After more than a decade of heavy investing in new technologies, marketers now find themselves at an interesting tipping point. Over time, in trying to keep up with the industry’s frenetic pace of digital innovation and achieve competitive advantage, they’ve piled on a dizzying array of tools and platforms. They’re literally swimming in technologies - a complicated ecosystem of toolsets, vendors and channels.
The complexity involved in managing this multi-channel, multi-device matrix has been ratcheted up to an untenable, nearly dysfunctional level. A new study by Winterberry Group and the IAB, Marketing Data Technology: Cutting Through the Complexity, confirms what I hear from marketers almost every day. Enterprise marketers are grappling with as many as 30 or more distinct toolsets for analytics, ad-serving, attribution, retargeting, search, mobile and email marketing, CRM, social media, content management and more. But these data-thirsty technologies don’t talk to each other. They lack interoperability, saddling marketers with the difficult and thorny challenge of how to connect them - and how to fuel them with a high-volume, high-velocity stream of up-to-the-minute, cross-channel data, which is necessary for optimizing their tech investments.
No wonder so many companies are not yet ready to provide the relevant, seamless experiences that smartphone-toting consumers desire.
Brands have been addressing the technology stack dilemma via a single-sourcing strategy or by shopping for independent, best-in-breed toolsets. The Winterberry survey (which Signal sponsored) set out to poll marketers about their preferences in the long-running debate of suite vs. independent and, not surprisingly, found an industry split straight down the middle.
Respondents, however, were decidedly undivided on the question of interoperability. More than 60 percent of marketers said better integration of existing tools would help them derive greater value from data.
“There’s a massive gap for integration,” a brand marketer told Winterberry researchers. “Frankly we’re just trying to wrangle all our digital data into one place. The amount of data we have is massive, it’s ridiculous,” said another. “It’s a hot mess,” lamented a media agency executive, describing the tangle of tools, silos and processes the agency’s clients are dealing with.
Integration matters deeply to marketers who want to make better use of their data and technology. Cross-channel initiatives such as measurement, engagement and targeting are top-of-mind for marketers, the survey found, yet fewer than half of marketers are currently able to leverage their data technology for these key efforts. The holy grail of understanding the customer journey across devices and channels remains stubbornly out of reach.
Building Your Cross-Channel House Requires a Strong Foundation
The stark truth is: No matter what road you go down in terms of your marketing stack, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Even a fully-integrated suite may not remain that way for long, with such a fast pace of supplier consolidation and the constant emergence of new tools.
Which direction you decide to go - that is, whether you choose a platform suite or multiple “point” solutions - is not really the core issue. Your success will rest on the quality of the cross-channel foundation you lay to support your journey, in the form of good data. That means creating a common conduit of customer data, of the highest quality, in one place, so that your technology investments - of all types - can work together with the speed, flexibility and scale you need to make the marketing decisions that affect your bottom line.
Marketers report that their current mandate is making their data actionable. That clearly highlights a significant, glaring gap: there can be no meaningful cross-channel action without connected data. The way to bridge that chasm? A data strategy and a long-term roadmap.
Walking the Cross-Channel Walk
Winterberry found that within the typical marketing organization, five internal departments or functions - including digital, analytics, media buying, loyalty, and direct marketing - utilize separate tools, all of which are data-dependent. However, the barriers to making first-party data actionable are not created solely by the technology challenges inherent to a complex and evolving marketing stack. Issues that go beyond technology, including organizational silos, skillset issues, outdated policies, and governance also have to be dealt with.
There are three significant areas where you should put your focus in order to find your cross-channel footing:
- Create a data strategy. You need a holistic, data-oriented strategy, with a top-down approach, in order to get past the cross-channel starting line. Catalog the most relevant types of data you have, relative to your marketing goals. Also, map out how your existing technological investments can be leveraged across desktop, mobile, CRM, email and other offline channels. Finally, let the bigger picture of how customers interact with your brand across touchpoints help establish your strategy.
- Prioritize integration. When you make your technology investments, always keep integration top-of-mind - rather than just features and functionality. All of your teams should be trained to make integration a priority. And when buying new solutions, you should select vendors that understand your company’s data strategy and provide a clear path to making their technologies connect to the rest of your ecosystem, including legacy systems.
- Banish silos. Align your strategy and marketing operations around the customer journey, with departments working in lockstep to deliver a consistent experience. With your eye on the cross-channel prize, all of your team members should have the right skill sets to launch and manage cross-channel initiatives. The necessary expertise can be gathered in-house or through agency, vendor, or other third-party partnerships.
Create Your Own Cross-Channel Roadmap
Marketers know the future is cross-channel and their journey is just beginning. Their visions of engaging customers on a one-to-one basis are tempered by the reality of the legitimate obstacles in their way: fragmented data, lack of integration, the difficulties of identifying consumers across channels, and people and process silos. There’s a clear gap between where marketers are today and where they know they need to be in order to deliver the right message to the right person, at the right time and in the right context. Marketers didn’t create the issues contributing to this cross-channel maturity gap. But they must lay the foundation for solving them without skipping any steps along the data-driven path.
The opportunities that today’s technologies have created are unmatched in the history of marketing. Each brand has to follow its own path in order to best take advantage of those opportunities. A single view of the customer across channels and touchpoints - which is only possible by centralizing and integrating data - is now table stakes for cross-channel marketing. What remains to be seen is how marketers will address the range of challenges they face in order to find their footing on the cross-channel journey.
About the Author
Mike Sands is the CEO of Signal.