bowl of porridge
PHOTO: Joanna Kosinska

In the story of Goldilocks, the heroine dismisses options for being too hot and too cold. She chooses the one that is right in the middle. It’s a nice parable about balance. 

Marketing clouds try to sell much the same vision. A nice pre-integrated suite that has most of what you want, and is simple and easy. Flexible enough, but not too flexible.

The problem is, when it comes to their data, sophisticated brands are not Goldilocks — they want it all. The middle-ground "just right” is often just not what they need.

The MarTech Paradox

Scott Brinker made this very point in his opening remarks at the MarTech East conference in October when he described what he called the No. 1 Paradox of Martech: “Centralize and Decentralize.” Brands want and need both. As he summed up on his blog, “We want the efficiency and brand cohesion of centralization — it gives us scale. Yet we also want the fast adaptability and creative experimentation of decentralization — it gives us agility.” 

The recent surge in interest in customer data platforms (CDPs) is due to the fact that they resolve exactly this dilemma (the good ones at least). When it comes to data collection and identity — CDPs offer centralization. When it comes to delivering personalized messages, CDPs allow for extreme flexibility and choice across channels, platforms, vendors.

Related Article: What Can You Do With a Customer Data Platform?

Brands Don’t Want a Fairytale

Marketing clouds that promulgate the myth of a “just right” dashboard — a single, easy-to-use interface via which a CMO can manage his or her entire business with just a few clicks — would be well advised to rethink the narrative. It sounds idyllic (not unlike a tale of three bears living together in harmony). Except in practice marketers don’t want to go all in with a single vendor. They want to try every chair, every bed, every porridge bowl.

The majority of them at least.

This was a key finding of new Gartner research report published last week. The study found that 59 percent of companies with a dedicated martech leader and team preferred a best-of-breed approach, compared with 36 percent who preferred using a single vendor’s suite with multiple interconnected categories of apps in it (the remainder had no preference).

This is not to say that marketing cloud vendors don’t play an important role in the stacks of many of the world’s most data-savvy brands. However, as much as these integrated suites want you to believe they are the fairy godmother that makes it all possible, the reality is that:

  1. Marketing clouds only represent a fraction of the tech stack of more sophisticated brands (the ones who tend to have a dedicated martech leader and team), and
  2. They are not best-of-breed in many application categories (for example, when it comes to mobile) and the average brand uses multiple marketing clouds (not just one) anyway.

For a truly balanced meal, a selection of different choices is essential. And not some “blended” integration method that reduces all the data to the lowest common denominator. Brands need full interoperability between a plethora of dishes that keeps the hot dishes hot and the cold dishes cold.

The problem with this is that:

  1. Marketing clouds were never architected to get data “in” from other systems (other than their own), and
  2. They were never designed to get data “out” to other systems either (as in, all the right data, to the right system, in real time).

So what you get instead is a bowl of lukewarm mush.

Related Article: Customer Data Platforms: The Truth Behind the Hype

Are CDPs the New Happily Ever After?

No one technology is ever going to be a full-service solution. CDPs certainly are not. But they can help resolve the paradox of brands wanting and needing all porridge types (not to mention a hearty serving of other dishes) at once.

  • CDPs can enable turn-key integrations with the latest and greatest tools without involving any custom engineering.
  • They can empower developers to build custom apps, or data sciences teams to incorporate their own models.
  • And, yes, they can support interoperability betwixt and between the different marketing clouds and identity-centric media platforms.

The “Goldilocks approach” of an all-in-one cloud is a too-convenient myth that doesn’t suit the complexities of the modern customer journey. It’s best to leave that idea where it belongs — in storybooks.