor could go away, I wouldn't overweight this in your strategic evaluations. At RSG we tend to look more closely at other intangibles, like community strength, as an indicator of long-term viability.

Related Article: Customer Data Platforms: A Contrarian's View

CDP Vendor Landscape: Still a Young Marketplace

The larger story is that any CDP vendor and platform — including those from large martech vendors — is likely to remain less mature than offerings from older MarTech / CX technology segments like marketing automation or digital asset management.

Saggy CDP Marketplace from Real Story Group
Fig 3. Generic "Real Quadrant" for CDP vendors against a wide basket of scenarios and strategic considerations. Source: RSG Real Quadrant Generator

The chart above shows a fairly generic full-market quadrant for CDPs, where scenario fit against a basket of use cases represents the X axis, and strategic fit represents the Y axis. In short, it's a "saggy" market, which means that RSG's vendor intangible scores tend to be low — dragging the whole group down — as you would expect for a collection of mostly younger vendors and solutions. What they lack in technical debt they make up for in immature customer communities and shallow implementation channels. 😉

In fact, many CDP vendors will opt to use their own professional services to implement on behalf of customers, and I've seen many cases where the vendor more or less administers the entire platform (manages users, creates segments, etc.) on behalf of the enterprise licensee. Providing these kind of managed services (like IgnitionOne tended to do) may prove tempting for them, but risky and less productive over time for you.

Related Article: Customer Data Platforms: The Truth Behind the Hype

Advice for CDP Customers

As an enterprise considering CDP technology, how should you approach this market?

  • Vet CDP supplier viability carefully, but don't default to the largest vendors thinking that will bring stability. Vendors with strong boundaries, clear roadmaps and growing communities are likely to endure, regardless of size today.
  • Don't license a CDP from a non-CDP vendor.
  • Don't ask your CDP vendor to also become your managed services provider. If you suspect heavy consulting or administrative support will be required on an ongoing basis for a particular platform, reorient your bearings to consider simpler solutions and/or build up your internal capacity before signing on.
  • Prioritize business use cases rather than discrete features to drive your filtering process.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!