This guide covers tools and technologies you can use to collect data from your primary or first-party data sources — the core product that runs on proprietary code (websites, apps, and IoT devices).
It’s good to keep in mind that the terms tools and technologies are not used interchangeably – tools are specific products that fall under one or more technologies or categories.
Tracking tools fall under two main categories — Customer Data Infrastructure or CDI and Customer Data Platform or CDP which is essentially a component of CDI.
Customer Data Infrastructure (CDI)
CDI is not yet a well-defined category and is used in various contexts today. However, tracking is a core component of Customer Data Infrastructure, and therefore, it makes sense to categorize purpose-built tracking tools as CDI.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that all the CDI solutions mentioned here are, one way or the other, alternatives to Segment Connections.
So here are various CDI solutions ordered by popularity and relevance:
As mentioned above, Connections is Segment’s CDI offering and is available as a standalone product, allowing you to use it even if you don’t need a full-blown CDP (Segment Personas).
As mentioned above, you can use mParticle’s Standard edition which is its CDI offering.
Rudderstack also offers multiple products but their core product is exactly like Segment Connections. However, RudderStack is open source and you can choose to self deploy it instead of opting for their managed solution. RudderStack supports all popular warehouses as well as a growing library of third-party tools as destinations.
Snowplow calls itself a behavioral data collection platform that is also open source and also offers a cloud version. Snowplow’s approach is different in that it only syncs data to data warehouses and doesn’t support any other cloud destinations.
Also, implementing Snowplow requires expertise in its proprietary technology and is therefore only suitable if your company has a dedicated data team.
Jitsu is another open source CDI solution that positions itself as a Segment alternative. Jitsu supports major data warehouses and a handful of external tools as destinations.
MetaRouter is a relatively new solution that is focused on server-side tracking and offers private cloud and on-premise installations which are ideal for larger companies with stricter norms for data privacy, security, and compliance.
Freshpaint offers a hybrid solution wherein besides tracking data via code (which is always recommended), you can set up auto-tracking that gathers data without code (also known as implicit tracking). The hybrid approach brings more flexibility to teams with limited engineering resources.
It’s good to keep in mind that whether you opt for a CDP or not, you definitely need a CDI to collect behavioral data from your primary data sources.
Customer Data Platform (CDP)
A CDP is an all-in-one solution that not only takes care of data collection from primary or first-party sources (website, web app, and mobile apps), but also has the capability to ingest data from secondary or third-party sources (external tools used for sales, marketing, advertising, etc.)
More importantly, a CDP’s core capability is identity resolution which makes it possible to create user segments or audiences by combining customer data from multiple sources and syncing those segments to external tools.
Below I have only mentioned horizontal CDPs that are industry-agnostic but there are many vertical CDPs that cater to the needs of specific industries such as SaaS or ecommerce and they are definitely worth exploring if you’re looking to invest in one.
Segment is by far the most popular CDP vendor on the market (which led to its acquisition by Twilio for $3.2B) but what’s interesting and not very well-known is that Segment offers multiple products, and one of them, Personas (now Twilio Engage), is their CDP offering which is sold as an add-on to their core product, Connections.
Most people refer to Connections when they talk about Segment and it has long been the go-to tracking solution for companies of all sizes. So even if you don’t need CDP capabilities, Segment Connections can take care of your tracking needs.
Segment also offers a data governance tool called Protocols which is also sold as an add-on to Connections.
mParticle is one of the most popular horizontal CDPs on the market with its core offering being a CDI solution to collect data and sync it to third-party tools and data warehouses. Its CDP capabilities — audience building and identity resolution — are available as add-ons along with data governance tools.
Other popular CDPs include Treasure Data, Tealium, and Lytics.