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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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Posted on by Andrew Eisner (not verified).

Great post Tom. I think this is a better analysis than most "point solutions vs all-in-one solution" analyses..

Posted on by Ron Judd (not verified).

Nice Hotel California reference, those closed end systems are why some well known companies still can't leave Lotus Notes either. An extensible and open architecture is needed. Nice post Tom!

Posted on by James Carney (not verified).

Just to play devil's advocate here, we've seen a number of marketing automation systems be gobbled up by larger companies. Oracle with Eloqua, ExactTarget with Pardot, then Salesforce with ExactTarget, and recently Adobe and Neolane.

If this trend of larger of the technology companies buying out these companies continues, we might have a small area for integration issues. Just wondering your thoughts on that trend.

Overall great post, and couldnt agree more with the pace of technology outpacing the capabilities of these companies to innovate and keep up.

Posted on by Mike (not verified).

As Tom notes, this is where we will see pure-play category killers come in and take market share a la Workday, Success Factors, etc.

Posted on by John (not verified).

Because both Workday and Success Factors have grown rapidly in functionality. And they are both moving towards becoming "platforms", if, indeed, they don't already fit that description.

So there's a bigger question - what is the definition of "platform", i.e. when is a pure play no longer a pure play. And is that the moment to jump ship, to the next pure play? So the best strategy is IT "hopscotch", jumping every 3-4 years when pure plays get too big? Does data actually exist that supports this approach as driving success?

Posted on by Brian Hansford (not verified).

Hi Tom! Thanks for commenting on my blog today. I do agree there is risk with a CMO going with a single vendor. And certainly many companies won't want to do that with Oracle. My concerns are alleviated with Oracle's open and emphatic statement that they will make sure to support integration with 3rd party apps, and they will in turn create an App Ecosystem. This is very similar to Marketo's positioning from earlier in April. This comes down to execution. But ultimately I do think there will be an foundation marketing platform that has to integrate with other apps (as needed) that will help companies extract the necessary information that helps drive the business. Cheers, Brian

Posted on by Anon (not verified).

Just one interesting point to raise - Acquia's site has Marketo tags all over it, along with several other point solutions. Acquia could also be potentially described as a point solution - although your own site seems to promote the idea of a "unified platform". The nature of point solution companies is to grow, and to become larger. That often happens by acquisition, thus point solutions slow morph into "platforms" over time, a process Acquia seems to be in the midst of.

Rare is the point solution that doesn't eventually become part of a platform - either by being acquired, or by acting as the acquirer (after all, each of your 4 examples above started as "point solutions" initially).

So I see three problems with this article -
1) No disclosure that you are a customer of a competitor of the solutions whose vision you are disagreeing with
2) No clarity as to when a point solution becomes a "platform".
3) No alternative - the nature of point solutions is to become platforms. Are you advocating that customers jump ship every time their point solution grows beyond a certain point?

Ultimately, this seems a bit of a silly debate. The answer is never "either or" - it's both. New markets will initially have solutions that solve one specific problem. As those markets mature, solutions will combine and grow. There will always be space for both mature platforms and brand new point solutions, I would be curious to hear of even one enterprise organization that successfully sticks with 100% one or the other in all areas of IT.

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