The Marketing Clouds and Convergence

I’ve been writing this column for a year now since our first Convergence Analytics Report, and thought it was time to revisit its content against a backdrop of changes, as there continues to be a strong push toward “the convergence of all things” at a very rapid rate. I’ve been an operating executive creating these marketing applications for several decades, and I’ve seen a lot of change, but nothing as dramatic as the last 12 months.

However, what stands out most since the original Efectyv Digital-Incisive Media report on Convergence Analytics is not the scope of data-driven marketing convergence itself, but unfortunately, the umbrella of marketing cloud branding obfuscation designed to provide “air cover” to many dissimilar products and processes. It ends up making the job of a marketer even more complex, where there are only early signs of adoption.

I was one of the first CEOs of a software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based Web analytics company, Keylime Software, which was acquired by Yahoo in the early 2000s, and served as an executive with many other companies in the sector. Since those early days I have held a steadfast belief that marketers would flock to our tools. The reality – it hasn’t happened yet.

It could be argued that it is an industry problem, as we tend to hide the description of our solutions and applications using ill-defined words like marketing cloud, “real-time,” and predictive, which need context. Or, it could be that this is so hard to understand, and that marketing people are not wired to get it quickly?

Either way, the truth remains; there are more than 1,000 marketing applications in addition to the clouds. In fact, last week Oracle launched their own Marketing Cloud while Salesforce launched the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud featuring the Radian6 Buddy Media Social Studio! There are now a total of at least seven converged “marketing clouds,” one each from IBM, Adobe, Google, SAP, HP, Oracle, and Salesforce.

Beyond these marketing cloud companies, and not fettered by integration issues, there are hundreds, maybe thousands more new disruptive apps that have come to market. And yet many marketers barely use the most basic functionality of the Web analytics applications we created decades ago. And it isn’t getting any easier for the marketing team as the landscape continues to radically change.

While CRM, marketing automation, and Web analytics systems have been the foundational elements in the past, do tag management systems (TMS) vendors become the nucleus of new clouds, or atoms of old ones in the future ? They’ve sure been making a lot of news of late, with large funding rounds for Ensighten and Tealium and the acquisition of Tag Man (by Ensighten). These vendors see themselves as the natural place to collect and move data around to other CA systems, and have product names like Audience Stream. However, none of these companies see themselves, so far, building applications for higher up the stack. Rather, they see themselves as the enablers of convergence. But TMS applications are also part of the Google and Adobe clouds, which will present some interesting challenges for vendors and buyers alike. Will one buy TMS grouting from one store and app bricks from another?

The good news over this last year is that data continues to drive the pace. Since the debut of this column, augmented reality has made a splash with the launch with Google Glass and strong pushes from vendors like Qualcomm, which I’ve written about bringing analytics to the real world. But what will happen when we get into the era of high-frequency marketing, when marketers can know who you are, and how much you will pay, and when, using predictive technology – before you do? Is that going too far?

Beyond apps and technology, there has been a convergence of process in the sales and marketing app space, anchored by CRM, but driven by social apps like Radian6, Viral Heat, and HootSuite; sales intelligence companies, like InsideView and; marketing automation (MA) applications like Eloqua, Marketo, and HubSpot; and email service providers (ESPs) Silver Pop, Responsys, and ExactTarget systems, which all start to overlap. Salesforce, for example, owns one of each and has others waiting on the sidelines, like Pardot. In fact, there is less and less difference between an ESP and MA app at all these days. Does Marketo become the nucleus of another cloud or an atom?

dark-cloudsWhile the platform choices have become more difficult, navel gazing and privacy questions obscure decisive action and further compounds choice. And there is a convergence of roles in the enterprise, as big and small data topics have created demand for jobs that didn’t exist, those of data scientist, growth hacker and content engineer emerge. Yet, data privacy is being questioned with more intensity and there is backlash fermenting. Care must be taken by these new leaders.

Our survey of a year ago noted that there is the lack of internal resources and new data suggests marketers continue to struggle with analytics in general. So, what is one to do to stay competitive during climate change, when these marketing clouds form and darken? It has been a year of rapid change and I expect nothing less from this year, so I guess it’s time to break out the galoshes.

Images via Shutterstock.

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