Marketing Cloud 2.0: The Future of Marketing will be Orchestrated

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Marketing Cloud 2.0 has arrived.

The second generation of the eponymous marketing cloud ushers in tighter integrations between customer data collection, cross-device identity resolution, audience and segment creation, marketing workflow and digital asset management, and orchestration of campaigns, data, creatives, messages and promotions across many channels.

This might not sound like breaking news. These functions already exist today and various combinations of them are commonly packaged together as marketing hubs or clouds.

However, Marketing Cloud 2.0 represents a significant disruption not seen since the original marketing clouds emerged nearly a decade ago. Way back then, the dinosaurs were stand-alone ESPs being displaced to some extent by more feature-rich solutions assembled by some of the largest and most powerful technology companies, like Salesforce, Adobe and IBM. This time, the dinosaur might be the marketing cloud providers themselves.

Many of the modern marketing clouds were the product of disparate platforms being acquired, bolted and bridged together to extend the parent company’s marketing hub capabilities. The result, while feature-rich, can be limiting or expensive when customization is required.

Often, business requirements for new marketing initiatives must be molded around the capabilities of the marketing platform as opposed to the marketing platform being flexible enough to efficiently extend or modify its architecture to fit the requirements.

Changes under way for years have begun to demonstrate their potential to reshape the marketing technology landscape and usher in a new golden age of digital marketing.

  • The web itself re-emerged several years ago as an ever-more-important marketing channel when sophisticated web tagging, analytics and website optimization platforms began to tie together anonymous visitor sessions with known customer identities across devices at the point of login, apply responsive designs for desktop versus mobile and effectively manage dynamic site versioning and optimization testing at scale.

  • Email has become just another marketing channel. Granted, it remains the anchor message distribution platform, and a true workhorse, in nearly any company’s mix of marketing channels. Yet, the proliferation of digital devices and apps has created new urgency around orchestrating data, campaigns, messaging and promotions across multiple channels.

    Maybe that’s good news for email. In this brave new world, email is not dead. In a very real sense, it has proven itself time and again. Email’s strategic importance has only increased in recent years partly due to the much-publicized death of the third-party cookie and the repercussions being felt across the formerly flashy sector known as AdTech.

    After two decades in the spotlight, the emergence of social media marketing, Slack and various other email-killers, and a thriving rumor mill about its death, email has time and again proved itself as the workhorse of digital marketing targeted to known customers using first-party data.

    With that kind of pressure, a little break from the limelight might not be such a bad thing. Fact is, if email is no longer the star, director and producer of the MarTech show, it’s not as fun or controversial for media pundits to relegate it to the scrapheap of history.

In Marketing Cloud 2.0, customer data and the orchestration of marketing data, assets and messages across many channels has rightly taken center stage. Orchestrating marketing campaigns and messaging across many channels requires more data. Profile data, behavioral data, opt-in flags that meet strict new privacy requirements, and channel response data.

Orchestration applies to many facets of the marketing process:

  • Data orchestration defines field-level data refresh schedules - daily, hourly, real time.

  • Content orchestration ensures accurate status tracking and enables availability, scheduling and publishing of marketing assets.

  • Cross-channel campaign orchestration enables messaging to be coordinated and timed across channels and segments to reinforce promotions and themes at the most timely moment knowable.

Marketing Cloud 1.0

The Salesforce acquisition of Exact Target in 2014 ushered in the modern marketing cloud era. All the big players assembled collections of data management and multi-channel capabilities, largely via corporate acquisitions. Marketing clouds moved beyond the list-based data management tools offered by most traditional ESPs at the time. Salesforce’s implementation of data extensions, for example, created new capabilities for marketers to manage and leverage complex set of relational customer data. IBM and Oracle brought new data management chops to the marketing table, through their acquisitions of Silverpop and Responsys, respectively.

Suddenly, everyone was either jumping on the marketing cloud bandwagon or left explaining why they chose to defend their turf as a stand-alone ESP. ESPs became almost boutique.

Marketing Stacks

The term "marketing stack" evolved several years ago to describe a collection of technical systems, platforms and components companies assembled and integrated together to enable digital marketing functions. Email was the original anchor digital channel in the traditional marketing stack but was augmented by a variety of other tools and platforms, including:

  • Messaging channel platforms for push, mobile notifications, SMS, direct mail marketing
  • CDP for aggregating, ETL processing, and orchestrating data refresh and campaign file exports to outbound messaging channels
  • Website analytics and data collection tags (typically included web push)
  • Mobile analytics SDK (typically included mobile push)

The popularity of custom-built marketing stacks enabled marketing teams to avoid being bound to one expensive platform which does many things and instead leverage multiple best-of-breed or less expensive platforms.

Marketing stacks enabled small but nimble companies to compete for market share in niche categories by developing partnership ecosystems.

The first signs that Marketing Cloud 2.0 has been forming in plain sight are evident in some of the most notable current marketing technology trends.

  • A new generation of multi-channel campaign management platforms emerged in the past few years, offering more native multi-channel messaging and advanced data management capabilities. Iterable, Cordial, and Cheetah Digital are just a few. Those of us who are email-centric view them as multi-channel ESPs.
  • CDPs emerged in 2014 to solve a growing marketing problem. The simplistic and inflexible data model of many ESP and marketing technology platforms could not meet the marketers’ need to ingest data from increasingly complex and disparate data sources.

    CDPs assumed the prominent and coveted role of centralized marketing hubs by virtue of the vast amounts of data they ingest, how they efficiently process it to create a more holistic view of the customer and how they can orchestrate it across multiple channels from one centralized place.

  • Changes to the AdTech ecosystem caused by the death of third-party cookies and more stringent privacy policies enforced on mobile devices have created new incentives for AdTech and MarTech ecosystems to merge in new, powerful ways.

AdTech & MarTech - Separated at Birth

Tidal waves of change from consumer digital privacy laws like CCPA and GDPR over the past few years have introduced new challenges in the technology and processes used to collect, store and use customer data. Years ago, when MarTech was just becoming a thing, another competing ecosystem emerged from it and developed into its own set of flashier technologies and networks, known as AdTech.

There was a somewhat natural split between growth marketing and retention marketing. As we know, email marketers focused on known customers and marketing to house lists. Growth marketers embraced ad and affiliate networks to generate leads. These processes required 3rd party cookies to associate and assemble detailed cross-site consumer behavioral and browsing profiles, which could be sold to companies via data platforms like DMPs, which could anonymize and make them addressable across vast ad networks.

AdTech quickly overshadowed MarTech in flashiness and sheer geekiness. Though separated at birth, the split between them was further reinforced by corporate structures that funneled more dollars to acquisition or growth marketing and less to retention marketing.

Growth, or Performance Marketing, always seemed cooler to me than boring old retention marketing. And they seemed to have cooler tools. AdTech platforms could test and optimize thousands of creative versions across millions of ad touchpoints within a few seconds. It took me at least 10 minutes to set up a single AB test with only 2 creative versions in my ESP and I didn’t get my test results for 24-48 hours.

Consumers, however, were increasingly annoyed by notoriously relentless retargeting campaigns that seemed to originate from their phone eavesdropping on personal conversations, then pushing related products through ad networks that literally followed them around the Internet.

Now that third-party cookies are dying out like the dinosaurs, companies may find their obsession with shiny new things and their relentless focus on growth marketing came at the expense of investing in tried-and-true customer retention platforms which leverage and optimize value derived from first-party data.

The silos between growth marketing and retention marketing - some natural and some manufactured - also blurred some important lines in the marketing funnel, creating an often half-baked solution to important problems.

When a site visitor converts to a customer, identity resolution processes and technologies can, over time, associate anonymous past visitor IDs to newly identified customer IDs. For example, when a customer returns to the device previously used for browsing to make a purchase or logs in to their new account which was created on a different device, those previous sessions can be accurately attributed to a new customer identity.

Abandoned-cart programs are a classic example of why such identity resolution is needed.  By definition, abandoned-cart programs often involve both customers and non-customers, straddling the identity abyss between known customer data and anonymous visitor data. Abandoners often do not have a customer ID, typically used as a primary key for a sophisticated relational marketing database. At this phase of the prospect relationship, an email might be the only piece of identifiable data you have.

Because email is the default channel for abandoned-cart communications, these programs are assigned to the “email team.” The email team is left to work out the details and business rules for identity resolution, attribution and conversion tracking in a way that ensures the abandon cart series ends when a customer completes the purchase or subscription process and can reasonably be identified. Anything less highlights a data gap and creates a perception that the company doesn’t actually know me all that well.

Taken together, these trends point to a shift underway, as newer platforms emerge that tie together features and functions previously specific to either AdTech or MarTech and built natively to address marketing challenges in more seamless and efficient ways. Moreover, the evolution of traditional ESPs into multi-channel campaign management or CDP/ESPs was driven by their need to maintain their grip as an organization’s centralized marketing hub.

Competitive instinct often provides the heat and pressure required to form a diamond. Marketing platforms now compete in a multi-prong battle to assemble seamless and efficient collections of features and functions that will define Marketing Cloud 2.0.

Adobe and Salesforce were arguably the most successful cloud providers in the Marketing Cloud 1.0 era. They competed well with marketing stacks in breadth of features and offered a depth of key capabilities difficult to match, especially when leveraging their existing footprint to extend the customer relationship by simply adding new platform components.

However, these solutions focused largely at the enterprise level and became expensive for small to midsize businesses, especially those with advanced or custom data needs.

To understand why Marketing Cloud 2.0 will be different, look at the developments from the past decade that lead to the rise of marketing clouds in the first place.

  • Salesforce acquired ExactTarget in 2013 and Tableau in 2019, adding crucial email and analytics components to its existing CRM software, and effectively leveraged the real value of its large and growing installed base. But even the poster child of Marketing Cloud 1.0 has some visible seams. Easy target - when I log into my Salesforce Marketing Cloud account, I login at mc.exacttarget.com. It has been 8 years!

  • Oracle acquired Responsys in 2013 to build its own marketing cloud.

  • Adobe acquired Omniture, a website analytics company, in 2009, then added Neolane in 2013 and Marketo in 2018 to develop its Adobe Marketing Cloud / Adobe Experience Cloud capabilities and expand its own MarTech footprint.
  • IBM acquired Coremetrics in 2010 and Silverpop in 2014, but its attempt to market a unified cloud platform under the Watson Marketing moniker failed to effectively compete with Adobe and Salesforce. IBM sold off many of its MarTech platform assets to a private equity firm in 2019. Exit stage left.
  • Twilio acquired SendGrid in 2016 to combine its SMS messaging platform with SendGrid’s successful transactional email API-based messaging system.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have detected a grassroots backlash to the idea of innovating by simply acquiring and bolting together distinct platforms to gain market share or increase breadth of features. The marketing clouds earned a sometimes deserved reputation of abandoning their nimble techie roots and becoming increasingly clunky, kludgy and feature-bloated.

A new generation of messaging tools like Iterable, Cordial and Cheetah Digital illustrates that emerging platforms built natively to address marketers’ modern challenges can compete effectively with the more established marketing clouds. They can provide a more well-packaged and elegant solution to address specific marketing challenges in new ways or offer flashy new ways to integrate data and messaging.

By comparison, the marketing cloud providers assembled their features and functionality over the years via merger and acquisition and sometimes stitched it together hastily or without a common underlying data model. Ironically, the vast collection of features that lead to their initial rise can become a liability if attention isn’t given to making it all work together seamlessly and constantly leveraging new technologies to update core feature sets.

I had the recent privilege of attending advanced bootcamp training for SAS Customer Intelligence 360. I had been using SAS Marketing Automation campaign management software for the past year and a half and, like most, I knew SAS for its stellar reputation as an analytics software company. I went into the bootcamp with some expectations.

I expected to be underwhelmed by the platform’s email capabilities. I expected to see a competent, well-designed platform but with some classic examples of feature bloat and at least a few clunky or kludgy integration points where platform components or functions just don’t fit exactly right.

By the end of the bootcamp, however, I emerged with a newfound respect for SAS as a marketing technology platform provider that has potential to compete in the marketing cloud big leagues.

CI360 was the first all-in-one natively built platform I had seen to address the full scope of a traditional marketing stack in a sleek, modern interface. Starting with site tagging and identity resolution tools, CI360 provided an elegant solution to the vexing problems associated with abandon cart programs. It’s feature set covered the full gamut of marketing stack functions: creating segments and customer journeys, campaign management, digital asset management, content creation, native SDKs for mobile analytics and mobile push notifications and in-app messaging. It also included powerful tools for building highly customized and flexible connections to external applications and data sources.

At the heart of the unified data model is an Orchestration layer. Whether a marketer is creating an event, task, creative, message, connector, or agent, Orchestration settings enable Publishing, scheduling, targeting and triggering functions.

Setting up and defining these objects often takes some technical chops. SAS CI360 unapologetically expects a partnership between marketing and IT to build flexible and scalable marketing solutions. The result of a well-structured marketing-IT partnership, when combined with the right Martech platform solutions, can deliver value across the enterprise -- by connecting to and communicating with a larger data ecosystem. This enhanced value can come in many forms, including connections to real-time streamed event data, analytical models, business intelligence systems, and external applications. 

At the end of the bootcamp, I was left wondering what marketing challenge couldn’t be solved with this specific blend of features and functions and the flexible approach to integrating easily with APIs for porting data in and out.  

To my surprise, I actually believed that SAS CI360 could herald the arrival of a new era in MarTech platforms. This platform, along with other next-generation platforms that combine CDP, multi-channel, analytics and other features natively  may just find the perfect combinations of features and functions to provide marketers with a seamless experience in how they collect, analyze and orchestrate their customer data and marketing assets to drive campaigns and messaging across many channels.

CI360’s approach to creating a full marketing stack in an elegant all-in-one solution made me believe that a marketing cloud could be so much more than just a collection of features. 

 

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