What Is a “Marketing Cloud” Anyway?

CDP 101|3 Minute Read

What Is a “Marketing Cloud” Anyway?

I was in California celebrating a milestone birthday for my mom (happy birthday, mom!) recently, and so I had a lot of catching up to do on the news this morning. A headline from AdExchanger caught my eye: “Nielsen Moves Into The Marketing Cloud Business.”

It’s official: Marketing clouds have jumped the shark.

To be blunt, the problem with the “marketing cloud” classification is that, at this point, it means next to nothing.

There are so many vendors calling themselves marketing clouds. What’s more, there are so many industry observers characterizing solutions as such that it’s become a catch-all for any vendor that sells more than one marketing product.

I should probably take some responsibility for this as the author of the first Forrester Wave on what we called “enterprise marketing software suites” (because – fun fact – not every product in these suites is actually cloud-based) so, culpability acknowledged.

But as someone who knows this space, my opinion is the layers of false advertising by so-called clouds have multiplied to such an extent the concept is collapsing under its own weight.

martech stack

According to an analysis by VB Insight, there are seventeen “marketing clouds.” (Yes, quotes justified). The goal of these marketing clouds? Per the source, to:

“Attempt to bring together all the functionality you need into one place, in one system of record, with one unified profile of your customers, and one unified, simple user interface to control it all.”

I vividly remember one of the customer references from the Wave (global publisher) who is a huge fan of their provider and using all of its available solutions and rattled off another five-plus technologies they rely on from other vendors to do marketing.

The customer also noted that to build integrations with discrete products in another one of the vendor’s suites means talking to a different representative for each.

(Insert “But I thought it was an integrated solution?” questions here).

Gartner’s approach — the “digital marketing hub” — suggests a cohort of vendors which “provides marketers and applications with standardized access to audience profile data, content, workflow elements, messaging and common analytic functions for orchestrating and optimizing multichannel campaigns, conversations, experiences, and data collection across online and offline channels, both manually and programmatically.”

This is a thorough definition. But, honestly, what company’s RFP includes MediaMath, Salesforce, and Tealium today?

The answer? None. Zero. Ain’t gonna happen.

martech investment

So, while we’re being ruthless, let’s just call out the huge pink elephant in the room:

No single vendor’s software can meet the needs of an entire marketing org.

And, even if they could, it is entirely impractical — if not impossible — for a marketing department to became an “All-XYZ Marketing Cloud” shop.

ChiefMarTec Scott Brinker articulates the many dimensions of this argument eloquently and extensively, so I’ll let you read him for the details. But the short version is this:

You’re likely to be using a bunch of existing technologies, many of which you like quite a lot and know well, and have spent considerable time and money on.

And while the analyst community (again, guilty as charged for aiding and abetting) creates these nice, ambitious definitions for marketing clouds/suites/hubs/platforms, as a marketer, you just need your tech to work so you can do your job.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple, accessible tool that actually allows you to recognize individuals as they engage and respond based on historical and contextual info about them without spending thousands on services or hundreds of hours on implementation?

In short, your organization is (far) better off building your own marketing technology stack — and saving yourself some headaches and confusion regarding the clouds.

Watch our webinar to learn why enterprise and mid-sized brands alike will continue to abandon their marketing cloud suites in favor of CDPs in the years ahead.

marketing cloud

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