Build versus buy is a debate that precedes digital marketing clouds. It's nothing new.

But it's hot in digital marketing. And it's something that got a lot of people talking during the annual Marketing Technology Conference this past summer in Boston.

"The explosion in marketing technology (martech) is a wonderful opportunity for all of us in digital marketing," said Jay Calavas, chief evangelist for San Diego-based tag management provider Tealium. He made his comments during a CMSWire/Tealium webinar this week, "Build vs. Buy Your Marketing Cloud -- A Roundtable." 

"There are more than 1,000 digital marketing solutions," Calavas added. "That's a good thing. Here at Tealium we've experienced a huge growth in the tag management space, the desire for the marketer to manage data and distribute it off to all their marketing technology partners."

So the verdict in the build vs. debate from the webinar panelists? It's all about your organization's ability to match marketing technology with core business objectives and have solutions in place that integrate well.

Holy Grail of Digital Marketing

Calavas broke down digital marketing technology into four pillars or what he calls the Holy Grail:

  • Real time data and action
  • Flawless multi-device experiences
  • Omnichannel delivery
  • Unified marketing 

"We believe that the first and most important tenant of this holy grail of digital marketing is the realization of a real time data sets that are made actionable," Calavas said. "It's having the ability to have data and leverage it at the exact moment when it's needed the most."

In a multichannel world, marketers must get one view across multiple devices of customers and engage with them offline and online.

"Take that interaction data and bring it into the fold of a single view of a customer," Calavas added.

The "unified marketing" concept is about having a data set for any digital marketing solution that brings ultimately meaningful personalized experiences with customers."

Why Technology's Important

The explosion in digital marketing technology gives organizations the opportunity to measure and understand user experience, said webinar panelist Bill Bruno, CEO of Stratigent, an Ebiquity company. It also creates competition among vendors, which breeds innovation.

However, marketers must remember to have an appropriate strategy, vision and business plan in order to ensure the technology is in alignment with company goals.

And all these tools need to be managed, said webinar panelist Andrew Edwards, managing director of Society Consulting and a Digital Analytics Association founding member. Digital marketers, he added, must "really gain control of all this stuff in order to gain a result."

The explosion in technology can be a "bad thing," Edwards said, when digital marketers come to learn their tools aren't properly managed or integrated. 

"A lot of times you need a specialist to come in to make sure the technology plays nice with each other," he added.

Build vs. Buy 

Calavas said he's worked at two of the five major marketing cloud providers. At Tealium, they often work with marketers who are building their own cloud. 

"These cloud-based providers are doing something smart," Calavas said. "They're looking at martech, this explosion in marketing technology, and are seeing the problems digital marketers are having. So they're creating one single digital marketing stack that works together harmoniously."

Advantages? One provider to work with. One invoice. One account management team.  

Learning Opportunities

However, Calavas cited in the webinar "limitations" in choosing digital marketing solutions when going with one provider for digital marketing. 

"Working with more than 400 enterprise customers and 10s of thousands of websites," he added, "we've seen most companies are not just purchasing one cloud but rather building their own cloud and are not limited by the tools provided in a vertical cloud provider's stack. They're less likely to stay with one provider through the innovation of tag management, digital marketing management and data management." 

Vendor Lock-In?

An "obvious con" of going with one digital marketing cloud stack is vendor lock-in, Bruno said. Ben Gaines, Adobe Analytics senior product manager, refuted the vendor lock-in piece in a CMSWire story last month.

Bruno said the industry is seeing marketers seeking opportunities to go outside the one provider so long as it's the right, scalable approach.

"When you buy a marketing cloud," Edwards said, "the assumption is your marketing cloud is somehow complete, and the fact is that it pretty much never is. Take a look at how those vendors assembled their marketing cloud -- they've acquired different technologies from places that are either well integrated, semi or not integrated at all. They are different functions that happen to share a brand. I think it pays on many levels to look around and see who's got the best of breed fit for your organization."

Go to the Data Layer

Digital marketers using a data layer, which Tealium defines as a behind-the-scenes data and structure that drives customer interactions in web, mobile and other digital channels, is key for marketers, the webinar panelists agreed.

It helps solve, Calavas said, the problem of big data -- uncorrelated, siloed data living in disparate systems.

Within a single data layer, you can define a company-centric nomenclature within your data set and from there, marketers can point, click and decide which data to share with which partners.

It gives marketers "agility," Calavas said. "It is truly the cardiovascular system of your digital presence."

The data layer helps marketers "retain control and consistency over the data that is pulled," Edwards said.

Added Bruno: "Even if you're not using tag management, you should have a data layer at play. Think of customers using devices and all the channels you interact with them on -- and now think of having an umbrella on top of all of those. The data flows up and gets stuck in that umbrella for you to use later."