The first marketing technology stacks were created to organize, analyze and improve performance. They surfaced in the early 2000s when three adventurous chief marketing officers invested in fundamental tools made for superior management of their campaigns and audiences. These integrated systems induced order, unlocked targeted campaigns, and personalized messages for improved results.
In recent years the marketing industry has come a great distance, comparable to the evolution of the first printing press that began with quill and parchment paper writing. The changes have been particularly swift. In 2011, there were roughly 150 firms offering marketing technology. Now, there are more than 6,800 technology-based tools, including digital advertising, data analytics, content marketing, marketing automation, social media, and much more.
At some point, marketers became stack managers: shadow IT masters spending more time on implementing technology than creative development, customer research, and messaging. As for budgets, marketing technology generally surpasses IT budgets now. Spending on marketing software is forecasted to exceed $32 billion in this year alone.
For Some, Now the Job is ‘Nothing But the Stack’
Current marketers are facing remarkable pressure to build and manage stacks. Software and technology firms are desperate to control as much of the stack as possible, and in-house technology teams are desperate to retain their seat at the table. As a result, customers and prospects are left with the burden too often.
This is partially due to intense competition between major software companies striving for ultimate control over the marketing stack. Firms picture a walled garden of coordinated platforms — their platforms — and the result lack incentive to build in a way that enables sharing and communication with competitive or ancillary products.
With collection and distribution of customer and prospect consent and preferences — likes, dislikes, topics of interest, channels of choice, etc. — the problem is clear. The majority of marketing technology systems and frameworks that make up the powerful stack collect and store preferences, however, their functionality is limited. Only few of them are made to communicate with other technologies or contribute to a holistic customer record.
This means customer consent and preferences stored in a sales CRM system never transfer to customer support, marketing or third-party providers. For example, explicit permission to contact a cell phone — absolutely crucial for compliance purposes — remains within an ESP unable to link with the marketing automation solution.
When asked, many enterprise clients often think their customer preference information flows through four to six separate, detached technology systems. In successive analysis, an average of 12-14 distinct are revealed, more than double their estimate, along with apparent evidence of deep compliance and customer experience challenges.
This all makes sense considering each system is superior at one thing than another.
Organizations using Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics or SAP want to track their customers from a "sales" perspective — the classic customer relationship management (CRM) solution. These platforms are tailored to enable sales organizations with the information necessary to do their job — understand the customer across the life cycle and achieve insight into what he/she has bought or could buy from the company.
Preference and compliance requires maintaining history, the ability to look back over time as customers change preferences. With the forward-looking bias of these platforms, use of a CRM-oriented system can leave you with an incomplete image of the customer, lacking the information needed to answer a compliance inquiry.
Organizations implementing an outbound email service provider, like IBM Watson Marketing (formally Silverpop), Oracle Responsys or Oracle Eloqua have the primary goal to send communications to the customer to move them further along in the buyer journey based on scoring, behavior or company objectives. These systems have email covered as the main form of communication. However, it's likely the customer is engaging with the company across multiple channels. These systems aren't designed to provide interconnect across all points and systems encountered by each customer.
When providing a preference to one channel, customers expect the preference is integrated across the organization. Frustrations are present when the customer feels unheard. Preferences shared to one system should easily be shared across all of your platforms for outbound communication with a clear understanding of the source of change.
Organizations relying on customer identity access management systems like SAP (formally Gigya), Janrain, or LoginRadius to solve the problem need to focus on their primary purpose to understand why they fall short. These systems are built to provide customers with easy access across the enterprise and understand them more deeply (from third-party sources, for example). To find the power in effective preference management implementation, a continuing conversation with the customer as their desires shift for communication preferences across channels is required.
A thorough picture of your customer requires more than the information collected from them to date. It requires that they have seamless access to update their preferences and profile data as their situation evolves. It's not a "point in time" collection. It's a combination of a technology approach with a built-in process that considers the customer and their ability to participate in the preference conversation in an ongoing fashion.
What's the largest issue marketers are facing today with these technological systems?
None of them are built with direct customer interaction in mind for the management, maintenance and collection of preference data or to provide compliance support across the enterprise.
Enterprises are always hopeful to discover one system capable of solving all needs of the marketing stack, but often forget it's called a "stack" with reason. Each part resolves a specific marketing issue. It's important to acknowledge the background of any system a business may be considering.
Eric V. Holtzclaw is chief strategist of PossibleNOW, a company that leverages powerful technology and industry-leading expertise to enable companies to listen to customers, remember what they like and dislike and respond in useful, personalized ways.
Related story: The 2017 Retail Technology Report
Eric V. Holtzclaw is Chief Strategist of PossibleNOW. He’s a researcher, writer, serial entrepreneur and challenger-of-conventional wisdom. Check out his book with Wiley Publishing on consumer behavior – Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior. Eric helps strategically guide companies with the implementation of enterprise-wide consent and preference management solutions.