The marketing technology (MarTech) landscape continues to evolve at a lightning speed, driven to a large extent by a vibrant ecosystem of new start-ups pushing, in some cases, seriously disruptive innovation. The truth is, very few companies really understand the modern marketing landscape. It’s evolving so rapidly, and thus finding a good explanation of how all the parts fit together is a challenge, to say the least.

Whilst there are many niche players and new entrants, the continuous projected growth of this multi-billion-dollar industry has also further caught the interest of the big established tech companies like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Teradata, SAS and the likes. The subsequent big dollars that are being spent in an acquisition frenzy with the aim to extend the application portfolio of these companies has led to product complexity often hidden behind the smooth fluffy marketing speak.

Still, this rapid development proves that:

  • Marketing has become a highly technology-driven discipline
  • The marketing discipline is continuing to evolve at breakneck speeds
  • The market is highly heterogeneous, non-transparent and susceptible to consolidation
  • And so, the real challenge marketers’ face is how to deliver great customer experiences that build their brands while having to filter through the clutter of the rapidly evolving marketing technology landscape.

In reality, most companies are still at an early stage of the marketing maturity curve and the task of navigating the MarTech landscape is a daunting one. A major decision marketers need to make is to go for a suite of “integrated” marketing technology applications from one vendor, or to pursue a portfolio strategy in which you remain nimble and build on best-of-breed MarTech, but which in turn could bring more complexity.

Building your MarTech Ecosystem – single suites versus portfolio approach

The appeal of going with a marketing technology suite might seem obvious at first. One “integrated” solution from a single vendor that provides everything you need. The rationale is that these vendors have a solid platform strategy and have built or acquired the best capabilities needed to run your marketing discipline. Moreover, the fact that the offering is coming from one vendor also suggests that the various modules and capabilities within the suite are truly integrated and work seamlessly together.

In fact, when speaking to marketers who work with these suites their responses have been surprising. In many cases the “marketing clouds” and solutions offered by these vendors have some things going for them, but many more things not going for them.

Choosing a suite from an established vendor is a safe choice; nobody has ever been fired for choosing, say, Adobe Experience Manager. But, concerns that are voiced loudly are related to price points being exponentially higher than working with individual vendors. Moreover, marketers referred to “Frankenstein” suites where the integration of the individual components is, in reality, not as tight as the marketing speak might suggest. Bolted-on acquired third-party modules operate, in fact, almost stand-alone. Moreover, the lock-in effect means that in many cases you will have to work with a good-enough solution, at best. In no way are you able to swap out underperforming modules. So, marketers are in some cases paying double: once for the underperforming technology from within the suite, and once for the best-of-breed solution that has been sourced to better fulfill that specific activity.

Gartner’s Research VP Kimberly Collins just released a report “The Impact of Market Consolidation on Integrated Marketing Management Applications”. In this report Kimberly reinforces the risks of working with a single suite or platform. She states three main challenges:

  1. Different pricing models for different marketing applications persist within the same vendor’s application portfolio, making pricing negotiations more challenging.
  2. Different deployment models exist in the consolidated marketing application portfolios offered by the larger vendors, creating greater product complexity for IT leaders to manage.
  3. Integration between different marketing applications varies greatly in the portfolios of the larger vendors, requiring more assessment and governance by IT leaders.

With a portfolio strategy, marketers utilize best-of-breed vendors in certain categories across their marketing needs. The tradeoff here is that in some cases it might seem more difficult to select the vendor or solution that is right for you amidst the ever growing ecosystem. Also, for some vendors there are hardly any hardwired integration possibilities pre-built. The question that’s on the table is: how tightly you believe different marketing facets need to be coupled. Having said that, middleware to establish integration in the stack is much more readily available, and in many cases, a focal point for individual vendors. Many vendors are happy to work with you on integrating their solution in the full marketing stack.

As Chief MarTech (Scott Brinker) points out, there are a lot of other advantages to a portfolio strategy:

  • Each product in the portfolio can be “best in class” for its particular function, and you can easily swap out the pieces you are not happy with
  • Each product can evolve as quickly or slowly as the market demands, independent of the others
  • As new marketing innovations emerge, new products can be acquired or developed independently
  • Services can shield customers from the technical complexity of more advanced products

Conclusion

Whilst the first appearance of simplicity and a unified suite or platform approach might almost justify the extremely high premium price points these vendors charge, carefully consider the trade-offs of putting all your eggs in one basket and locking yourself in with a particular vendor.

If the suite of your choice is missing capabilities or is underperforming on certain areas, there is little you can do about that, other than sourcing (and paying for) those capabilities outside of your suite.

Secondly, single MarTech suites are by nature rarely ground-breakingly innovative in their offering, mostly just adding on older industry standard capabilities. So, be aware that product development cycles are long and new releases are infrequent, meaning you will have to wait long for significant new technology and capabilities to be available. New technologies your competitors might already be using to gain the competitive edge over you.

Being locked-in with a single vendor means that switching to a different vendor can be painful, expensive and in some cases catastrophic. So, whilst the puzzle of the new marketing is still being laid out, it’s probably a good thing to be nimble and agile in the MarTech solutions you use.

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