At times, marketing technology can seem like an untended garden. The number of solutions, platforms, services, cloud installations, etc. just keeps growing. In reality, organic growth doesn’t begin to capture the geometric pace we’ve been experiencing. Year after year, the number keeps expanding at a dizzying rate, from approximately 150 in 2011 up to over 3,500 in 2016 (check out the infographic complete with logos here*). Forget actually taking a test drive with each one, simply keeping track of all of the brand names is a full time job.
Imagine comparison shopping for your next set of wheels among more than ten times as many models from an ever expanding number of brands…
To put this number in perspective (and continue with the mixed metaphor), consider that there were approximately 260 new car models available in the United States in 2016. Imagine comparison shopping for your next set of wheels among more than ten times as many models from an ever expanding number of brands, and you’ll have some sense of what its like to pick a marketing technology platform. How can you possibly figure out which solution is best for your organization and your unique goals?
If you see the proverbial glass as half-empty, you might say that you simply can’t. After controlling for a few factors like cloud or local, technology platform and support skills required, cost and contract type, it’s like throwing darts at a very big board. As we’ve discussed, some of these platforms do the same thing in almost exactly the same way, or close enough that only an expert could tell the difference. To the more casual observer, the biggest differences might be largely cosmetic or driven by personal opinion.
Do you need a platform that sends email and integrates with Facebook advertising?
At the same time, it’s reasonable to ask why there would be so many choices if they’re all the same anyway. Therefore, an optimist might see platform selection as unique opportunity to pick the perfect one. If only there were a GPS equivalent to help navigate a confusing landscape, and — while I’m not aware of any specific Google Maps for CMS selection — there are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re considering the right options:
- Start with the strategy. Your goals and objectives should be your top priority before getting down to specifics, and it’s always helpful to consider a few use cases. If you know you’re going to be hauling lumber, you’re going to check out pick up trucks instead of roadsters. With that in mind, do you need a platform that sends email and integrates with Facebook advertising? Do you need it to support your website and plug into your ecommerce, or do you need an ecommerce and CMS solution all-in-one? Or, are you just looking at a specialized case like display advertising? What about cool new tools like predictive intelligence and AI?
- Consider where the platform fits in your broader enterprise marketing technology stack. With more combinations and more cross over between products than ever before, most enterprise solutions can cover more than one of your bases — for example, a web content management system that offers marketing automation tools, or a marketing automation platform that offers customer relationship management features. The specific choices an organization makes are going to vary considerably based on cost — the more solutions you choose, the greater the complexity especially if you have more than one system of record — and context. You might have a CMS that includes a full automation suite, but still go with Salesforce Marketing Cloud because you’re already using their Service Desk, thereby reducing the need to replicate user contact data.
- Consider the total cost of ownership, not just initial licensing and upgrades. The importance of looking at the entire picture shouldn’t be underestimated; there are often hidden platform costs when you consider the expense of implementation, customization, support resources and ongoing maintenance. These costs can be in straight dollars, salary expenses, or even time and materials, especially if your platforms are built on different technology architectures and require discreet teams for ongoing development.
Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, I can’t stress the importance of the strategy and defining your broader platform needs enough. The strategy is going to drive where you are going and help make sure each tool serves a discreet purpose wherever possible, and the broader platform needs will help you better manage your cost and complexity.
Can you use the same platform for more than one need?
Fortunately or unfortunately, the enterprise marketing technology stack — from data warehouse to CRM all the way up to BI — is here to stay despite the continued cross over and ongoing convergence. While we are likely to see some ongoing consolidation, it’s unlikely that your CMS is going to sprout a fully fledged Service Desk next week.
In the meantime, a key question for marketing strategists and technologists is becoming how many separate solutions do you need to address all of your objectives? Or, to put it another way can you use the same platform for more than one need?
As that’s a topic unto itself, we’ll tackle that in an upcoming post: Now that you’ve got a strategy, what next?
* Special thanks to Scott Brinker for posting these numbers in handy infographic format over at chiefmartec.com. You can read the source material for this post here.