Rise of the Marketing Platform


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I’m about to make a staggering statement. Ready for it?

Marketing has changed a lot recently.

Yes, I know, real “profound”. But jokes aside, when you put recent marketing trends into a historical context, you see just how fast the industry is changing. The evolution of marketing has historically been measured in decades:

  • 1900s – 1920s: Marketing is focused on product attributes
  • 1920s – 1950s: A spotlight on selling emerges
  • 1950s – 1990s: Marketers shift to focus on providing for customer needs and wants
  • 1990s – 2010: Marketing shifts again to developing and managing customer relationships

But in the last few years, technology has taken marketing by storm. Channels proliferated, and then converged; information turned into a tidal wave; and customer expectations for new experiences rose to new heights.

What this means is that marketing has changed more in the last five years than in the hundred before that. The speed of change in marketing is picking up its pace, and it’s going to keep accelerating.  The implication is that marketing is shifting again, this time to managing customer engagement – meaning that marketers will need a customer engagement platform to keep up. Too see why, read on…

Five Big Trends in Marketing Today

Here are five of the biggest trends that are transforming marketing today.


1) Isolated channels —> coordinated experiences

Today’s buyer is everywhere — on the web, on social, on mobile, on email. As isolated channels and siloed information converge, so does the idea of the all-important coordinated buying experience. In 2013, the media was fixated on the idea of the “brand story”, where brands deliver a consistent experience across all channels: paid, owned, earned, and shared. Marketers are charged with coordinating this experience, and to do it well, they need a platform specifically designed to drive engagement across every single channel.

2) One size fits all —> every channel personalized

Although some marketing channels like email are individually targetable and personalized, until recently most were not. This was true even for digital channels such as display ads and PPC – even the website was one-size fits all.  Think about it: when you send a customer a relevant email, you don’t expect them to hit reply; you expect them to come to your website. But all too often, that customer would see the same generic website as every other visitor.

Today, however, buyers demand hyper-relevant communications that speak to them as individuals. Nearly half of the online adults globally are always addressable, and they expect marketers to meet their specific needs — always and everywhere — according to Forrester’s 2013 Interactive Marketing Predictions report.

Fortunately, we can now target individuals, based on context and affinity, with more and more channels. In fact, the technology exists to customize what every user sees on pretty much every channel.  Today, your website can be as personalized as your email. Even TV is becoming individually addressable: Millennials today spend their entertainment time online and only 44% of their TV watching time actually happens on a television.

But to tell a consistent, personalized story across all channels — the ones that exist now and the untold dozens that will continue to pop up from here on out (digital billboards that react as you walk by?) — we need a technology platform that brings it all together.

3) “Campaign in the neck” —> continuous conversations

Unless you work for Apple, it’s safe to assume that your customers are not eagerly anticipating your next campaign.  “Campaign” is a militaristic word that focuses on the needs of the company, not the consumer.  Too many marketers think of their campaigns like a gumball machine: drop a campaign in, customers are supposed to come out the other side.  With this mindset, it’s no wonder these marketers are perplexed when they see the declining effectiveness of their campaigns.

Let’s face it: the way consumers live, work, and interact with technology isn’t organized around your campaign schedule. We need to be there for buyers, always and everywhere, conducting a conversation that’s customized to her taste and that perpetuates her journey. This means we’ve moved from “seller is in control” to “buyer is in control” and now to the notion of “iterative response”. Marketing today is about coordinated experiences that, like real conversations, are collaborative. In other words, we don’t just talk at a customer; we give her a reason and an opportunity to respond, and adjust appropriately. And for this — you guessed it — we need a sophisticated marketing platform.

4) Demographic targeting —> the Age of Context

In the past few years, marketers have begun to use behavioral data (e.g. web pages and social insights) to be more relevant and engaging than using demographic targeting alone.  It’s no wonder: your demographics tell me what you might be interested in, but your behaviors tell me what you are actually interested in.

Today, there is more and more information available to help us be more relevant with customers. We live today in what Robert Scoble and Shel Israel call “The Age of Context”.  Our mobile devices broadcast where we are and where we are going. Our connected devices spin off even more information; my Fitbit knows how I slept last night, and my Nest thermostat knows what time I come home from work. The Internet of Things means marketers have the opportunity to react instantly and in a more personalized manner than ever before.

We have what Forrester calls “an ever-widening aperture of customer context” at our fingertips. The right platform can help us better organize and act on that data to drive the right messages (and respect customer privacy).

5) Intuitive marketing —> better decisions with data

The phrase “data-driven” is, admittedly, already a bit passé… but the implication is important: Your decisions must keep pace with your data. For that, you need an intuitive, powerful platform to access, analyze, and act upon your metrics. And as the speed of marketing gets ever faster, your decision-making needs to keep up. Data is your ally in making quality marketing decisions at speed and scale.

Why a Platform? Why Now?

Every major trend happening in marketing today brings us to the same conclusion: we need a powerful platform capable of keeping up.

Marketing has gone from a simple model of appealing to general customer desire to a complex algorithm of managing segmented customer experiences on all sorts of channels and devices. In the age of technology, marketers are responsible for an all-consuming process that starts with attracting initial buyer attention and continues all the way to locking in customer loyalty and advocacy. And this process happens all over the place: in print, on the web, on our connected devices.  I call this process customer engagement management and it simply isn’t possible without a platform to support it.

But why a platform specifically? Scott Brinker’s 2014 Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic shows almost 1,000 different companies that provide software for marketers. He also makes a good case that even as inevitable consolidation happens, the pace of change in marketing discussed above means that there will always be new companies and new innovations – meaning that having 1,000 companies in marketing technology is the new normal (you must read this post).

But Scott also points out that the there is a necessary structure emerging in the marketing technology space.  I think there will ultimately be two main classes of marketing software companies:

  1. Marketing Experiences: These companies are all about delivering customer experiences at the point of interaction. This can include video advertising, content marketing, event management, social media marketing, and display ads, to name just a few.
  2. Marketing Platforms: The core systems of record for marketing that provide a common way of orchestrating the experiences across channels and applications, including operational management and measurement, with the ultimate goal of driving customer engagement.

The platforms will provide open ecosystems that the other companies can build on and plug into. The “marketing experience” companies are the horns, strings, percussion, and wind instruments; the platform is the orchestra conductor making sure everything is in harmony. A great platform helps you sidestep cacophony, and stands in as a virtuoso conductor who unifies your marketing into a lyrical masterpiece that can truly captivate its audience.

In this model, a few companies (including Marketo) will emerge as viable players in the platform category, since it requires companies of a certain size and resources. And, as Scott points out, having only a few standard platforms will actually encourage innovation and diversification in the marketing experiences category, since the platforms provide a foundation for common management of data, process, operations, and analytics.

The Perfect Customer Engagement Platform, Defined

The implication of this model is that a marketing platform does not need to do everything in marketing. (In fact, I would argue that cloud vendors who claim to provide “all the solutions that marketers need” are missing the point.)

Instead, the right platform needs to bring a core set of capabilities, and then be open to third-party solutions that build on the common foundation.

Here’s what a marketing platform needs to deliver:

  1. UNDERSTAND: Track customer identity, contacts, and context across every digital, social, and mobile channel — then organize this information into a single, open data repository.
  2. ORCHESTRATE: Design and coordinate engaging customer experiences and continuous conversations that take each customer on a personal journey over time – and do this in an organized, automated way.
  3. PERSONALIZE: Deliver relevant, personalized content and messages across channels and devices.
  4. MANAGE: Support the operational aspects of running a marketing department. Plan the marketing calendar, coordinate content, track investments, and tie the marketing budget directly to results.
  5. OPTIMIZE: Measure and maximize marketing ROI across channels. Attribute outcomes to each marketing experience, regardless of which application handled the interaction.  Support data-driven decision making at the speed of marketing.
  6. LEARN: The pace of change in marketing isn’t slowing down, so the platform also needs to give guidance, best practices, and knowledge to help marketers keep up.

Lastly, as discussed above, a true platform needs to be open to allow other marketing applications to tap into their data repositories, workflow capabilities, analytics, and so on. A true platform provides a backbone of common orchestration, common management, and common measurement, competing with the other platforms to provide the most complete ecosystem of marketing solutions.

If your marketing platform can do all these things, then you’re halfway to mastering modern marketing.  If it can’t, then well… you get the point.

A “Marketing First” Platform

The customer engagement platform is the core system of record for marketing, just like CRM is the system for sales and Human Capital Management is the system for HR.

The marketing platform provider should be a partner to marketing, a company that truly understands what’s happening in marketing and that “has marketing’s back”.  Your marketing platform is not an add-on to sales technology, or a component of an IT solution. It’s the core foundation to all aspects of marketing success. That’s why at Marketo, we think that a marketing platform should come from a company 100% focused on marketing.

Here’s what Marketo’s customer engagement platform looks like:


Our cloud-based customer engagement platform is purpose-built for marketers, by marketers, to enable organizations ranging from SMBs to the world’s largest enterprises to orchestrate and optimize customer experiences.

At the core of our platform is a marketing system of record: an individual, secure and trusted database with information about each prospect and customer, including context and behaviors.  Building on that is “The Brain”, a set of engines that use business rules and predictive analytics to determine the right customer experience, regardless of channel.  The platform also includes advanced analytic engines to help marketers answer sophisticated business questions, including those related to multi-touch attribution and trends over time.

On top of that, Marketo provides a series of applications that fall into three categories: orchestration to automate the customer journey; interaction to deliver meaningful, personalized customer experiences; and operations to manage all aspects of the marketing process, including budgets, calendar, and tasks.

Last, but not least, out platform has a complete set of APIs and has a growing number of third-party application providers in our LaunchPoint partner network, the largest and most complete ecosystem of marketing solutions.

It’s All about Mastering Marketing

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher living more than 2,500 years ago, could easily have been describing modern marketing when he said that the “the only thing that is constant is change”. Marketing has changed so much in the last five years, and who knows what the next five will bring.  The only thing that we can truly say about marketing is that marketers need to be prepared with the right foundation, the fundamentals for success. Here’s an analogy: someone who is naturally athletic with a strong core set of skills can easily pick up a new sport; similarly, a marketer with the right platform will be able to adapt to new channels and opportunities, regardless of what the future brings.

This is what I call mastering marketing, and it’s why I think every marketer needs to be thinking about their core customer engagement platform.

Are you prepared?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jon Miller
Jon leads strategy and execution for all aspects of marketing at Marketo and is a key architect of Marketo's hyper-efficient revenue engine (powered by Marketo's solutions, of course). In 21, he was named a Top 1 CMO for companies under $25 million revenue by The CMO Institute.


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