Every cross-channel platform says it’s “real time” – here’s how to tell fact from fiction

In the marketing technology world, the term “real time” has become a ubiquitous selling point. Every cross-channel platform claims to offer real-time capabilities, promising immediate access to data and instant activation of marketing strategies. 

However, not all “real-time” solutions are created equal. For marketing operations and IT professionals at enterprise-level brands, distinguishing between genuine real-time capabilities and misleading claims is crucial. 

This blog will provide insights into what real-time truly means in the context of Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) and Customer Engagement Platforms (CEPs) and how to evaluate these claims effectively.

The real definition of real time

First, it’s important to be clear about what real-time means. In the context of CDPs, CEPs, and other cross-channel platforms, real-time typically refers to the ability to access and utilize data immediately as it is generated or updated. This means there’s no significant delay between data input and the system’s ability to process and act on that data.

Key characteristics of true real-time systems

  1. Immediate data access: True real-time systems provide instant access to the latest data without delays. This requires a direct connection to the data source, eliminating the need for periodic batch updates.
  2. Instant processing: These systems can process incoming data immediately, allowing for real-time analytics, segmentation, and personalization.
  3. Real-time decisioning: Based on the latest data, the system can make real-time decisions and trigger actions such as personalized messaging, dynamic content, and timely offers.

Identifying real-time impostors

Many vendors claim to offer real-time capabilities, but their solutions often fall short when scrutinized. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  1. The quick yes: A real-time connection may mean a couple of seconds for one brand or longer than a minute for another. A quick yes to the question, “Do you offer real-time capabilities?” may be worse than a “no” as it may lead to missed expectations.
  2. Batch processing under the hood: Some platforms market themselves as real-time but rely on batch processing to update data. This can lead to delays ranging from minutes to hours, depending on the update frequency.
  3. Latency Issues: High latency in data processing and actioning can significantly impact the timeliness of your campaigns. Look for solutions that explicitly mention low-latency processing.
  4. Third-party dependencies: Platforms that depend on third-party data integrations can introduce delays. Each additional step in the data pipeline increases the risk of latency and data inconsistency.
  5. Opaque terminology: Ambiguous terms like “near real-time” or “sync” often indicate that the solution is not truly instantaneous.

Evaluating CDP vendors for real-time capabilities

When evaluating CDP vendors, it’s essential to ask the right questions and conduct thorough assessments. The definition of real-time can even vary within one platform as some vendors will allow you to pay for some real-time connections that are faster than the standard sync they offer. Meanwhile, the rest of your data would still be on the normal schedule. Here are some criteria to consider:

Direct data access

A truly real-time platform should offer direct access to your data warehouse. This eliminates the need for data replication and ensures that you are always working with the most current data. Ask vendors how their system connects to your data sources and whether they require data to be moved or copied.


Inquire about the platform’s data processing architecture. True real-time systems will leverage technologies that support rapid data ingestion and processing. Look for platforms built on event-driven architectures and those that utilize in-memory computing for faster data processing.

Integration capabilities

Evaluate the platform’s integration capabilities. Real-time systems should seamlessly integrate with your existing tech stack, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and other marketing tools, without introducing significant delays. Check if the vendor provides pre-built connectors and APIs that facilitate real-time data flow.

Transparency and reporting

A reliable real-time platform should offer transparent reporting on data processing times and system performance. Ask vendors for detailed metrics and performance reports that demonstrate their real-time capabilities.

Case studies, references, and POCs

Request case studies and references from other enterprise-level brands that have successfully implemented the platform. This will give you a clearer picture of how the solution performs in real-world scenarios and whether it can meet your organization’s needs.

Better yet, ask if the vendor will set up a true proof of concept (POC) so you can see first-hand how to leverage the tool – while using your actual data to showcase personalized cross-channel campaigns.

Empower your marketing with true real-time capabilities

In the complex landscape of marketing technology, it’s crucial to separate fact from fiction when it comes to real-time capabilities. By understanding the key characteristics of true real-time systems and asking the right questions, you can make informed decisions that drive your marketing success.

MessageGears offers a unique advantage with its native data warehouse connection, seamless integration, and genuine real-time processing. Empower your marketing operations with MessageGears and experience the true power of real-time data activation.

With a free POC you can test drive our solutions, and we can help with your major CEP or CDP use cases, such as event collection, audience segmentation, and cross-channel data activation and deployment.


About the Author

Elsbeth Russell

Elsbeth has nearly two decades of experience helping brands attract and engage audiences through content. For the past six years, she’s been dedicated to helping B2B companies in the email marketing space connect with audiences through community building and social media marketing.