Marketing clouds are trying to achieve convergence among all of the digital marketing elements. But is it working? And where is the market?

Attend a tradeshow these days in any area of customer engagement — content management, customer experience, marketing technology, retail, e-commerce — and you'll no doubt quickly be overwhelmed by the number of choices for tools and technologies that help the enterprise better engage with customers. 

After a stroll down an aisle or two, you’ll start noticing the demonstrations look the same and the sales pitches are all rather vague. 

Hundreds of point solutions offer “increased customer engagement,” “omnichannel commerce,” “personalized customer experiences” and many other variations on the theme.

At the same time, the larger players are increasingly offering suites of tools that can become the one-stop shop for multiple systems and applications — frequently hosted on the cloud and providing usage-based pricing and metered capacity. 

Many of these tools are called Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), meaning the hosted suites of applications can support multiple classes of functionality that previously were available only as individual offerings. PaaS represents the convergence of multiple technologies with consistent user interfaces, tighter integration, lower administrative costs and reduced complexity. So they say ...

Defining the Marketing Cloud

The definition of marketing cloud can vary along with the scope of offerings. 

One web resource defines the marketing cloud as containing multi-channel marketing automation, content management, social media tools and analytics platforms. Others include marketing experience, marketing operations, middleware and backbone platforms.

Adobe’s comprehensive suite consists of eight products: analytics, segmentation tools, campaign management, Web content management, digital asset and broadcast management, programmatic ad buying, social media management and personalization tools.

Just a few years ago, a delineation of categories included web analytics, PPC management, SEO management, social media marketing, virtual events, post-click marketing, marketing automation and email marketing. The challenge with any of these classifications is that there is overlap between categories. They all produce data and consume data; they all can be used to manage some aspect of a campaign; there is a social component; rich media and digital assets play some role in the process.

To my mind, the key components of a marketing cloud are:

  1. Digital asset management — DAM allows for the management and reuse of rich media, and almost all cloud offerings contain at least some DAM functionality. The scope can range from finished assets to product images, advertising collateral, and audio and video files. It can also extend upstream into creative workflow and agency collaboration processes.
  2. Content management systems — CMSs are where customers interact with content. Related functionality includes personalization and tracking mechanisms for determining what content is most effective at moving customers through the funnel.
  3. Product information management — PIM is especially important for large catalogues, and many of these tools integrate product images.
  4. Social media management — Social media management tools include the ability to measure awareness and sentiment, listen in on social conversations, respond to individual issues and improve efficiency and effectiveness of participation.
  5. Marketing automation and integration — Marketing automation systems manage omnichannel communications with customers, improving efficiency.
  6. Analytics platforms — Analytics tools are increasingly the centerpiece of many marketing cloud platforms because they measure customer responses and effectiveness of campaigns.

Finding the Right Fit

The challenge in assessing fitness to purpose for a marketing cloud platform is that almost every major vendor can “check the boxes.” Each says that its tools have the desired functionality.

Each of these technologies contains embedded business processes that are developed within the software design. They differ in their focus on one aspect of communication and engagement versus another — depending on the specific functions that they support.

There is no “best platform” because organizations are made of people and reflect the unique ways in which people interact and processes have evolved over time. Organizational habits are engrained, and imposing a new set of processes is difficult even if they are an improvement.

An effective assessment must align with your marketing program strategy. 

Functionality must meet a business need, and that need is based on a gap in a current or desired capability. 

Organizational marketing and customer engagement processes are typically spread across multiple departments and functions and span complex and interrelated software systems. 

The change required to adopt a suite of tools throughout the enterprise is often underestimated, and the level of sophistication of some tools means that mature processes are required to support deployment and operationalization. There are certainly core functions that may be the same across a segment, but the level of capability required is driven by the customer engagement and interaction strategy.

When evaluating the marketplace keep in mind:

  • Marketing clouds need to contain multiple components to do their jobs effectively
  • Level of integration varies from suite to suite and tool to tool
  • Process integration may be more important than technology integration
  • Customer expectations are higher now, and therefore your technology must be flexible
  • The components need to work together well and meet the needs of the process according to the maturity of the organization

Marketing professionals are facing a challenging time of change in a noisy, turbulent marketplace. 

Digital marketing is undergoing an arms race of technological evolution. To be successful, the focus needs to be on aligning processes that support the customer with the go-to-market strategy and the capabilities of the rest of the customer experience organization.

Title image by Amy Zhang.