Future Shock

It’s a wonder that marketers haven’t universally lost their wits trying to understand the omnichannel consumer. Unlike customers’ trek along the predictable path of yesterday’s purchase funnel, today’s customer journey looks more like the travels of a spirited bumble bee. This flurry of activity can make customers’ motivations unclear—thus making the need for marketing technology crucial.

The upside is that there are numerous marketing technologies available today that aim to bring order to this chaos. The downside is that the marketing technology landscape, what with all the mergers and acquisitions that have happened lately, can be just as convoluted and confusing as the buying patterns of the modern customer.

Of course, it’s precisely the complexities of customer behavior that are driving many of the biggest changes in marketing technology. Marketers’ needs are evolving with changes in customer behaviors and expectations. Marketers need insight on their customers, now. They need to increase their relevance and improve their performance. They need to show ROI. Marketing technologies are evolving to meet those needs.

In areas like social media metrics and marketing automation, the era of the pure-play tech provider has diminished. As recently as summer 2012, CRM giant Salesforce.com acquired Buddy Media and combined it with its social media metrics technology Radian6 (which was itself an acquisition) to create its Marketing Cloud solution. In October of that year, email marketing solutions provider ExactTarget absorbed marketing automation company Pardot—and ExactTarget itself was acquired by Salesforce this past June. Oracle got in the mix at the end of 2012, by snapping up marketing automation company Eloqua. And just last July Adobe acquired marketing automation provider Neolane, which is now Adobe Campaign, the sixth application within the vendor’s Marketing Cloud stack.

“The primary motivation [of marketing consolidation] is this: To meet their customers’ need to connect disparate marketing systems into an integrated, end-to-end solution that can capture and track data throughout the entire customer lifecycle,” says Forrester Research Senior Analyst Kim Celestre. “The complexity of digital marketing drives this need.”

In particular, it’s driven need for marketing automation tools and enhanced analytics.

All things all at once

The consolidations in the marketing-tech industry have made available numerous end-to-end marketing solutions—suites designed to handle email marketing, social media measuring and responding, customer analytics, and lead gen monitoring, among other functions.

But will this appeal to the CMOs who are becoming increasingly influential in terms of marketing-tech purchases? Traditionally, many chief marketers have been fine purchasing point solutions on an as-needed basis, despite the risks of creating functional or data silos within marketing by doing so.

Jennifer Zeszut, CEO of Beckon, says that suites force businesses to adhere to a single vendor and, despite the consolidation of numerous software tools, are limiting. These end-to-end suites, she says, might enable comprehensive views of the customer—so long as a business standardizes on a single vendor’s technology—but they don’t always allow marketers to take action based on those views.

“It’s fatally flawed because they’ll never bring in enough execution tools that can do all that marketers do,” Zeszut says. “Email is one thing, which is where everyone is focused, but come on. We’re talking in-store, out of home, TV—there are so many channels, and the reality is everyone wants to use best-of-breed tools.”

To be fair, Beckon provides a platform designed to sync best-of-breed tools—so Zeszut speaks from the position of a competitor. Still, she raises a valid point: Do these acquisitions always lead to comprehensive solutions that do everything marketers need?

The consolidation of marketing technologies into comprehensive platforms certainly addresses one of the biggest problems with best-of-breed buys: the gulfs created between individual tools from different vendors, according to Jeff Allen, director of product marketing for Adobe Analytics. Certainly, marketers can find specific tools to fill niche roles, but what good is a best-of-breed tool if it churns in isolation? If it refuses to accept or send data to other crucial marketing or operational applications?

It’s for this reason that Mindjet, a provider of virtual whiteboard and collaboration suites, is currently undergoing a “cycle of consolidation” around vendor Lattice.

“We’re looking to have less and larger relationships,” says Mindjet CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff. “And that’s going to be true for the next few years because it helps us manage our technology stack, it helps us manage the results that we’re getting, and it’s more efficient from a spend perspective.”

Kaykas-Wolff isn’t alone in his expectation of those benefits from implementing a marketing-tech suite or platform. But Forrester’s Celestre is quick to point out that any benefits from the recent spate of marketing-tech consolidations will be a long time coming. “The paint is not yet dry,” she says, noting that vendors like Oracle and Salesforce.com need time to optimize and integrate their platforms.

There are other issues marketers are going to have to face, as well. For example, they may be concerned whether a marketing automation platform acquired by a CRM giant will continue to integrate with the acquiring company’s competitors. When Oracle bought Eloqua, Celestre says, many clients questioned whether Eloqua’s Salesforce customers would still be supported. (Eloqua currently integrates with all major CRM platforms.)

Marketing automated

It’s not a coincidence that most of the consolidation that occurred over the past year involves marketing automation tools. The mass-acquisition activity is especially notable because it’s been a long time coming. Unlike social media analytics shops—which were snapped up as they began cropping up—marketing automation isn’t a new technology.  Eloqua, for instance, launched in 1999.

Marketing automation has traditionally been a B2B tool, used to automate various actions around lead generation. Its efficacy centered on the customer habit of extensively researching products before purchasing. E-commerce technologies, like cookies that tracked website activity or tracking pixels that show opens and click-throughs on email, created a need for software that could aggregate all of this information, analyze it, and apply it to sales. Marketing automation gave B2B marketers the tools to nurture the burgeoning interest of prospects at the top of the funnel and move them through until they became sales-ready leads.

Recently, this technology has attracted the interest of an increasing number of B2C companies—major driver in the recent string of related marketing-tech acquisitions. The B2C interest in marketing automation grows as enterprises shift from campaign-centric to customer-centric approaches—strategies that rely less on blasting consumers with general communications or offers and more on messages that are timely, relevant, and targeted. For this reason, Steve Woods, Oracle‘s group VP of software development, bristles when he hears the term marketing automation.

“Marketing automation is a fascinatingly strange way of describing the space because it implies that what you do is take what you did with marketing historically and then automate it,” he says, “which is wrong because historically marketing was very campaign centric.”

Generally speaking, B2B marketers have long required capabilities that enabled customer-centric campaigns. Conversely, B2C marketers adopting a more targeted approach to marketing have more recently discovered the value of customer-centricity—hence increased investment in marketing automation tools tied into email marketing solutions and CRM.

In a 2012 comment posted on Quora, then-Silverpop SVP of Marketing and Sales Eric Holmen described the watershed following which B2C marketers started inquiring to their vendors about marketing automation functions: The goals of many companies have changed, Holmen wrote, to focus on email optimization, with the aim to expand to marketing automation.

This shift demonstrates greater acceptance of marketing agendas within businesses. Whereas IT-centric agendas, which had been the norm, involved optimizing data to see if any assets can be used to affect marketing campaigns. This, according to Holmen, leads to “endless cycles of development, and little change in marketing results.”

But B2C companies’ application of marketing automation technologies is usually different from their B2B counterparts, according to Bryan Brown, VP of product strategy at Silverpop. The tools needed to nurture the considered purchase common among many B2B organizations on the surface may not seem relevant for B2C companies that sell less expensive products with shorter buying cycles. In fact, these tools can be just as relevant for those B2C firms.

Consider SmartPak Equine, an equestrian retailer, with an e-commerce website, a catalog, and a retail location in Natick, MA. In 2010 SmartPak migrated to Silverpop’s email solution because of the latter’s focus on marketing automation, and revamped its automated messaging strategy. The new approach included adding 40 triggered emails aligned with events, including welcoming; two follow-ups after a cart abandonment with promotional reminders; browse abandonment (customers who’ve left the SmartPak page without making a purchase); order/shipment reminders like pointing out to customers that certain products over $40 ship free, thereby enticing a larger purchase; and anniversary emails. SmartPak also launched an upsell program targeting all its customers with more relevant products.

This customer-driven approach has improved SmartPak’s marketing results by more lengths than Secretariat’s gallop across the finish line at the Belmont Stakes. Compared to the more standard promotional messages SmartPak used to send, the retailer’s abandoned cart emails had a 900% conversion rate increase; browse abandonment messages saw a 115% open rate increase; and order/shipment reminder emails saw a 270% conversion rate increase. In fact, the order/shipment emails became the company’s top revenue generator, with a 36% open rate and an 18% conversion rate. Email now generates 30% of all online marketing revenue.

The Silverpop implementation, which took four to five months, wasn’t without its hitches, says Carey Marston Kegel, SmartPak’s email marketing manager. “If we’d done it right, it would’ve taken two or three,” she says. “We initially thought this would be so easy, we’d just send all of our data over there and parse the data to the [Silverpop] interface. But there was so much data that it was a big overload.”

Looking back, Marston Kegel would have planned exactly what type of data she’d need for her email programs—like purchase behavior and popular products—and try to predict what she’d need for upcoming campaigns she wanted to roll out. “We needed to take a step back, lay it out on our end in terms of what campaigns we really wanted to look at, and then send it to Silverpop on an automated basis,” she says. After all, it’s always possible to add more data as campaigns progress.

Real time, right time

Marketing technology has a common theme: data. Acquiring it, parsing it, interpreting it, accessing it as needed. This last element is the very definition of real-time analytics, or real-time business intelligence (RTBI)—i.e., supplying the right data in real time so a business can address a specific problem (see “Uncovering Customer Intent to Drive Conversions”). Real time is a growing focus area for marketers. As customer expectations increase, marketers’ inclination to respond in real time increases in equal measure.

But real time is a bit of a misnomer. To laypersons, real time means immediate. In terms of marketing the definition of real time varies by circumstance. For example, programmatic buying for digital advertising needs data within 20 to 30 milliseconds; personalized Web pages need to have creative assets and information up within 200 to 400 milliseconds.

According to Oracle’s Woods, for most marketers, real time means having the right data at the moment of truth to meet customer expectations. “If you look at real-time marketing, it’s the ability to take a buyer’s behavior and have that [influence] how you communicate with them,” he explains. “As soon as it’s relevant to that buyer, well, that’s real time enough.”

The business applications of real-time analytics vary. For instance, insurance provider Assurant’s contact center uses real-time analytics and skills-based routing to match inbound callers with the right customer service representatives (CSRs), examining customer history and CSR training to determine which rep would best serve a certain customer.

For messenger bag manufacturer Chrome Industries, real-time data is all about targeting email. Chrome and its vendor partner Retention Science chew through data that looks at when (or whether) customers open emails and what those customers do afterward. In one case, Chrome discovered a five-fold increase in open and click-through rates of emails sent late in the day over mornings or afternoons, so it decided to focus on delivering its messages in the evening. “If they never opened it, we would hit them randomly at different times to find a more appropriate time of day for them to open it,” says Kyle Duford, the company’s director of e-commerce, of Chrome’s testing process.

Flextronics has a more comprehensive application for real-time analytics. The company provides design, manufacturing, distribution, and aftermarket services for major name brands—from consumer devices by Apple, Lenovo, and Microsoft to automotive features for the Ford Motor Company.

Flextronics uses a solution from FirstRain to scan unstructured online information—anything from tweets to blogs to government filings to company press releases—to scour for new business possibilities. This requires filtering non-business information (including all but .02% of tweets), then analyzing the content of the relevant tweets to find opportunities. “If someone is selling to GE, what’s happening in those markets that’s affecting my customers?” says Greg Mihran, Flextronics’ senior director of global sales enablement. “What are my competitors saying? What are my executives saying? What are they saying in social media?”

This information is integrated in real time into the Flextronics CRM portal so sales staff can remain educated as they approach customers. It also allows Flextronics’ marketers to send tailored messaging to prospects in response to news, trends, and opportunities as they’re uncovered.

And perhaps this last part is most important: The fruits of real-time analytics should be shared across departments.

“Marketing is best positioned to contribute to an organization’s customer insight,” Oracle’s Woods says. “It’s important for marketing to share its insight with the entire organization.”

Always reaching

The goal of seamlessly integrating marketing technologies is one to strive for, but not one businesses that are ever likely to achieve.

“The promise of all the tools connecting together simply and easily has been out there for a while,” says Mindjet’s Kaykas-Wolff. “The practicality of it is nothing really works together perfectly well.”

Adobe’s Allen says achieving a perfectly integrated system is an impossible feat because there’s always a new tool or platform to integrate. “But it is possible to have a perfect integration philosophy,” he says.

This philosophy encourages marketers to consider marketing technologies as a journey, not a destination. “You have to be constantly investing to stay ahead of the curve,” Allen says.

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