Nearly 400 attended the first Marketing Technology Conference at the Seaport Hotel in Boston this week to make sense of the more than 1,000 digital marketing technologies in more than 40 categories available today.

Bottom line: marketers want digital technology that works for their organizations. Easily, the most bantered about topic these past two days in Boston boiled down to one question:

Buy or build your marketing cloud?

Much like a little tea party here in this city 241 years ago, you had your division at #MarTech this week. 

Today, in the first of a two-part series, we catch up with the guy who got the debate going and two providers who sell marketing technology. To conclude the series, we'll talk to digital marketers who've had to make the buy versus build decision.

The Conversation Starter

digital marketing, Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? Tales of Two Vendors

Meet Travis Wright, the one responsible for sparking this debate with his Tuesday presentation, “To Build or Buy Your Own Marketing Cloud?” 

Wright, pictured here with a #MarTech attendee, is chief growth officer for MediaThinkLabs. He consults with businesses on how they should arrange their marketing stacks and likes the “build” approach.

Wright told CMSWire after his session that “buying” one large marketing cloud provides less flexibility than the “forward-facing” approach of building your own from multiple best-of-breed solutions.

The most important reason to build your own marketing cloud?

“It’s really flexibility,” Wright told CMSWire. “A lot of these companies are busy integrating and are not innovating,” Wright added, referring to large marketing clouds he talked about in his presentation such as Adobe, Salesforce, IBM and Oracle, which combined have acquired about $11 billion worth of marketing technology in the past two years

He specifically called out Adobe, telling CMSWire, “If you are a competitor of Adobe, then they're going to lock you out from their App store and are not going to allow you to be deployed through their solution. A lot of other tag management solutions are not able to go to Adobe Summit and are not able to go to their App marketplace.” (Ed. Note: Wright was an “Adobe insider” at this year’s Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City.)

When build a marketing cloud, you have a lot more flexibility with all those technologies that are being built -- or haven’t been built yet, Wright said.

“Someone’s in their garage right now saying I'm going to build something,” he added. “… Basically when you build your own you want to make sure you’re forward facing. That’s why the tag management solution to start off as a foundation is kinda cool.” 

Best-of-breed vendors in a “build your own” environment can help you walk through it and help you with some of the implementation. “So it takes away a lot of that pain,” Wright said.

Buy Marketing Cloud

Meet Ben Gaines, senior product manager for Adobe Analytics, who caught up with CMSWire in an email interview during #MarTech. Gaines responded directly to Wright’s charges about App store and Adobe Summit lockouts to other tag management providers. 

digital marketing, Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? Tales of Two Vendors

“This is simply an inaccurate misrepresentation,” Gaines said. “Adobe has a number of competing point solutions in Adobe Exchange today, and this will not change. For example, with our purchase of Neolane and its integration into Adobe Marketing Cloud as Adobe Campaign, we could close Exchange to all email vendors. But we have thousands of customers, and we recognize that many of them are going to want to choose their own solution for email, and so a large number of email integrations remain available, and will indefinitely. Our system is anything but closed.”

Adobe, he added, offers myriad APIs for ingesting data, retrieving data and taking various actions within the Adobe ecosystem when a third-party marketing technology is not part of Adobe Exchange.

“We even built,” Gaines said, “a real-time, event-level API called Live Stream, part of Adobe Analytics, to allow marketers to get actionable data out of the platform quickly and easily for actioning in any number of other tools -- including those whose solutions overlap with Adobe's.”

Of the 6,000 guests who attended Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City in March, Gaines said representatives from at least two other major tag management vendors attended.

“We don't invite competing vendors to sponsor Adobe Summit,” he added. “I think that is pretty standard at similar conferences. However, anyone is welcome to attend, and many of the TMS vendors have done so for the past several years.”

Building a marketing cloud is simply not easy, Gaines told CMSWire. If it were, the industry would see “myriad homegrown, integrated marketing stacks.”

This assumption that every marketing technology solution is flexible is incorrect. Technology in this space just doesn't work that way,” Gaines said. “APIs vary from solution to solution within a space, let alone across categories. But this is not really the issue with building. The issue is that the effort required to learn each of the desired technologies to a point where a marketing technologist could build a robust integration, taking into account all of the differences between technologies, is significant.”

Architecting. Manually building the integrations from scratch. Maintaining them in perpetuity.

Even if it’s a necessity to build a cloud from scratch, Gaines said it's a "tremendous amount of overhead, and outweighs the value when marketing cloud integrations are becoming much stronger.”

Go with Tag Management

Wright presented tag management marketing technology as a viable alternative to buying a marketing cloud. The organizer of the conference, Scott Brinker, earlier nicely summed up tag management’s benefits when used in a “data layer.” 

Tag management, as San Diego-based provider Tealium wrote in a report, is code that marketers embed into web pages and mobile sites and apps to use for measurement purposes: A/B testing, analytics, remarketing, personalization, etc.

Tealium boasts about a “data layer” that helps marketers manage the tags by sharing data and providing true integration across multiple marketing applications.

"I see tag management as quintessential 'marketing middleware,’” Brinker said when catching up with CMSWire post-#MarTech. “It's software that is designed to make your other marketing software work better together. And in a rich ecosystem of many specialized marketing technologies, that's an incredibly valuable role."

Meet Jay McCarthy, vice president of product marketing for Tealium, which sells tag management.

digital marketing, Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? Tales of Two Vendors“The idea that you should be able to utilize the existing relationships you already have with all of these best-of-breed vendors is just reality,” McCarthy told CMSWire at #MarTech this week. “It’s not an either/or. It’s a must-have.”

Large marketing clouds like an Adobe or Salesforce may be sharp. But they won’t be a be-all, end-all for the typical digital marketing team, McCarthy said.

“No matter how good the marketing clouds are that you use,” he said, “there’s always going to be some niche tools you need to have in your arsenal. It’s imperative to be able to bring them under the fold.”

Tag management is a good way to unify all those best of breed tools and “get you across your entire ecosystem to “get you some leverage.”

McCarthy said he’s a “big proponent” of the Adobes, IBMs and Oracles and “all these guys” building out their ecosystems and their clouds.

“It’s great they’re innovating in those areas,” he said, adding, however, “it just comes down to reality – you’ve got to also build your own cloud.”

And what of the argument from Travis Wright that one large marketing cloud offers little flexibility? Are digital marketers stuck inside a marketing cloud once they buy one?

“I don’t think they’re truly stuck. I wouldn’t put it that way,” McCarthy said. “But I do think the incentive for big marketing clouds is to get you using as many applications of theirs as they can. That’s their business. More power to them. That’s what they should be doing.”

And if those cloud applications and suites are doing what they should for an organization, that’s great. If not, however, you should be able to “easily jump out and use best-of-breed vendor."

Companies don’t have natural motivation to be completely open and inclusive of the entire marketing technology ecosystem, even though they have great partner programs,” McCarthy said of large marketing clouds. “I don’t think lock-ins, though, are some sort of malicious thing. I think lock-in is sort of the natural consequence of them focusing on their business and trying to make their customers happy. The collateral damage is, well, you might get locked into their stuff. Because they’re pushing their own stuff.

The natural way the marketing technology stack works lends itself to best-of-breed, “and we want to be the guy that ties those things together with tag management.

“That mutual data layer that can cut across all of that ecosystem is a great way to do that,” McCarthy said. “The natural incentive for us is to work with everyone in this space. That’s our business model, including all the cloud players.”

Title image by Pierdelune / Shutterstock.com.