digital marketing, Part II: Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? What Practitioners Say

Scott Brinker's marketing technology landscape graphic is the face of the space. It captured plenty of air time at Brinker's first Marketing Technology Conference in Boston this week.

Isaac Wyatt built his very own marketing technology landscape at New Relic, a San Francisco-based real-time application monitoring platform. It includes the approximate 30 technologies he uses to get his job done.

Sums it up, right? More than 1,000 digital marketing platforms in more than 40 categories. At the heart of it all is the "buy vs. build your marketing cloud" debate, sparked this week at #MarTech by presenter Travis Wright, chief growth officer for MediaThinkLabs.

Yesterday, we caught up with vendors on buy vs. build. Today, we conclude our series with marketing veterans who have had to face the question themselves.

'Value in Either Route'

Meet Isaac Wyatt (again).  This week, he was the Switzerland of the "buy vs. build" debate.

digital marketing, Part II: Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? What Practitioners Say

"There's value in going either route," Wyatt told CMSWire. "When buying your vertical cloud stack with one vendor like an Adobe you unlock some efficiency when all the different technologies play well together, and I’m sure that there’s some pricing capability that you get that you don’t get when you build your own cloud."

But is that a trap? Are you being locked in by one vendor and handcuffed from innovation and integration with other platforms?

Wyatt said it certainly can be harder to move on from certain features in that scenario. Take analytics, for example.

"If they’re collecting all your data and you want to move on to a different analytics tool that may not be possible because they have all of your historical data," Wyatt said. "This is the common case for example when you transition from something like Adobe Site Catalyst to migrate onto something like Google Analytics. You want to keep your historical data."

(Editor's note: Adobe had its say on integration in Part I of this series yesterday).

Going a la Carte

Building your own cloud? It allows you the flexibility to "pick and choose your technologies a la carte." That way, Wyatt said, you get the best of what your company needs for solving its particular issue.

The challenge, though, becomes the overhead involved with administrating a variety of different tools, Wyatt added, and it's no guarantee those technologies "play well together."

"And you don’t often get good vendor discounts," Wyatt said.  

Smaller companies that try to remain nimble and have a lot of agility? Building your own cloud is "definitely the way to go," Wyatt said, adding, "whereas someone looking for stability and maybe enterprise-level featured support would definitely buy your cloud."

Leaning Toward Building

Meet Melinda Byerley, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based, which connects technology buyers with their peers during buying journeys.

digital marketing, Part II: Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? What Practitioners Say

She has 15 years as a marketer and general manager in technology companies ranging from large public companies like eBay to tiny tech startups. She's purchased and used marketing technology in pretty much every way possible.

Buy vs. build?

"My conclusion: it depends," Byerley told CMSWire. "But I lean toward creating my own cloud. I see the appeal, and some of the value, of all-in-one cloud systems. The reality is far different from the promise, as we've seen in everything from the Affordable Care Act debacle to the fact that 50 percent of large IT installations fail. Marketing technologists realize we don't have to repeat the mistakes of the ERP past."

At the core of the debate may be data integration, Byerley said. On the integration journey in the "build" approach, digital marketers at least get the benefit of the best-in-breed solutions.  

More Flexibility

"In most cases, I am keeping my own data," Byerley said. "I am not locked into a multiyear contract with built-in switching costs that do not require my vendor to be world-class. I have the flexibility to switch vendors. I am not required to sign non-disparagement clauses that prevent me from sharing my experiences with other marketing technologists around the world."

Think about your personality. Do you embrace change and new technology? Then you may want to build your own cloud.

And your company's needs are vital, of course: Is it a fast-moving technology company whose managers won't appreciate multiyear contracts that don't provide first-party data and prevent them from quickly adopting better tools? Or a slower-moving, highly regulated industry or company that wants stability, predictability of costs, data security, compliance and governance controls the all-in-ones provide?    

"At a big company, there is value in all-in-one solutions -- a simplified procurement process, centralized account management, and the hope of the integrated view of the customer," Byerley said. "Unfortunately, though, until the reality catches up, I'll stick with the flexibility a 'roll my own' solution provides."

The problem with most all-in-ones, though, they want you locked into their system and as a result make it very hard to them to play well with others, Byerley said.

Transparency and Competition

"This is anathema to me as a Silicon Valley marketer where we have transparency and competition in our DNA," she said. 

Where has she personally had successful marketing technology implementations? When she has developed a list of requirements based on her organization's unique needs, and with a clear-headed awareness of the trade-offs in advance.  

"This enables my org to ride out the hangover that inevitably follows the honeymoon phase of signing the contract," Byerley said.

The least successful implementations? Ones that were forced upon companies from the top down after being "sold" by salespeople, without regard to the organizations' peculiar data structures, personality or needs.  

"Over time," Byerley said, "as marketers in companies of all sizes become more comfortable and experienced in purchasing technology, with getting into the weeds of data schema and integration, they will demand more of all of their vendors."

Building Will Overwhelm Staff

Meet Scott Vaughan, chief marketing officer at Integrate, a cloud-based platform for moving outside data into marketing platforms based in Scottsdale, Ariz. 

digital marketing, Part II: Buy or Build a Marketing Cloud? What Practitioners Say

Vaughan's a marketer, too, with decades of experience working and implementing marketing tech.

"Technology changes so fast today that it's overwhelming," Vaughan told CMSWire. "There's so much innovation new tech coming out that you can build pieces of it. But if you try to build that entire cloud or all the systems, just the integrations will suck your staff. And you want your staff focused on being creative, revenue and creating value and innovating on top of it."

Vaughan said having one large marketing cloud and building around works because there are "so many good third-party tools, technologies and platforms you can use."

"That doesn’t mean you have to buy everything but if you buy the core of it then you can build around it and customize it to your environment," Vaughan said. "To me it’s about agility, the ability to move and the ability to start with innovation and add your own innovation layer onto that."

Bought the Cloud

Formerly the CMO at UBM Tech, Vaughan was part of a team that transformed its technology stack and bought a marketing cloud platform then built in social and analytics tools.

"What we got was a really good performing back end," Vaughan said. Working with many different marketers and operations now, Vaughan said he sees those trying to build can see progress for a while, but it doesn’t scale.

As for the vendor lock-in argument, Vaughan said "that’s old-school thinking."

"There’s some truth to it. You are going to hit limits," he added. "There’s no question about that. However you have to weigh the business risk and the business opportunity. If you are constantly trying to build something new and refreshing every time there’s just no way you can keep pace. If you get a base platform and build around that -- what we call a blueprint -- you connect all your processes and your data flow."

Building a Relationship

But success comes down to vendor relationship. Ask yourself: do you have a good one with your marketing cloud vendor?

"You’ve got to make sure you have a seat at the table, that you’ve got an ear," Vaughan said. "And there are some trade-offs. But I think today there are very few companies that go out and build everything. It's hard to do -- time, money, adaptability, all those things...

"You can still use a major platform provider and still build around it," he said. "There's enough good technology that you can build around that -- buying a core then integrating and customizing around it. That is the way to go."

Title image by Hang Dinh (Shutterstock).