The connected world is racing towards higher and higher levels of automation, driven by user and customer experience (UX and CX) experts who tell us that success lies in seamless, fully integrated processes across our entire Internet world. The rise of omnichannel and other descriptions of a seamless relationship between seller and buyer have brought us to the next wave — MarTech Convergence, the convergence of technology itself with the marketing processes it supports and defines.
While unifying web, social media, email, analytics and the other processes involved in marketing makes sense in theory, in reality, it's no easy task. It would be great if all of an organization's IT components were physically and functionally compatible, but that doesn’t describe most operating in today’s marketplace. And firms are neither able nor willing to rip and replace their existing systems wholesale. Indeed, IT departments tend to dig their heels in when they learn that they are the target of an enterprise redesign with its attendant loss of autonomy.
So how can we foster the convergence of marketing processes in an environment of disparate technology resources and management?
Finding the Content Foundation
Start with the content. The firms that have seen the most success at converging their marketing functionality have done so by focusing first on the content itself, leaving the specifics of technology, as much as possible, to each involved group.
In an environment not fully integrated at the IT level, whatever its architecture, content is the single component that actually moves, carrying with it the critical information each process needs to work seamlessly with its counterparts.
So the place to start planning is at the content level, using standard forms like XML and investigating ways to get all the involved background processes to create, import, leverage and export it. For systems that can't do this on their own, there is a robust conversion tool industry to fall back on.
Indeed, a systems environment built on a foundation of content will allow disparate technology components to act as if they were a unified system without actually being part of one. It can also enable the inclusion of additional tools and processes as they are needed, requiring only that they play well in a content-centric environment.
It ain’t beanbag, but it’s nearly always easier than getting your IT organizations to accept what can be radical changes to their tools, infrastructure … and funding.
Pick Your Content Strategy
There are a number of standard XML content models in the marketplace, designed to support various aspects of your needs, and you can extend them as you wish, or design a new one as needs dictate.
Part of that decision is finding out what your current tools can work with out of the box and staying as close to that as possible to minimize your customization load. DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) is one candidate. Designed by IBM in the 90s, DITA is an integrated content model supported by many commercial systems and an extensive free open toolkit. DITA is also receptive to extensions without violating its foundation architecture.
A major high-end audio system manufacturer with global sales, for example, established a corporate “Global Content Repository” to collect, manage and deliver the content required by its domestic and multiple international regions, all using XML in the DITA standard. Amazon, facing a similar need to integrate its functionality with thousands of producers who wished to sell on its site, chose to design its own XML standard, and then incentivize producers to use it in their communication with the Amazon systems.
In both of these cases, content acted as the primary resource for development of a seamless, converged marketing environment.
The prerequisite for success is a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish from a functional point of view. Not all marketing functionality challenges are the same. Only by carefully revisiting your functional needs can you develop a set of objectives to be addressed by your efforts. Indeed, a properly converged environment can often be the gateway to different and more powerful capabilities, and you should have these at least generally in mind when you start.
And remember, convergence, however it is done, is not an end in itself. You must figure out what will be improved if you go down this track, and decide whether each area and degree of improvement is worth its cost.
Fools Rush In
Armed with a clear functional design and having chosen one or more candidate content approaches, you can design your implementation strategy. The watchword here is “gradual.” Any change in how your world operates is going to disrupt things to some extent, and you want to minimize that disruption. Whatever you do, don’t set arbitrary deadlines for implementation based on fiscal or other non-functional considerations — they’re usually way too aggressive and just as easy to miss, often causing significant collateral damage.
Pilot projects make the most sense. Select a modest portion of your processes and design a converged environment to support them, taking care to insulate your existing processes from any impacts that might occur. Breaking what you have is no way to develop a new way of working.
As you work through the pilot, you will likely find things you overlooked including changes to your content strategy. Give yourself time to deal with these and make the necessary course corrections without impact on your existing operations. This won’t be as easy as it sounds: technologists are notorious for wanting to get on with things … sometimes just to prove you are on the wrong track by rushing them.
As the pilot proves its worth, you can use its experiences to plan a phased implementation across your overall environment, again making sure that you: 1. don’t rush things and 2. insulate your existing operations from impact.
What you will end up with is an IT landscape that may look similar to what have now, but with a user and customer experience that takes advantage of a functional landscape based on process convergence as well as IT, operating and marketing staffs still speaking to each other.