Don't box yourself in with marketing technology

Scott Brinker

Scott Brinker is the CTO of ion interactive, a marketing software company specialising in post-click experiences. He is also the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where he covers the intersection of marketing, technology and management.

The marketing software space continues to evolve at a lightning pace. In some ways, that’s wonderful news for CMOs, who have a fantastic array of exciting, new capabilities available to them. But it’s also the source of frustration. How do you decide which technologies to adopt? How do they fit together?

After all, most CMOs did not choose their career path with the intention of having technology management as part of their job description.

As we’ve discussed in previous columns, one solution is to hire a ‘chief marketing technologist’ to be the CMO’s tech-savvy right-hand, managing the technical facets of the marketing department and advising the CMO on the intersection of technology and marketing strategy. These roles are typically a bridge between marketing and IT.

But ultimately, decisions for the big bets of marketing’s technology infrastructure land on the CMO’s desk.

The easy answer, it would seem, is to select a single vendor to do everything. Sign one contract with a major marketing cloud provider who promises to address all your marketing software needs in a box, wrapped with a nice, neat bow. It is a tempting vision: One company to hold accountable and zero integration issues.

This is a valid option, to a certain degree. Many of the marketing software suites that have been assembled through more than $11 billion worth of M&A deals in recent years are robust in terms of the capabilities they provide. And there are advantages to having the different components of such suites pre-wired for instant interoperability.

But I would caution CMOs to not frame this decision as a choice of an all-in-one suite, or which package gives you the most features today. Rather, I recommend treating this as a platform decision. You’re not just purchasing a set of capabilities for today. You’re laying a foundation upon which unforeseen future capabilities will need to be built.

Because if there’s one thing we know from the hyper evolution of marketing that’s underway, it’s that we cannot predict exactly what we’ll need to do to stay competitive in the years ahead. New innovations will alter the preferences and expectations of buyers. Competitors will leap on new technology enabled inflection points to disrupt our business. We’re going to have to continuously adapt. That’s simply the new normal for business in a world of accelerating change.

The one suite that does everything you need today may not do everything you need tomorrow. Instead, by choosing a marketing software provider primarily based on its strengths as a platform – open APIs for all key data and services and a vibrant ecosystem of third-party products that plug into the provider’s environment – you can have the best of both worlds. You’ll have the core capabilities of that system out of the box. But you’ll also have the flexibility to add other capabilities over time.

Adopting a platform also lets you hedge your bet with that provider. By having access to your data through open APIs, you have well-defined options to migrate to a different platform down the road – if you outgrow the one you have or are unhappy with the business relationship with them. In contrast, if your data is locked inside a closed-box suite, you may find yourself held hostage to exorbitant switching costs.

Tags: CMO role, marketing technology

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