What Is a “Marketing Cloud” Anyway?

MarTech News & Trends|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 and 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 pretty well, my opinion is the layers of false advertising by so-called marketing clouds have multiplied to such an extent that the concept is collapsing under its own weight.

According to an analysis by VB Insight, there are seventeen “marketing clouds” (yes, quotes justified) that “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.

It typically includes a bundle of native marketing applications and capabilities, but it is extensible through published services with which certified partners can integrate.”

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

None. Zero. Ain’t gonna happen.

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

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 that 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 and accessible solution that actually allows you to recognize an individual customer when they engage and respond based on both historical and contextual information about them without spending tens of thousands of dollars on services or hundreds of hours on implementation?

In short, we think you might be better off just building your own marketing tech stack (read this article featuring our friend David Raab on this very topic) and save yourself some headaches and confusion.

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.

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