Understanding marketing technology as a “stack” of platforms or services has helped us all better interpret the complex and growing ecosystem of tools marketers employ today. Yet, for marketing leaders, key questions remain. At Real Story Group (RSG) our subscribers come to us with some important and sometimes vexing questions that you likely recognize:
- What’s the proper scope for our stack?
- How will stacks change after the pandemic?
- How can we rationalize our stack amid manifold platform overlaps?
- How can we address critical integration challenges?
There are no simple answers to these questions, yet some directions are emerging.
A New Reference Model
Consider the following reference model that RSG uses as a point of departure for deeper discussions.
Properly employed, reference models serve less as less strict instruction manuals and more as guidelines to spur a discussion and hopefully a consensus about current status and future plans. You need to adapt any model to your own circumstances. For example, the version above represents a plausible consumer product goods (CPG) company stack; but a telco firm might replace the far-left beige “PIM” box with “Service & Support” instead.
Yet any good reference model should also be directional, and there are at least three key lessons implied here. Let’s look at each.
Lesson #1: Your stack will become omnichannel
The scope of any marketing technology stack is always up for debate, and reflects varying organizational models across different enterprises. Of course, your prospects and customers don’t care about your organizational models. They expect to engage coherently and consistently with you regardless of touch-point, and continue doing so when new channels emerge across the top row of that diagram.
The future stack will need to support omnichannel engagement for several reasons:
- Customer-centric business strategies in the wake of the pandemic
- Inbound and outbound customer experiences getting increasingly linked
- Growing recognition that contact-center, sales, and support — each often with their own stack — have become inextricable parts of a broader CX ecosystem
In building a truly omnichannel stack you face key governance, operational, and informational challenges for sure, but in RSG’s experience, if marketing doesn’t take the lead in your enterprise, likely no one other department will.
Lesson #2: Rise of enterprise-wide services
Many large enterprises have spent the last decade modernizing their customer engagement environments, solving difficult technical problems, moving with vendors to the cloud, and building sufficient levels of in-house expertise to master complex technology platforms like email marketing and web content management. This process may remain incomplete at your firm, but it’s important work and critical to delivering modern digital experiences.
The problem is that we’ve been working on individual platforms and in many cases simply building stronger silos. Most of you recognize this problem and are trying to do something about it, like aligning your inbound and outbound campaign messaging and cycles. You’re trying to get sales and marketing aligned digitally. And so on.
But there’s a problem. These sorts of horizontal connectors and coordinations don’t scale across multiple channels. Internally, your teams are sending spreadsheets and calendars around to try to align data and decisioning — and it’s just not working.
Your enterprise has many tasks to address here, but we think it starts by moving key services lower in your stack to a foundational tier. This allows for proper separation of concerns between your core services versus your engagement tiers, enabling you to share foundational capabilities across all your existing (and future) channels.
So a truly omnichannel stack isolates a set of what Real Story Group labels “Enterprise Foundation Services.” These are capabilities that you abstract away from individual engagement platforms and delivery channels, to make them available across the enterprise. In the diagram above, they fall into three categories: Content, Data, and Decisioning. Many of you are focused on data in general, and CDPs in particular, for good reason: good customer data is table-stakes for coherent experiences at the edge. Yet we see increasing interest in establishing content and decisioning as enterprise-wide services as well.
Note that the vendor marketplaces at this foundational tier have some attributes in common. They’re mostly emergent, highly fragmented, and in some cases only lightly covered by major martech suite vendors. In RSG’s CDP vendor evaluations, for example, we cover nearly 30 plausible players.
Lesson #3 Your stack is YOUR stack
There’s some conventional wisdom that a major incumbent platform in your stack can give you omnichannel capabilities by dint of its sheer size. This is false. Individual technology platforms are not omnichannel. A vendor is not omnichannel. Your stack can be omnichannel. But you need to fully own it, first.
Major martech vendors like Acoustic, Acquia, Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, and SAP are broadening the scope and functionality of their mid-stack management and engagement platforms to cover more lateral services, but they are not abstracting out core services, which would nominally reduce the roles for their most lucrative, flagship platforms. When they and their industry analyst pals advise you to deepen your investments in those WCM, CRM, and MAP/ESP platforms, I believe they’re steering you wrong — essentially telling you to double-down on the 2010s. If you care about omnichannel coherence, consider investing lower in your stack — where, by the way, those incumbent suite vendors may not prove so strong today.
There’s an added bonus here: when your enterprise-wide foundation capabilities become richer, you can deploy simpler, cheaper tooling at the engagement tier, which becomes more about experience assembly, and less about managing decisions, content, and data.
Individual technology platforms are not #omnichannel. A vendor is not omnichannel. Your stack can be omnichannel.
— Tony Byrne (@TonyByrne) March 28, 2019
What you should do
First and foremost, recognize that this is a services model and not a platform model. Depending on your situation, the same vendor logo may span across multiple boxes above. That also means you need to have good reasons for when the converse happens: when you have multiple platforms performing duplicative roles in the same box. We’ll have more to say about stack consolidation in a future post.
Yet the larger story here is that stack modernization for the 2020s will look very different than stack assembly in the 2010s. Extracting information management and decisioning services from front-line engagement platforms in order to deploy enterprise-wide capabilities is not easy. This transition is fraught and your incumbent vendors may fight you, but many enterprises are already on the path. I think it starts with a roadmap for a new omnichannel tech stack.
There’s a lot more to say on this topic. RSG will be filling in more details and implications in the coming months via this regular Real Story on MarTech column, so watch this space.
Real Story on MarTech is presented through a partnership with MarTech and Real Story Group, a vendor-agnostic research and advisory organization that helps organizations make purchasing decisions on marketing technology applications and digital workplace tools.