How to see past the promises of advanced data management and get what you need
Adopting a cloud solution is about as easy to grasp as quantum physics, but it's become a necessity as marketers grapple with a fragmented consumer landscape: People are interacting with brands at physical stores, online, via voice, over the phone, in-app, chat, email and on social. Data across these channels has historically existed in silos, which is not ideal for brands trying to figure out who their audiences are and how to best serve them.
Brands need better tools for data management, says Mark Wagman, managing director at MediaLink. These tools collect, store and analyze first-party data as it applies to both known and unknown customers; develop and manage creative; create smooth user experiences; and provide analytics capable of measuring web, media and commerce.
"As the lines of advertising, marketing and commerce blur, cloud platforms are making key investments based on a bet that a more integrated customer acquisition, retention and conversion strategy wins in the long run," Wagman says.
Cloud companies, including Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and others, say they can tie all this together and provide a unified profile of each customer. But the tools are costly and complicated.
"There's a tension between how marketing cloud vendors portray their capabilities and the reality," Joe Stanhope, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, says.
Cloud platforms say they're able to offer solutions to diverse sets of buyers, partly because they've acquired different companies that cater to many different needs. At the same time, integrating those acquisitions into existing tech can be cumbersome and time-consuming. It took more than six months for Salesforce to integrate AI-analytics platform Datorama into its Marketing Cloud after acquiring it for a reported $800 million in July of last year, and there's still work that needs to be done.
"It's a constantly moving target for vendors and brands alike," Stanhope says. "There will absolutely be gaps in capabilities and instances where solutions fall short of expectations, and this really puts the onus on brands to be savvy buyers."
"Making the move to a marketing cloud can be an arduous task," says MediaLink's Wagman. Companies "need to start slow and make sure they don't bite off more than they can chew initially—integrate a single tool or tool set and build from there."
Picking the right solution is just the first step, says Tiesha Miller, VP of growth and marketing technology at iCrossing. Brands "don't always understand the amount of effort and resource cost it takes to stand them up," she says. "They're not plug-and-play, and they require not only a lot of thoughtful strategic consideration for configuration to ensure they're set up to service your business needs and scale in the future, but also require real development work to get there."
Miller adds: "You need to prep for organizational and change management that comes with new adoption."
Companies should not adopt a full suite at once; they need to understand the differences between marketing technology products.
"The tools should be in service of your total goals," Miller says. "You shouldn't ... bend the business around to meet the function of the technology—there's enough variety of competent tech out there that you should find the right fit."
To that end, companies like iCrossing, MediaLink, Accenture and others sell consulting services. Wunderman, for example, has more than 100 employees dedicated to Best Buy's marketing cloud operations to ensure the retailer is using the technology efficiently.
"Sometimes this means architecting a 'Frankenstack,' or a hub-and-spoke approach to integrate the best-of-breed technologies across a number of use cases," Wagman says. "In other cases, we support the transition from a homegrown solution or stack to one of the leading enterprise cloud providers."
Wagman suggests asking tough questions and requesting end-to-end demos that follow a real-world use case. The more you learn upfront, the better you can solve for the shortcomings after integration.
Marketers don't need a marketing technology platform. They need a marketing core that acts as a hub to integrate data and applications, says Shar VanBoskirk, a VP and principal analyst at Forrester who serves CMOs. This allows for more flexibility as new types of applications develop and new data formats emerge, she says.
"Marketers won't have to rip out an enterprise marketing platform when they find it's obsolete," she adds. "They'll just need to plug in a new application."