First, a word of caution: This article contains content on Martech Platforms that is semi-technical, so if you oversee marketing technology selections, but don’t care about saving time and money, by all means, bail out now. On the other hand, if you do care, hang with me. Trust me it will be worth it.
In an industry like ride or room sharing, it’s easy to grasp how a single digital platform and its ecosystem facilitates an entire business, connecting excess supply with demand[i]. But the concept of a single marketing platform seamlessly connecting and satisfying the myriad of requirements of program marketers, data suppliers, agencies, and channel owners seems implausible. Marketers must cater to a variety of customer journeys, such as acquisition, onboarding, loyalty, and win back. Even Uber and Airbnb use multiple marketing platforms.
Each marketing area has unique data and conditions that drive its operations. Like the wells, pipes, and refineries for an energy product such as oil, a marketing platform and ecosystem pulls from data reserves, pipes customer data into event processing and profiling mechanisms that filter and refine it, and then call on it to power its decision-making engine that distributes treatments and recommendations to consumers. And just like the distinction between oil and natural gas systems, different marketing platforms handle different data and consumers.
Narrowing down Martech Platforms to the Final Four
Most of us have watched the Martech landscape grow in the last eight years to untenable tallies – unbelievable and unsustainable at so many levels – one of which is the number of logos stuffed on one slide [ii]. The Martech 2019 Landscape includes 7040 vendors, and although there are duplicates and false positives (some aren’t marketing vendors), there is still a cruise ship load in 49 subcategories. Yet regardless of the true logo count, without question, there are thousands of technology providers, many calling themselves platforms. To distill it down, I looked at the six main categories I’ll call the Martech 6 (M6):
- Content & Experience (M6.1)
- Advertising & Promotion (M6.2)
- Commerce & Sales (M6.3)
- Data (M6.4)
- Management (M6.5)
- Social & Relationships (M6.6)
Today, nearly every major company struggles to determine how many marketing platforms they need and which ones to rest their future on. Some have bought into more is better and pride themselves on the wide variety of platform vendors in their Martech stack.
That pride, however, turns quickly to pain as they attempt to manage an unwieldy collection of technologies and wring business value from them. Others have already experienced that pain and are trying to rationalize suppliers. And as they do this, they want to settle on a core set of platforms that handle fundamental tasks like content development, data management, and executing marketing communications.
In Figure 1, I’ve boiled it all down to four Martech Platforms needed for customer engagement. I suggest you focus on these, which I’ll call the Martech Final Four. Sure, you’ll still need adjacent vendor technologies for other marketing purposes, but these should play minor roles for customer engagement – easily plugged in or unplugged. In other words, those minor technologies must NOT:
- Be major data processors and controllers for communications
- House major engagement decision-making strategies
- Tie to more than one of the Final Four platforms
Figure 1: Final Four – Martech Platforms and Ecosystems
Let’s look at the basic rationale for the four, and then we’ll dig deeper.
First, I chose the Marketing Content Platform (similar to M6.1) because every marketing function produces, curates, and distributes content. And for marketers to effectively collaborate, share, reuse, stay on brand, and distribute content to execution systems, they need a coherent content platform.
I picked the next two platforms based on execution factors. Once marketers develop programs and content into experiences they need a way to act and for that, they need two more Martech platforms:
- Acquisition Execution Platform – to tell prospects what they do well (essentially equals M6.2)
- Relationship Execution Platform – to convince customers to stick around (similar to M6.3)
So, both seemed obvious to include, but not to be combined – because I’ve yet to meet a single vendor supplying a superior solution for both (each needs somewhat different data and uses a different ecosystem). Perhaps this is why these functions are also separated in the M6.
The last one (Customer Insights Platform), includes data wrangling functionality that marketers have tried to build or buy for years. It’s also akin (but more specific in nature) to the M6.4. In the ’90s, data-driven marketers built their own databases and hid them under desks, so IT wouldn’t find them. That didn’t scale too well. Now, they’re kicking tires on CDPs (Customer Data Platforms), but that category is a mixed bag of digital analytics vendors, marketing database builders, event-stream processors, and data management tools.
So instead of just calling the fourth a CDP or Data Platform, I thought it might help to shed light on what’s really needed in terms of data sourcing and insights processing that the other Martech Platforms don’t provide. With that established, it should be apparent what’s really required to enable real-time inbound and outbound engagement.
As we inspect each platform more closely we’ll ask (and answer) these questions:
- What are the fundamental roles and objectives of the platform?
- Why should it be separated out?
- How should it interact with other platforms?
- How should it interact with its ecosystem?
Marketing Content Platform
Every enterprise marketing system requires content; videos on websites, the copy for web pages, the images in emails. And it’s important to have some continuity in how content is stored, sourced for re-use, and eventually woven into experiences. Once the content is production-ready, like inventory on warehouse shelves, it’s staged for super-fast delivery, sometimes as fragments, and other times as completed treatments, offers, and promotions.
Practically, finding one marketing content provider that provides all these capabilities isn’t easy (there are big players, like Adobe, OpenText, and Sitecore), but it’s essential to still settle on one as the cornerstone for the development and distribution of content services. Figure 2 shows the essential components needed in an integrated marketing content platform:
Figure 2: Marketing Content Platform
- Digital Asset Management – a library where assets in various stages of evolution are stashed, versioned and approved for sharing
- Content / Experience Development – an environment where business users and designers collaborate to create entire experiences, individual treatments such as email templates and web containers, get approvals, track tasks, and monitor progress
- Content Management System – A real-time content distribution engine that stages and serves content at runtime
In addition to these modules interoperating, the content platform must also integrate with the execution platforms, because program designers need to link content metadata to execution artifacts like offers. Last, but not shown, this platform is the hub for other program and content management functions, like change requests, work/task flows, and financial management. Essentially over time, the content platform becomes the hub for most of the roles previously played by MRM (Marketing Resource Management) systems.
Finally, content contributors and distributors must have open and easy access to the content platform. Why? Because content development involves agencies, partners, and sub-contractors. And once finalized, various forms of content (images, videos) must be formatted, rendered, and cached by channel for distribution (e.g., into CDN’s like Akamai and CloudFront).
Acquisition Execution Platform
Ask any salesperson, and they’ll tell you pipeline is their lifeblood. A good salesperson (and a good marketing function) fanatically prospects because although it costs a lot to acquire customers, almost all businesses still need a fresh supply. And the data and systems that support marketing and sales in their acquisition pursuits have unique facets such as:
- The paid media ad bidding ecosystem
- Prospect data sources (and 3rd party appends) and the regulations on their use
- Acquisition and onboarding journeys
- Content’s major role in building awareness
Figure 3 outlines the primary areas needed in an acquisition platform: audience selections (which may involve list processing), bid management (for digital advertising), and lead management (once prospects respond to ads). Lead management requires lead scoring, intelligent routing, and lead nurturing throughout the buying journey. In addition, this platform must have functions to manage the leads that come in from partners and affiliates.
As such, look for at least one acquisition platform that covers these base areas. Keep in mind that if your business model involves B2C and B2B, you may labor to find one that can manage both, so in this case, it may make sense to have one acquisition execution platform for each business model.
Figure 3: Acquisition Execution Platform
Relationship Execution Platform
For any successful business, winning a new customer is a special moment. But if that moment is seen as a final victory of sorts, that’s the wrong attitude. Why? Because this moment means nothing if you can’t continually prove your products and services are worthy of a true long-term partnership.
The way you’ll foster that partnership is by making every other moment meaningful, relevant, convenient, and valuable for both parties. And to do that, you’ll need a platform that specializes in just that – remembering customers and providing them with personalized and convenient treatments in every interaction. As Figure 4 lays out, to do this, you’ll need a relationship platform that makes individual customer decisions in real-time. Otherwise, even though you may have good intentions, you’ll botch up valuable moments, annoy customers, or simply miss signals that could have led to extremely valuable exchanges.
Figure 4: Real-Time/Always-On Relationship Execution Platform
Three other key points:
- This platform must support real-time/always-on operations with the Acquisition Execution Platform. When customer context changes affecting what’s relevant to offer a customer, a trigger should fire so the acquisition platform is informed so re-marketing efforts in paid media are in synch.
- The platform must have a “Real-Time Decision Engine” that is always on. That means that whether a customer comes in a channel, or needs to be treated proactively, all its components must be constantly up and running. Figure 5a shows those components.
- The platform must be tightly coupled with the Customer Insights Platform so contextual data is constantly refreshing key insights.
Figure 5a: Real-Time Decision Engine
Like an idling car engine, the Real-Time Decision Engine stays running and kicks into decision-making mode in specific throttle-up situations. For inbound interactions, it revs up when a touchpoint system calls it through an API. For outbound communications, shown in Figure 5b, it reacts to three stimuli:
- A scheduled looping through all customers where it assigns a proactive next-best-action (if appropriate) to a given customer
- A trigger (such as a contract about to expire) that tells it to treat one customer
- An emergency run (such as an important account notification to the entire base)
And when it spins up, it operates consistently. It acts on one customer – evaluating engagement policies, performing action prioritization, and then ranking and queuing up recommendations.
Figure 5b: Always-On Outbound
Customer Insights Platform
Right off, you might be wondering if this is just another name for a customer data platform (CDP). The answer is probably not. To clarify, first let’s look at what a CDP is for:
- It’s a marketer-managed system
- It provides persistent, consistent, and unified customer data, and performs identity resolution
- Its data is accessible by an assortment of systems (like business intelligence and reporting tools)
In contrast, let’s look at what a Customer Insight Platform is for:
- It’s a business-managed system; not just for marketing
- It’s a specialized data processing system for single-record customer data (and insights) that feed the Customer RTIM Profile
- Its data is accessible to the Acquisition Execution and Relationship Execution Platforms. Its purpose is not for ad-hoc discovery and reporting.
Thus, you may need both, but I’ll contend that in many respects what the CDP adds to the Final Four environment is a way to feed coherent core customer records and other customer sources, like product holdings (shown in the top left of Figure 6), to the Customer Insights Platform. Most CDPs are architected to operate in batch mode and share segments with other systems. In that sense, the main role they would play in the Final Four environment would be as a data source for the Acquisition Execution Platform. To play a role in the Relationship Execution Platform, the CDP must be able to send individual customer records, and if it’s going to be the source of channel behaviors, it must stream those in real-time.
Also, when it processes data, it should be creating insights. As an example, setting a flag (based on configured event patterns) for whether a customer is currently evaluating a loan.
Figure 6: Customer Insights Platform
You could select a multitude of marketing platforms, use brute force, and eventually get them to cooperate with each other. But before taking this path, think about the complex integrations, time to value, and real-time limitations of this approach.
Most software today is multi-faceted, allowing itself to be extended, called from the outside world, and to send its selections and data onward. So again, although you might get an array of marketing platforms to function together, at what long-term cost? When calculating that, consider maintenance cost, agility, scalability, and opportunity costs due to missed moments.
Just as a quilt is an interesting and colorful patchwork when viewed from afar, so is a marketing stack with many platforms. But closer inspection of both reveals troublesome seams and a laborious creation process. Therefore, carefully evaluate and select which players have the tooling to be one of your Final Four platforms, then build everything else around them.
[i] World Economic Forum, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Digital_Platforms_and_Ecosystems_2019.pdf, February 2019
McKinsey, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-strategy-and-corporate-finance-blog/if-youre-not-building-an-ecosystem-chances-are-your-competitors-are, June 2018
[ii] ChiefMartech.com, https://cdn.chiefmartec.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/martech-landscape-2011-2019.jpg, April 2019