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The Case Against the Marketing Cloud

The Marketing Cloud. A one-stop-shop for CMOs. Everything you need to create, manage, and execute marketing campaigns. Web. Social. Email. Mobile. Analytics. Targeting. From a single vendor. All in one easy-to-buy package.

  • Adobe’s got one: “Adobe Marketing Cloud. All the solutions marketers need. All from Adobe.”
  • So does Salesforce.com: “Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a comprehensive solution that takes social marketing to the next level.
  • Oracle has one: “Execute consistent, integrated social marketing strategies across your global brands”
  • Even HP/Autonomy has one: “Autonomy Marketing Cloud, a comprehensive set of marketing optimization offerings designed to help organizations increase market share, optimize marketing spend, and increase revenue across all channels."

I suspect Gartner's famous prediction that the CIO's technology budget is shifting to the CMO is responsible for the rapid rise of the Marketing Cloud. The Enterprise Software category was built on the CIOs budget. The Marketing Cloud is simply the new strategy for enterprise software companies to lock up the CMO's budget, like they have done with CIO budget for decades. Certainly, the idea of an end-to-end marketing cloud sounds appealing, doesn't it?

The issue with marketing clouds - or any integrated suite of technologies - is that they stifle innovation. No single vendor can keep pace with the rapid moving, dynamic, digital marketing technology landscape. And worse, marketing clouds vendors force customers to remain within their walled gardens, removing the ability for companies to remain agile when it comes to technology adoption.

I believe we're in an era of unprecedented innovation, especially as it applies to digital marketing, and companies who lock themselves into a Marketing Cloud are at risk of missing out on hugely disruptive technologies both now and in the future. History has shown that some of the greatest periods of technology innovation have occurred during times of product suite formation, like what we're seeing now with the rise of the Marketing Cloud. Let's look at a two examples:

  1. Documentum (now EMC) pioneered the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) suite to manage all forms of content in a single platform - from documents to scanned images to digital assets to websites. Documentum pitched the dream of a single content repository to the CIO as a way to reduce the cost and complexity of managing content in multiple systems. It turns out that ECM didn't work. Costs didn't go down, they went up. Users revolted against the Documentum's rigid processes and poor user experience. The ECM failure created a new generation of pure-play innovators like Box, who re-invented document management with ease of use and simplicity of deployment.
  2. Oracle's eBusiness Suite, created via the acquisitions of companies like Siebel and Peoplesoft was going to do create a end-to-end business platform for the CIO to manage HR, Finance, Sales, and Support. Instead, pure-play category killers like Workday, NetSuite, and Success Factors took market share away from Oracle who simply couldn't innovate fast enough.

The Marketing Cloud is just another attempt by technology vendors to grow revenue by locking CMOs into a single platform. The only winner is the vendor, who effectively locks customers into their platform for the long haul. Like the Hotel California, you can check-out any time you like... but you can never leave.

Ultimately, the case against the marketing cloud comes down to innovation. While Marketing Clouds may hit all of the feature checklists, they do so with the tradeoff of the long term flexibility and agility required to transform business.

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