Have we Reached a Marketing Technology Singularity?

In the technology world, a “singularity” is the point where self-improving programs achieve runaway growth in computing power, signalling the end of the human era, and when the number of calculations per second is so high virtually anything is computable at any time.  Of course, we’re some distance away from reaching that pinnacle with tech in general, but it seems like marketing technology gets closer every day on two key fronts.

We beam gigabytes through the open air instantaneously, and think nothing of it…

First, the computer power to crunch marketing campaigns has essentially become limitless.  Today’s (primarily) cloud-based applications and storage support even the largest, most demanding companies in the world by storing billions upon billions of records, querying, updating, and simulating activity in real time at a point that was inconceivable 20 years ago.  There are those of us who remember watching in awe as a ZIP drive wrote almost 100 megs of data to a portable disk (very slowly, I might add).  Today, we beam gigabytes through the open air instantaneously, and think nothing of it.  There might be a few specialized areas I’m not aware of, but I highly doubt that most marketers overly worry about whether or not infrastructure can support their needs; or, if they do, it’s because of volume spikes and other events that can be planned around with some forward thinking.

Sitecore’s CEO, Michael Seifert, announced a major new initiative to support cloud-based delivery and integrate an enterprise e-commerce storefront…

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we appear to be reaching a point where marketing technology is converging on certain key capabilities regardless of the platform.  This is apparent at both the technology provider and implementation level, and it is leading to some interesting crossovers.  For example,  the primary focus at the Sitecore Conference in New Orleans in September wasn’t managing content.  Despite being a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management systems (WCM) and powering thousands of enterprise class sites around the world, robust content capabilities were barely referenced by the company, the speakers, or the partners.  Instead, the event was all about “contextual intelligence” and “cross-channel delivery,” otherwise known as personalized omni-channel marketing automation, AKA the customer journeys we hear so much about.

These two themes were repeated shortly thereafter at the Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco (also in September), but before jumping to the West Coast, I should note that e-commerce and the cloud are hot topics as well, certainly part of the convergence.  Sitecore’s CEO, Michael Seifert, announced a major new initiative to support cloud-based subscriptions and  integrate an enterprise e-commerce storefront with the contextual intelligence and other tools.  He described it as the world’s first fully integrated .NET solution for WCM, Online Marketing, and e-Commerce.  Of course, their competition would beg to differ and, sure enough, if you visit www.kentico.com, you’ll see them pushing their “all-in-one” package, describing their solution as “the only fully integrated ASP.NET CMS, E-commerce, and Online Marketing platform that allows you to create cutting-edge websites and optimize your digital customers’ experiences fully across multiple channels.”

Of course, Sitecore and Salesforce aren’t the only ones.  Microsoft and Oracle have similar solutions, as does IBM and a new competitor out of Canada, Marapost…

Back to Dreamforce:  Salesforce has always been a leader in the cloud, but, in recent years, they’ve talked a lot less about their CRM and a lot more about their 1-to-1 journey and analytics capabilities, now with new AI software, and, while they don’t technically have a CMS, there is some cross over in capabilities with the ability to support landing pages and microsites through both Marketing Cloud and Pardot.

Meaning, we’re seeing traditionally disparate software platforms with completely different histories and original intended usages agree on a few key items.  First, marketing systems need to support diverse delivery mechanisms — content on the web, mobile, text message, email, social media marketing, display advertising, etc, all from the same spot.  Second, this content needs to be personalized based on whatever data is available.  Third, this content needs to be tracked in all its versions.  Fourth, the cloud is where the action is on the implementation side (or at least providers like the constant subscription revenue).

 More intense competition from larger, more diverse suppliers coupled with a smaller number of systems required to support your initiatives.

Of course, Sitecore and Salesforce aren’t the only ones.  Microsoft and Oracle have similar solutions, as does Adobe, IBM and a new competitor out of Canada, Maropost.  There continue to be differences in each platform and their approach with strengths and weaknesses based on their respective histories, but the pattern seems to be clear:  We’re converging on features based on personalized, omni-channel delivery powered by automation and machine learning, and it won’t be long before one or all of these platforms is making a pitch as the one system to rule them all (assuming they haven’t gotten there already).

Generally speaking, this should be an exciting development for marketers:  More intense competition from larger, more diverse suppliers coupled with a smaller number of systems required to support your increasingly complex initiatives.  For many of us struggling with system overload (is that in our CRM or data warehouse or on the website?), it sounds like a dream come true, but potential problems could arise.

If one tool will rule them all, you need to make sure you are purchasing the ideal solution from the start…

First, it means that the selection of any individual system is going to be even more important than ever as it’ll do more than ever.  If one tool will rule them all, you need to make sure you are purchasing the ideal solution from the start, and it’s going to be very hard to change once you’ve sunk thousands if not millions into a platform.  It’s also going to be potentially expensive to support several systems at once.  I doubt many of us are going to spend tens of thousands on the Marketing Cloud after investing in a Sitecore website if the personalized marketing tools are roughly equivalent.

Second, it means you could experience more restrictions and limitations.  Yes, it might be easier to avoid integrating systems, but you’ll lose some of the unique tailoring and customization we currently enjoy.  Continuing the example above, there might be some feature in platform A that is better than platform B, but between the increased cost and complexity there will be little value in the investment.

Where do we go from here?

I would recommend taking a more long-term, thoughtful, and dare-I-say-cautious approach starting immediately.  Instead of sending out an RFP for a WCM, consider how it might be used as a marketing automation or personalized engagement tool as well, and don’t be afraid to think beyond the immediate needs.  We should also start evaluating systems that weren’t really competitors just a few years ago, like shopping a sports car against an SUV, and looking at our software spend as a single investment across several functional needs — perhaps you can go open source on your WCM and save money if you are lining up with Salesforce for your CRM and online marketing.  This should help us make more informed decisions, and give everyone a better sense of how these tools are being used by leading edge companies.

In my next post, I’ll delve into the dream of a fully functioning, fully integrated CRM in All I Want for Christmas is a Fully Functioning CRM and how we can work backward to achieve short and long term goals, but I believe it will serve the entire industry well if all of us start thinking more holistically before the new year even begins.

Share This: