As Marketing Clouds Enter The CDP Category, Simon Data's CEO Charts A Different Course

Like a handful of companies thrust into the CDP category, Simon Data predates the acronym’s hype.

Simon Data co-founder and CEO Jason Davis saw the need for a data layer accessible to marketing while working at Etsy, which acquired his first startup Adtuitive, an automated ad tool for small businesses, in 2009.

He wanted to enable marketing teams to directly access their data in the same way as IT, analytics and business intelligence teams.

“For nontechnical stakeholders, working with IT to get data is hard,” Davis said. “Accessing data is hard.”

Simon Data’s customer base skews toward companies with heavy digital footprints – though many operate in other channels, including brick-and-mortar stores. Customers include Peloton, Casper, BarkBox, OpenTable and ASOS.

The company just raised a $30 million Series C round to add marketing fuel to its tech – although the CDP category is already apparently overflowing with requests from marketers seeking information about the new data organization and activation layer.

Davis talked to AdExchanger about the rise of CDPs and how he tries to cut through the hype.

AdExchanger: Your CDP has been in the market for five years, long before the term “CDP” hit the mainstream. What did you call your product before you called it a CDP?

JASON DAVIS: We originally called it an “acceleration data platform.” The vision from day one was enabling brands to better access and operationalize their core data assets. We saw a gap in how they were able to store, warehouse, aggregate their data and use it operationally – particularly for customer experiences.

What do you help marketers do with this newly accessible data?

Drive customer experiences. The primary channel for us, and our customers, is email. It starts with simple things, like using a set list to send email. And then it goes into more complex things, like highly personalized dynamic triggers that come after behavioral changes, onsite activities, partner requests. And it’s overlaid with historical data.

What about channels outside of email, like paid media?

Besides email, there’s SMS, onsite, applications around setting up custom audience on Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat, programmatic direct mail. We integrated into DMPs, and also integrate into agencies who might be doing bidding on behalf of our customers.

What kind of data do you access and stitch together?

We think about integrating into their existing systems. Many of our customers have complex marketing stacks. They work with Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and other best-of-breed solutions. And many of these brands are using these different solutions for a reason. What they lack is a centralized coordination layer to enable them to get their systems to talk to each other and drive messaging that feels like a single voice as opposed to 12 different systems.

Why are your customers choosing you over other CDPs?

No. 1 is the way we orient the data. It’s completely agnostic. We can ingest any form of data – not just streaming data or real-time data, but also historical content. Anything relevant and required to understand the customers.

No. 2 is that it’s not just an integration platform. There’s dynamically personalized content, they can execute experiments and triggered messages.

With Chrome planning to drop third-party cookies, there’s an increased focus on first-party data. What does that mean for your business?

Many of our use cases start at the first touch with the customer. So while we can set audiences that can be used for look-alike targeting and audience exclusion, we offer more value downstream.

But every time we sell a customer, I ask the stakeholder why they bought us. I almost always get the same answer: “You guys showed up and made the simple case that we’re sitting on a treasure trove of data, but we’re not able to leverage it.”

Simon Data raised a $30 million Series C in August. What have you been prioritizing post-funding?

We are focused on two things. One is our go-to-market, and how do we educate the market and help potential customers understand our vision. Second is how we get them to understand that part of what we offer is a horizontal layer you can build on. If you want to think of where you want to go in two to five years, you need to put the foundation in place that you can grow into.

What’s the difference between the CDPs launched by marketing clouds and ones from startups like your own?

One is that ours had a three-and-a-half to four-year head start. The second difference is that many folks in the market are trending toward best-of-breed solutions. How are these single cloud providers going to orient strategically toward [these best-of-breed] platforms outside of their four walls?

Marketing clouds often exist out of 100 mergers over the past 10 years. A lot of the value that exists in their CDPs will be integrating their own systems – which has value, and will be successful, but it’s not our vision or how we see the category.

How do you cut through the hype around CDPs?

Look, the formation of the category has been great for us. There was a time in the past where CDP didn’t mean anything. And then that changed. The CDP announcements of Salesforce and Adobe validate what we do. But once we get in a room and have that conversation, it’s completely different. We lean into delivery. We make sure customers understand use cases and their business objectives.

What makes brands successful adopters of CDP tech?

They usually have at least 1 million customers. If they have a data team, they’ve made core investments in data infrastructure, and on the marketing side, they have a desire to unify their channels and their voice and make sure there’s consistency across touchpoints.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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