Dance Like a Marketing Technologist in 2006

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Do you remember 2006? The billboard charts were pumping with Sean Paul’s “Temperature”, while Shakira’s hips weren’t lying and Nelly Furtado was breakings hearts with “Promiscuous”. 2006 was also the golden year for the Marketing Technologist. Unica had just launched version 7 of their Affinium marketing suite, and it revealed itself to be the ideal platform for those possessing the perfect blend of technical and business skills to shine.

A lot has changed since this golden year. We have witnessed widespread adoption of the public cloud and the emergence of countless new digital channels like mobile and social. Marketer tools have also gotten better; what marketers can build in a few hours today with journey tools, previously took weeks or months due to heavy IT coordination.

Lost in all this progress has been the role of the Marketing Technologist (MT). It is time to restore their prominence in the organization, with updated responsibilities to reflect the changing times and the new tools available to them. Like in 2006, strong and empowered MTs will be the secret weapon for data-driven marketing success.

How MTs Turned Up the Temperature

“I got the right temperature fi shelter you from the storm
Oh Lord, gyal I got the right tactics to turn you on…”
~ Sean Paul ”Temperature

MTs were marketing platform experts when “suites” were en vogue. Traditionally installed on premise with the flexibility to integrate with the IT organization’s existing infrastructure, suites were the progenitors of today’s Marketing Clouds. Ideally, MTs acquired this expertise by acting as a champion during the initial implementation of the solution, which allowed them to be an early and on-going evangelist for best practices.

Strong MTs were able to build expertise across multiple modules within the suite. They offered a level of technical expertise and ownership that allowed traditional campaign analyst resources to focus on business objectives, and user features with the lowest technical barriers to entry.

Golden era MTs would often have strong relationships with their data warehousing and other IT counterparts. This made MTs the natural go-between when new use cases, channels or segmentation were required to meet the day’s fast-changing marketing demands.

Often, it was was a small set of rudimentary technical skills that truly separated the MTs from junior marketing campaign analysts. When an MT pulled out their “in a pinch” scripting or basic coding skills, a more business focused marketing suite user would think they are witnessing sorcery. Basic JavaScript, Salesforce Apex or even a basic understanding of relational databases were magic tricks that provide a valuable frame of reference when interacting with IT stakeholders supporting marketing.

There has always been one essential MT wizardry skill that has consistently unlocked value for business: basic SQL coding. Even basic SQL coding skills (visually assisted, or otherwise) is the surest way for MTs to gain superpowers that unlock new segments at the speed of business.

Alas, with the emergence of the marketing cloud, the MTs days of supernatural SQL code spouting were over. Where did SQL and more advanced segmentation features go?

The Big Chill

“Don’t get mad, don’t be mean. Hey, don’t be mad, don’t get mean”
~Nelly Furtado — Promiscuous Girl

Marketing cloud technology has undoubtedly changed how marketing campaign analysts perform their daily functions. Never before have they had so much control over the customer journey — all with autonomy from IT. Yet, from the perspective of a veteran MT, they may initially be feeling confused or frustrated by what capabilities have been stripped from them — their favorite technical features have been put “on ice”.

Why would MT-empowering features be removed? The ecosystem that the classic marketing suite was built on has evolved, and modern marketing clouds reflect this. When software moves to the public cloud or is offered as a fully managed service, there are limitations that need to be introduced for contractual, service-level and security reasons. Since many software as a service (SaaS) offerings are built with multi-tenancy, any backdoor access to filesystems or database system tables could also inadvertently expose other client’s data. Similarly, permitting customers to include code or build customizations unrestrictedly would expose the marketing cloud vendor to system performance risks.

When it comes to the marketing cloud, the “back end” of the application is firmly closed for business; sorry MacGyver-inspired MTs, your days of system table reverse engineering and detailed log capturing are over. While an experienced and adept MT could concede that exploiting these techniques were not always the best approach in the first place, it is harder for them to justify the loss segmentation-building features.

In the marketing cloud, segmentation capabilities have been simplified to make them more accessible to non-technical users. For example, the screenshot below taken from Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s Journey Builder illustrates how a pair of conditions (i.e. Email address contains “joe” with a mobile number starting with “416”) are combined into an “AND” expression for as part of a Flow Control activity.

An example of simple segmentation within Salesforce Marketing Cloud Journey Builder

Users can expect to see the same kind of simplified experience in other marketing tools such as Adobe’s Journey Orchestration tool as well. These tools are optimized for non-technical marketing users by keeping complex segmentation and advanced data transformation features away. The result is highly productive teams meeting 80% of the daily marketing needs in a low-friction and agile environment.

What about the other 20%?

For any organization that has graduated from their initial journey use cases knows, complexity can ramp up quickly. Journey tools are easily implemented for simple linear use cases like initial onboarding, but the moment a customer has existing products or a history of interactions, advanced segmentation becomes a must.

Consider these situations, which often require a segmentation tool to be managed effectively:

* Can I contact this customer again within my contact strategy policies? Or, is the customer at risk of contact fatigue? Is it too soon for them to re-enter a journey?
* Should this customer be excluded in this campaign based on their recent purchase history, or current products/services held?
* Is the customer in a particular lifecycle stage? (e.g. onboarding, growth, re-activate, win-back etc.)
* Has the customer recently interacted with us on various channels? Are these signals significant enough for us to take action? Is it a pattern?

Performing segmentation on customer groups in the above situations requires a more robust way of querying both inside and outside the marketing cloud platform. In the past, the MT could perform some of this segmentation work directly within the marketing tool, but that isn’t the case today. The MT’s toolkit requires modernization to restore their role of prominence within contemporary marketing organizations.

Return of the MT

“I’m on tonight. You know my hips don’t lie. And I’m starting to feel it’s right. All the attraction, the tension. Don’t you see, baby, this is perfection?”
~Shakira — Hips Don’t Lie

What is the path to redemption for the MT? Should there be a race to add long lost segmentation features directly to the marketing cloud? Do the nebulous (and often hyperbolic) promises of the CDP (Customer Data Platform) hold some promise to help fill the gap?

For some leading organizations, the answer is updating a proven formula from the past to the present-day: tightly integrate your data warehouse with your marketing & segmentation tools.

Although the system-level back door for marketing clouds are closed, the “front door” is wide open with a rapidly maturing collection of APIs (application programming interface). These APIs were limited in 2006, but are now mature and ready to coalesce with modern cloud data warehousing technologies at scale.

The best part? Many organizations have already made significant investments in their data warehouse and marketing data marts. Whether it be the warehousing tools from the big three (AWS Redshift, Azure Synapse and Google BigQuery) or new players like Snowflake, an organization that has already made investments in these tools are tantalizingly close to untapping data that can supercharge modern marketing cloud campaigns.

A segmentation tool is one example of the “glue” that sits between the marketing cloud and prevailing cloud data warehouses. Thanks to the latest APIs on both platforms, a modern segmentation tool can now enable the marketing technologist to make advanced queries and perform segmentation within the warehouse, and seamlessly relay the resulting list of customers to the marketing cloud. In practice, this means writing SQL by hand, via point-and-click or tapping into sister languages that open the door to working with unstructured data or data streams.

Although our music tastes have changed since 2006, and the tools are now in the cloud, today marketing organizations are well positioned to return the MT to their rightful place of preeminent distinction. Arming MTs with tools to bridge data warehousing and marketing tools is a proven operating model that leads to reduced time to market through a more agile team. We know this formula works, now it’s time to restore the MT’s toolkit for a new golden era.

Is your organization a Salesforce Marketing Cloud user? Does your organization use Snowflake for a data warehouse? SnowSelect.io is a visual “low-code” segmentation tool that is purpose built for integrating the two platforms with the goal of empowering the modern marketing technologist.

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