The ancient legend of the sirens who seduced sailors with their enchanting song -- only to result in often catastrophic shipwrecks -- is an apt metaphor for today's marketing automation adoption journey.
Since the beginning of marketing automation time -- from the sales automation of the 1990s to inbound marketing automation platforms of the 2000s -- today's solutions struggle to balance the delicate tension between serving the art of marketing within the tight construct of marketing automation.
That age-old tension is being played out among the top mega automation platforms today as they wrestle with a new level of complexity never seen before. They must manage the onslaught of big data; they must power inbound marketing optimization platforms; they must allow for real-time social management; and they must somehow tie all the pieces together to leverage a new era of personalized user experiences.
The complexity is daunting for everyone, yet despite the challenges, the prize is worth the effort because the next horizon of marketing excellence is all about user experiences -- personalized and authentic. That's where marketing automation comes in.
So while the siren song is sweet, let's be cognizant of the four dangers that lurk beneath the glittery surface.
1. The limitations of a configurable platform that limit real productivity.
All platforms are configurable, allowing users alternate ways to get something done but confined by the options created by the developers who are, most decidedly, not practicing marketers. This limited set of options often doesn't line up with what marketers need to do. So to overcome the functional gap, customers are "hacking" the platform to do what they need. Sadly though, often there are no "hackable" options, leaving customers with achingly difficult choices -- use another, smaller but more functional platform or stick with mega platform as they evolve.
The sad part is that technically, with simple foresight, there could have been avenues to integrate fast-track development tools that allow for true customization easily -- a step change improvement on the current configuration options. For now though, these platforms remain closed systems -- hobbled together through acquisition, resulting in hulking, hard-to-navigate systems.
2. Efficient knowledge transfer is really really hard (maybe even impossible).
There's a saying that goes, "If you have to explain a joke, or a UI (user interface), then it can't be that good." Same goes for marketing automation. These mega systems slice and dice functions many ways, requiring many hours of training (in some cases over 20 sessions) to learn all the slick tricks. How practical is that when you've got big teams or partners who need to get up ramped fast? This situation is made worse with all the hacking practitioners are doing (see point 1), making efficient knowledge transfer hard or maybe impossible.
3. Platforms are built to dazzle but not to streamline the processes of marketing.
All of these platforms create beautiful looking dashboards and reports, yet beneath the sleek design is what I term "the practitioner's gap." Download functions are generally lame, campaign tracking is surprisingly frustrating and getting frictionless collaboration is painful. To compensate, customers need to add staff or other resources just to cover the bases, complicating the process and eroding whatever efficiency promises these platforms have made.
4. Integration of modules on a platform does not translate into integration of intelligence across the platform.
Virtually all platforms that have multiple "modules" promise integration of insights that can be organizationally transformative. This is probably the most seductive and dangerous of all the songs the automation platforms sing.
As customers embark on this part of the journey, "painful" is a word I hear in describing their challenges in unlocking automation intelligence. Even more maddening is that all these systems have landlocked their intelligence so that ultimately it can't be expressed in external media where the digital personalization action is really going on. This blind spot leaves customers under-powered in the digital landscape where the battle for customers is happening every day.
This cautionary tale is not meant to dissuade one from taking the marketing automation journey. In fact, it is necessary. But let's not kid ourselves -- this is not a journey for the faint hearted. So travel with caution and keep your eyes wide open, lest you fall victim to the siren song and shipwreck along some distant digital shore.