Closed-Loop Marketing – Or Just Closed?
by David Mennie
“Digital transformation” is a big phrase that scares marketers and IT people alike, because it hints at the need to rip out all of your old stuff – technology, processes, maybe even people – in favor of cutting-edge replacements.
This transformation trend is gaining steam in marketing, where some vendors are promoting all-encompassing, cloud-based marketing suites that promise seamlessly integrated content management, marketing automation, analytics and other tools. The goal is the long-desired “closed loop” that ties digital marketing investments more closely to outcomes.
The problem with “kitchen sink” cloud suites is that while they may be positioned as tightly integrated solutions, the applications or services within them don’t always play well together. As many businesses have discovered, what begins as a software implementation project quickly becomes an integration headache. Marketers are now learning what IT professionals have known for a long time: vendor promises often don’t match the reality.
Going all-in on a cloud suite – which often involves replacing existing tools that may be working perfectly well – can create a ripple of problems by forcing marketers to adapt to new processes or workflows or by putting onerous restrictions on the data types and formats that can be pulled into the system.
“Even if you have really good data export functionality, switching from one platform to another is still time consuming and difficult,” says Bryan Yeager, an analyst with eMarketer. In a recently published (and highly recommended) marketing technology report, Yeager notes that while marketers are intrigued by the vision of the marketing cloud, “many find it difficult to envision one provider will be able to meet all of their needs.” One marketer cited in the report underscores the skepticism:
Jeff Cram, chief strategy officer at ISITE Design, a digital agency that uses many of the products that are part of the various suites in the market, said that because of the acquisition approach, many of the marketing clouds are at an “awkward stage” right now, with the positioning that vendors are pushing being “further ahead than their actual utility and integration.”
Beyond potential integration headaches, marketers should also be wary of becoming locked into one vendor’s solution.
“There is always risk with a technology platform decision and trust in the vendor from the standpoint of company health, strategic roadmap and competitiveness,” says Chris Chodnicki, co-founder and executive director of strategic partnerships at r2i, an integrated marketing and technology firm. “Keep in mind that your platform choice is going to be with your organization on average for three years. The investments made one way or another create an embedded nature that may be hard to extract.”
A better option, many analysts and marketers agree, may be a best-in-breed approach, built on an open-source platform, which offers the future-proofing that’s increasingly important in a rapidly changing digital marketing landscape.
CMOs would be wise to take a cue from CIOs such as Adidas’ Jan Brecht, who understand the importance of agility when choosing software solutions. “There are new tools every quarter,” Brecht told CIO.com. “We’ve always had the best tool at the time, but there’s another even better tool six months later, so that is changing rather significantly.”
How to avoid vendor lock-in when buying marketing cloud solutions? Yeager recommends two important steps:
- Do your due diligence: Read the contracts closely. Understand who owns the data and – importantly – how you can extract your data if you decide to switch products down the road.
- Partner with IT: Even though marketers are becoming smarter about technology and making more of their own technology purchase decisions, they’d be foolish to push IT completely out of the picture. IT can and should play a valuable role in helping marketers evaluate solutions – including their level of data portability or interoperability. IT can also help integrate new marketing tools with back-end systems that IT traditionally oversees.
“There’s a growing maturity where marketers understand the technology better,” Yeager says. “And now they’re willing to partner with IT to ensure they’re making smart decisions about technology acquisition and implementation.”
If your goal is closed-loop marketing, it’s a good idea to keep your options open.