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Marketing Clouds: Lip-syncing Fake or Fab Four?

We can’t get the marketing technology song out of our head, it’s a topic we keep returning to and in this article, we talk to four practitioners from across the industry and get their take on the latest solution to all of our problems – Marketing Clouds.

With Gartner claiming marketers spend a third of our budgets and time on technology, it’s a song we can’t get out of our heads and no surprise it’s a topic we return to regularly here on Rockstar CMO.

In the spotlight in this article are “Marketing Clouds” the big marketing technology that vendors offer to replace all our systems. The lure is the swish of a claimed integrated solution, operating in that cloud magic place, served by a monthly subscription spoonful. Proffering the commercial simplicity of “one throat to choke” these Marketing Clouds, or Multichannel Marketing Hubs (Gartner) or Enterprise Marketing Suites (Forrester) have market attention.

But we’ve seen this before. Anyone remember Enterprise Content Management (ECM)? A much-hyped drive to consolidate all of our content management systems, digital assets, web content silos and processes into a single platform. Vendors went on the acquisition trail, analysts and content professionals loved the idea (and still do), but the buyer, not so much.  

So, with this in mind I turned to my industry chums, representing the analysts, consultants and vendors in the marketing technology industry and asked them:

Is a “Marketing Cloud” a contrivance of vendors and analysts? Or is it what the buyer wants to buy?

Cathy McKnight – VP of Strategy and Consulting, The Content Advisory

Cathy helps organizations transform the way they approach content technology to enable their business strategy and improve performance. With 20 years of global experience and expertise in content strategy, content management, intranets, marketing technologies and customer experience, Cathy has led both strategic business transformation initiatives and the detailed execution of enterprise technology implementations.

Like so many things in the content industry, the term Marketing Cloud has gained traction and attention without much consideration of what it actually is, or should be. When you boil it down a Marketing Cloud – regardless of the provider, and there are many – is a collection of tools within a “single” piece of cloud-based technology that is meant to help marketers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

In many cases, regardless of whether the tech was contrived by vendors to sell more tech, or built in direct response to users’ needs, it is definitely a tool which, when well leveraged (and that is the critical component), can make a massive difference to companies. Creating fficiencies and increasing communication effectiveness, it can help turn random content and campaigns into targeted, personalized, impactful assets that build audiences, profits, and advocacy for companies’ brands and products. 

That being said, no Marketing Cloud (or other technology for that matter) is the panacea for all marketers’ needs. Contrary to what many vendors, and some analysts, would have them believe, when investing in a “one ring to rule them all” approach to technology there are going to be trade-offs. Buyers have to recognize that while the selected Marketing Cloud may meet many of the company’s needs, it won’t meet them all, no matter what the sales material says. And that’s okay, as long as the buyer is aware and works their new shiny tech into their martech stack to fill those gaps.

You can follow Cathy on Twitter here.


Darren Garnaccia, Chief Product Officer at Crownpeak

Darren has been working in the marketing technology world since the original dot-com boom and is a champion of building experiences customers actually want. He is former CMO at Lytics, a customer data platform.

Marketing clouds were conceived by vendors and analysts as a way to solve cross channel customer experience delivery. The idea wasn’t born out of customer requests, but rather, the need for vendors to be able to expand their footprint into client’s environments. It was sold on the promise of reducing complexity for clients, and allowing brands to deliver richer experiences with less effort.

The reality was very different. With most vendors choosing to acquire their way into these cloud suites, the promised ease of deployment and ownership was far from reality. We’ve seen deployment times of web experience management alone balloon 200-300%.  As a result, brands are now starting to move back to best of breed, and even further, to more granular services like headless content.

Marketers are looking for speed and agility, and the large cloud vendors are the very opposite of that. I predict we’ll see a general decentralization movement, towards best of breed solutions and services, and a greater focus on time to market and incremental, iterative learning approaches.

Read more from Darren here on Rockstar CMO or follow him on Twitter.


John Kottcamp, Chief Marketing Technologist Tahzoo

Making businesses truly customer centric has been the guiding principle for John throughout his career.

John learned about delivering customer experience across global markets as a manager and leader at Lufthansa, T-Mobile and Gateway. Then he put those ideas into practice on the agency side with MRM Worldwide, Ascentium and now Tahzoo. He now leads much of our client strategy and is a frequent speaker and author. He’s a well-published contributor to major industry thought leadership in the areas of customer experience management, digital marketing, social intelligence, data and analytics.

“One ring to rule them all” conjures up Hobbits, Elves and the Dark Lord, Sauron.  But it may also be quite applicable to the world of the Marketing Cloud, to my mind an equally mythical artefact.  The idea that there is or should be a single platform that rules all aspects of the martech universe should be both questioned and most likely feared.

Since 2011, Scott Brinker and chiefmartec.com has put out its martech landscape supergraphic.  The first year there were 150 software companies listed.  In the latest 2019 edition there are over 7000.  The martech space is one of the fastest growing and most innovative spaces in technology.  Most of the companies listed this year weren’t even in anyone’s minds when the first edition came out less than a decade ago.  These companies are where new ideas, new technology and new best practices are being born every day.  The pace of evolution is staggering.

Now let’s look at the 8000 lb. gorillas, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, IBM and maybe a couple of others. Most of their recent innovation has come from acquiring other companies and then trying to shoehorn them into their marketing clouds.  For the most part, it still shows that they do not share the same origin, or the same source code.  It takes years to fully integrate these disparate solutions.  Which means when you are buying the Adobe Suite, you are really getting what they’ve determined is the best of breed, or at least the software they can most likely sell.

Best of breed means figuring out what your company needs, what are the unique combination of requirements, features and resources best suited to succeed and then going out and finding the best solutions.  Then find the right integration partner, see how many APIs you can find and go about building the best solution and reap the benefits. 

Let the Marketing Clouds remain what they are, big balls of water vapor invented by marketing departments and promoted by analysts who follow the trends.

Learn more about John and Tahzoo here.


David Aponovich – Senior Director, Product Marketing, Acquia

Through his insight into trends in digital experience, David helps develop and articulate the benefits of Acquia’s open source, digital experience platform. Prior to joining Acquia, David was a senior analyst at Forrester Research, focused on web content management and digital experience technology and consulted to Forrester’s global clients on their digital transformation initiatives.

Buyers want to assemble a set of capabilities that can work together to help them grow faster. Marketing Cloud is good description for a set of capabilities like content management, personalization and marketing automation, plus other things that enable marketers to build the engaging experiences that connect with their audiences and convert. Vendors and analysts overuse the term for sure, not to mention there’s a discrepancy about what capabilities are in Marketing Clouds. Yet it has traction in the market.

We’ve found that buyers want to invest in a Marketing Cloud around which they can integrate the products they already own and optimize their marketing tech stack in order to streamline and improve their engagement with customers. Acquia has a strong opinion that a Marketing Cloud needs to be open – in our case, open source and open to integration with existing and future marketing technology your company is using. We don’t think it’s realistic to look to a single vendor for all of the capabilities in a Marketing Cloud.

We believe our open Marketing Cloud delivers a more ideal and robust answer to closed, stagnant, proprietary “Marketing Clouds” that pretend to do everything and demand vendor lock-in. Other Marketing Clouds don’t respect the reality that you already have many disparate martech solutions that share a common requirement: to integrate with a centralized platform for managing and delivering sites, applications and experiences.

You can read more from David, as he recently shared with me his view on the rise of the marketing machines in this interview and you can follow him on Twitter.


So, are Marketing Clouds lip-syncing fakes or the fab four?

Well according to our fab four, it clearly depends, but one thing is clear – it’s not a panacea.

While it is driven by the industry, rather than the buyer, it presents a good argument for itself, if, as David suggests, it’s open to be plugged into the organization both technically, and, as Cathy points out, in terms of the needs of the marketer.

On the other hand, while a best of breed approach, connecting existing systems with new tech takes a bit of thought and is commercially more complex, there is a strong case that this is a better option than “one size fits all”.

Darren makes a great point when he notes that as many of these marketing suites are cobbled together through acquisition, you can’t assume the integration issue has been solved by slapping the same logo across the products.

I’ll leave you with the point that we consultants often stress, and that John and Cathy articulate so well. The only way to know is to fully understand the needs of the organization.

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