Legacy systems give way to integrated marketing

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Marketing has gotten exponentially more complicated, as online tactics progressively displace traditional media and new digital marketing channels keep surfacing. Today, you can choose among many individual applications to manage email, social media (in all its many flavors), webinars, SEO, PPC, website analytics, and visitor tracking. All of these tools generate useful engagement and behavioral data.

Here's the rub: With multiple applications, you get disconnects across channels in your campaigns and messaging frequency, even in your branding. Using different technology applications to manage each channel is not just inefficient, but – worse – it leads to silos holding valuable data in incompatible formats. If you can't reconcile your data, it's impossible to get an accurate view of program performance or buying influences. Aside from this, the multiple applications create a layer of technical complexity which can become a marketer's kryptonite – leaving them paralyzed, their creative superpowers weakened.

So let's get it out there: the job of a marketer has gotten significantly more difficult over the past 10 years. Back in the day, marketers could operate much more like agencies, with the emphasis on ideas, brainstorming, concepts, print and broadcast media. Creativity was king. Today's world of marketing is more focused on numbers, metrics, and conversion rates. Now we talk about the art and science of marketing and how marketing technology platforms (not just applications) will change our world forever. It's starting to feel like we've arrived as those predictions are becoming reality. Last week Gleanster published the Q3 2013 Gleansight Marketing Automation Benchmark Report (which can currently be downloaded for free). This report looks at how Top Performing organizations justify investments in marketing automation and how they utilize the tools. One big change from years past: one of the top three reasons to implement marketing automation for Top Performers was the desire to divest of legacy technologies. As the report notes:

"The data suggests Top Performing organizations are actually working towards reducing the complexity of the marketing technology stack by truly divesting of legacy applications. Naturally, this leads to lower annual licensing costs, reduces the complexity of training new talent in marketing, and forces multi-channel customer data to be aggregated in one system of record – marketing automation."

We've seen this in our customer base at Act-On. Surveys and case studies underline the time savings and convenience of an integrated marketing automation platform. While I don't want to take anything away from many of the more commonly talked about benefits of marketing automation such as cutting the time to execute campaigns, using segmentation and nurturing to generate more and better leads, using behavioral data to identify the most sales-ready leads, lower customer acquisition cost, and broader reach, there is another aha finding in the Gleanster report:

Ease of use. (Too often, just a buzzword)

Ninety-two percent of Top Performers ranked "ease of use" as the most critical element for achieving a return on investment in marketing automation. The report notes other trend lines toward ease and simplicity, such as Top Performers realizing they'd over-complicated lead scoring or over-engineered their automated campaigns, chalking the experience up to lessons learned, and re-starting with a simpler model.

As a consumer of technology at Act-On, I've learned the hard way that it's not what you buy (or think you're buying) that defines future value, it's what you can actually use. The difference between a good technology purchase and a poor one (as it relates to SaaS) is first measured in adoption, then by ROI. The first thing I am interested in knowing soon after a technology purchase these days is "Are we up and running yet?" before I move on to the more exciting question – "Are we seeing ROI?". Many marketing automation vendors are notorious for convincing companies to sign 12-month contracts with promises of a quick time to value, then taking 6-9 months to get the platform simply "working", often times requiring expensive professional services to do it .

The strong trend towards the consumerization of enterprise software has two driving forces: The actual users who gravitate towards work apps that have the same familiar ease of use and navigation as their personal apps do; and executives whose ambitious teams got badly burnt when they were sold a vision that included an application they had no chance of ever being able to implement or manage.

Until recently, finding a marketing automation application that a real-life front line marketer could use (this is where ease of use is measured) without being a database administrator was like walking through the Sahara desert with a candle, looking for the ever-elusive Chupacabra. The usual suspects in the space built their applications not for the user but for the IT guy, the database guy or the CRM admin. Disparate systems were the only way a marketer could take control of their destiny and execute. Today, users can get the ease and benefits of an integrated marketing automation platform without sacrificing the functionality or ease of use the point tools delivered. Pair that with marketing's sharply reduced need for support from IT or a DBA to get the post campaign data, and – it's all upside. At Act-On, we are honored to be part of such an exciting market at this time of explosive growth. Having started this journey in 2008, we owe everything to tens of thousands of marketers within the 1700+ companies we have the honor of working with and learning from every day.

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