Nothing gets a room of techies going like a good old build versus buy debate.

That was the case last year at the first Marketing Technology Conference in Boston. We continued the conversation here in a two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2). 

Back then, there were only about 1,000 marketing technology vendors, if you believed Scott Brinker’s MarTech supergraphic

Now, Brinker has doubled his estimate to nearly 2,000. And the build versus buy marketing technology debate is as unsettled as ever.

Today, we catch up with the same players we spoke with a year ago in the first installment of our “One Year Later” series.

Tag Management Evolves

In 2014, officials at San Diego-based Tealium boasted about their tag management platform and a data layer that helps marketers manage tags by sharing data and providing integration across multiple marketing applications.

In an interview with CMSWire, Brinker himself called it “marketing middleware” that plays an “incredibly valuable role"
in a “rich ecosystem of many specialized marketing technologies.” 

Tealium’s Jay McCarthy, vice president of product marketing, told us last year the idea that you should be able to use the existing relationships you already have with all of these best-of-breed vendors is just reality.

“It’s not an either/or,” he said, “It’s a must-have.”

headshot of jay calavas of tealium

McCarthy's successor, Jay Calavas (McCarthy is no longer with the company) told CMSWire this week that a year has “certainly changed the story.”  

He said tag management has naturally evolved into a foundation for the collection, enrichment and activation of customer data across marketing channels. Calavas said he sees companies take advantage of the “data layer” they have put in place and leverage it as the “source of customer data before it ever gets fragmented within disparate marketing systems.”  

“By collecting data at the source and creating a modernized customer data supply chain they can now achieve unified marketing, a process where all marketing channels and vendors act on the same single source of truth about the customer,” he said. “Executed properly this can revolutionize traditional silo-based marketing in ways we only dreamed of previously.”  

Calavas talked about “harmonizing data” across email, display, search, social, CRM, personalization and content vendors to better convert customers. “Once the user converts all of the marketing systems can be turned off and that customer can be automated into the next dynamic stage of the customer lifecycle,” he said. “It’s incredible stuff and all happening in real-time in the wild, the next few years are going to be truly incredible.”

Buy is Reality

headshot of ben gaines, analytics executive at Adobe

Ben Gaines, senior product manager for Adobe Analytics, part of Adobe's marketing cloud stack, told us last year that building a marketing cloud is hard. If it were easy, 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 a year ago. “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.”

Catching up with CMSWire this week, he said there has been relatively little change in attitude toward build-versus-buy.

“Build is still tempting because you can align best-of-breed point solutions, but buy is much more inline with the reality and therefore holds a lot more realized value,” he said.

The biggest change in the way organizations look at the build-versus-buy decision might be that executives' expectations of marketing technology are higher than ever, Gaines said.

“Integrating point solutions via APIs and a data layer is one way to go, but I think organizations are realizing that this puts a ton of burden on marketers to develop and maintain their own technology to enable workflows that encompass multiple tools,” Gaines added. “It doesn't empower marketers nearly as well as a solution designed to work together to optimize the customer experience across channels, and I think that's clearer than ever.”

Not the Answer

Gaines said a “common data layer” is “not a panacea.” It leaves marketers “hopping from product to product to product and needing to remember how each one treats data differently.”

Over the past year, Gaines said organizations have matured in how they think about the brand experience across channels and devices. CMOs, he said, are pushing their teams to think holistically about their customers and understand them the same way no matter when or where they interact with the brand.

“If anything,” he added, “I think this makes the marketing cloud vision more compelling because the types of actions you want to be able to take across channels, based on a single view of the customer, with multiple possible actions and interactions available in the same workflow. I'm seeing that brands are more ready for this than ever before.”

Still High on Build

Travis Wright, chief marketing technologist at CCP Global, a Kansas City-based technology consulting firm, and CEO/founder at MediaThinkLabs, got this “build versus buy” party started last year. 

Wright told CMSWire after his session last year 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?

shot of travis wright talking with an attendee of the Marketing Technology Conference in Boston in August of 2014

“It’s really flexibility,” Wright told CMSWire in Boston one year ago. “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.

Wright told CMSWire this week that any type of market disruption has always given way to an incredible burst of economic and technological stimulation.

“That is why my opinion on the topic of build or buy your marketing cloud,” he said, “has only compounded over the past 12 months towards build.”

'Frankenstein' Clouds

He cited billion-dollar “Frankenstein marketing clouds” and their promise of “fulfilling everything an advertiser needs within one company/cloud” as becoming more and more disjointed from what the market wants — rather than connected.

“In the meantime, the MarTech landscape from 2014 to 2015 has doubled,” Wright noted. “If your solution doesn't allow openness or play nicely with all of those 2,000-plus technologies, including technologies within your platform, you will have some unhappy digital marketing executives, especially when your marketing agency is working with the Frankenstein cloud to keep you locked in.”

Tools that remain “open” and “agile” and work with the entire ecosystem can cope with the speed and scale currently required, Wright said.

Companies using Adobe's Experience Manager and Site Catalyst but also wanting to try Oracle’s new Maxymiser acquisition, IBM's Silverpop, Salesforce's Radian6, or any other number of marketing technologies can so do when deployed through an independently-owned premium tag management tool like Ensighten, Tealium or Signal, Wright said.

“New automation and marketing capabilities are being added all of the time,” he said, “and the agile marketer needs to be able to deploy whatever they want, wherever they want and to remove it, if it’s not delivering. They also need to collect, own and act on all of their marketing data. The marketing cloud that I always suggest my clients is to build their own custom, scalable marketing cloud to avoid the obvious ‘which cloud now’ switching pain that is hidden much further down the road.”

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“One Year Later” is an occasional series discussing technology topics about 365 days after we reported on them. Got an idea? Contact Staff Reporter Dom Nicastro.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by rahego