It was a big year for the so-called “marketing clouds” in 2019, when it comes to customer data platforms (CDPs).
After going on the record repeatedly with their own versions of “CDPs are a passing fad” (that particular one was from Salesforce Marketing Cloud President Bob Stutz who is — ahem — no longer the president of SFMC), lo and behold, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, and SAP all announced they’d be adding a CDP to their expansive offerings in the near future.
(We offered our commentary on that in early 2019.)
In the months since the announcements, some of these solutions have launched and reflect the strengths each of the providers has long built their whole service cloud proposition on top of: Adobe’s emphasis is on digital marketing, Salesforce’s focus is on “CRM 5.0,” and Oracle’s — well, TBD.
On the one hand, it’s refreshing to have these cloud vendors admit that their unified value proposition was always technology’s version of lipstick on a pig: a semi-consistent user interface with a massive IT project behind every integration.
We’ll be the first to admit: These vendors pushed for an ambition of an integrated marketing solution that had an enormous impact about how we think about buying, assembling, and managing marketing technology stacks.
But (there’s always a “but”) they’ve failed at it time and again, most recently with DMPs.
The reality is that none of these marketing clouds is selling a true customer data platform, whether you use the Gartner, Forrester, or CDP Institute definition.
Indeed, the primary reason the CDP came to be in the first place was to solve for the fact that component parts of any given martech stack change faster than anyone — vendor or marketing organization — can keep up with their integration to the rest of the stack.
As Gartner put it, “What is new and novel [about CDPs] is the productization of features and acknowledgment that marketers are still struggling to get value out of their huge investment in both customer data and technology.”
4 essential truths about marketing clouds
In short, there are four reasons your marketing cloud vendor shouldn’t be your customer data platform vendor in 2020 and beyond.
#1: A CDP does not and should not support only one technology vendor’s solutions.
If yours is like the vast majority of marketing organizations, you use technology from more than one vendor and, therefore, customer data is flowing to and from solutions that are not all part of one marketing cloud’s suite.
As long as that is true, you need a purpose-built solution that unifies and activates data in a way that is completely data and technology agnostic.
And that isn’t a nice-to-have — it’s fundamental and critical to the value of a true CDP.
Why it matters: Modern marketing stacks need to be agile and flexible with the ability to accommodate new data sources and formats, as well as program activation channels much more readily than they have been historically. Your CDP can’t be biased toward one set of solutions over another — especially when those solutions are all pretty old and bloated to begin with and when the solution they’re offering may be overkill for the functionality you require for a given use case.
#2: If you have to buy a bunch of marketing cloud solutions to get the CDP, you’re doing it wrong.
Related to the requirement that a CDP be data agnostic, it’s important to note that you can’t actually buy a CDP from one of these marketing cloud vendors.
You can buy their CDP and use it with their other products, but you can’t call up a sales rep and say, “I have a bunch of solutions from marketing cloud A, but I’d prefer to buy just the CDP from marketing cloud B.”
If you can’t separate the CDP from the rest of the offering, it’s an enabling capability, not an enterprise-grade solution that will afford the flexibility and scale that are the hallmarks of built-for-purpose CDPs.
Indeed, ask your marketing cloud sales rep:
- What percentage of their customers are using their CDP?
- Of those, how many customers have purchased their CDP separately (i.e., without being part of a software bundle)?
- What data sources that aren’t within the marketing cloud ecosystem is the CDP pulling from and/or pushing to?
Why it matters: By definition, your first-party data is (or should be) custom to your business. There will be similarities by industry and data source, but no data set should be alike. By enabling a handful of tools to work better together rather than creating a first-party data set, you’re already limiting the impact the CDP can have for your business.
#3: The user (read: you and your marketing team) can’t complete a task from a single UI.
Per Gartner’s “Demystifying the Promises and Implementation of Customer Data Platforms” report:
- “Adobe, Microsoft and SAP are developing the Open Data Initiative, which will enable customers to centralize disparate data and organize it through a single data model. Although these solutions address the CDP market need, they are made of applications that are not always under a single user interface that controls the end-to-end capability. Additionally, these CDP-like solutions operate on multiple data sources, where each one has its own UI.”
The point of a CDP is to give marketers access to their first-party data with a single UI that allows them to see all their data in one place.
Even with a “CDP,” cloud vendors will likely ask you to switch from product to product in order to complete a single task. More important than the UI is the data model it sits on top of — emphasis on a single model for truly unified data.
Why it matters: Buying a band-aid is a defensive move which will (maybe) ease some existing pains but won’t future-proof your tech stack or accelerate your marketing programs toward more real-time, dynamic activation.
#4: Marketing cloud vendors will always be motivated by lock-in and cross-sell.
It’s good business being a marketing cloud in 2019. Stock prices for parent companies are generally doing quite well, and they have amazing market penetration.
But once these companies started buying their second email service providers, it became pretty tough to argue that the marketing cloud proposition is about achieving greater market share and not about achieving the vision of integrated software solutions.
Rather, the latter, insofar as it exists, is in service of the former.
Why it matters: We all know the situation: Customer journeys are faster and more fragmented, while consumers are more privacy-conscious and less tolerant of bad experiences.
Navigating the CDP landscape requires careful attention to platform details
It falls to under-resourced marketers to figure out how to navigate all of it (and by yesterday).
Marketing clouds in many ways can be a one-stop-shop for some of your technology needs in this environment. But agility, speed, and flexibility will be the hallmarks of successful marketing organizations in 2020 and beyond — which means the technology partners need to deliver the same.
Make the customer the central object in your technology stack with a CDP. Your existing marketing cloud tools will get smarter and faster as a result.
More importantly, though, so will everything else in your martech stack.