One common theme on this blog over the past few months is the myriad challenges facing marketers as they attempt to deploy and manage integrated marketing communication programs in an increasingly disparate and complicated customer-communication environment. Past posts have covered the challenges of: achieving Marketing Personalization 2.0 and eventually 3.0; managing cross-channel marketing execution; and identifying agency partners with sophisticated people, processes and underlying Marketing Infrastructure that are truly equipped to help their clients make order out of chaos.
There’s no getting around it: Customer-brand dialogue is becoming more complicated over time, and effective dialogue with customers requires 360-degree coordination of programs and touch points. This means marketing organizations need their own, increasingly-sophisticated and fully-integrated Marketing Infrastructure.
Technology ‘saavy’ is not an option for marketers today; moreover, the level of integration of their technology systems is more important than ever — not only for online marketing activities but also for interactions between the online and offline world. And it is critical not only for effective and coordinated brand presentation, but also for building closed-loop feedback mechanisms so that marketing efforts can be effectively measured, end-to-end — something that only a fraction of marketing organizations are actually achieving today, according to the folks at SiriusDecisions.
Enter ‘cloud services’ … an emerging IT architectural vision of seamless, Internet-based application and data integration — via common, Web-based service layers — that could get all of your marketing assets talking, in real time, within days.
Except it’s not so much a vision as it is becoming a reality today — now trumpeted by some of the leading next-generation CRM vendors, such as SugarCRM and Salesforce.com (see below), and backed by next-generation integration services providers, such as Cast Iron Systems. Want proof this is becoming mainstream?
- BusinessWeek recently headlined, “Cloud Computing Is No Pipe Dream,” in a piece by Jeffrey F. Rayport.
- IDC reported this past October that “… spending on IT cloud services [will] grow almost threefold in the next five years, reaching $42 billion by 2012,” according to Roger Smith in an InformationWeek article. “The growth will in part be helped by the economic crisis that began in the United States, according to a statement by Frank Gens, senior VP and chief analyst at IDC. ‘The cloud model offers a much cheaper way for businesses to acquire and use IT — in an economic downturn, the appeal of that cost advantage will be greatly magnified.'”
So what are cloud services … really .. and how can they help marketers gain control over customer-brand dialogue and achieve a holistic view of their brands through intelligent integration of Marketing Infrastructure?
For a preview, we should look at how marketing technology vendors are already approaching cloud services as an enabler of Marketing Infrastructure today:
- SugarCRM ‘Cloud Connectors’: On December 8, Sugar CRM “… announced the release of new Cloud Connectors for SugarCRM which allow for company and contact data residing in other cloud environments to be called and presented in SugarCRM, as well as Sugar Feeds which provide a rolling set of notices and alerts based on activity within SugarCRM,” according to a company press release. “SugarCRM Cloud Connectors connect via Web Services …” and they “… utilize a new data services framework that allows for any third party data to be integrated into SugarCRM.” Some of the external vendors SugarCRM can connect to via cloud today include Crunchbase, Hoover’s, JigSaw, LinkedIn and Zoominfo.
- Salesforce.com – ‘Service Cloud’: On January 15, CNET reported “Salesforce.com has unveiled its Service Cloud, a customer service application that’s designed for cloud computing and plugged into conversations that occur on Google, Facebook, and Amazon. … The effort is built on the Force.com platform. In a statement, Salesforce.com said that ‘two-thirds of all service conversations will take place in the cloud.'”
How do cloud services work?
If the concept of cloud services still sounds a little abstract, it’s okay … that’s part of the point.
As marketers, we care about customer insights, brand positioning, marketing programs, communication channels and the outcomes of marketing investments … not so much the nuts and bolts of the IT/Web systems upon which we must rely. Yet these systems are increasingly critical to our success or failure in building brand equity and brand revenues. How can we get the technology right and yet remain technology agnostic?
Cloud services allow us to think less in terms of technology architecture and more in terms of the marketing processes and workflow we are supporting via the technology. So if it seems like the ‘cloud’ glosses over a lot of technical complexity and assumes everything can be easily and ‘real-time’ integrated … well … exactly.
Cloud services are an extension of (and are run on) ‘cloud computing’ frameworks, which Wikipedia describes as “… Internet (‘cloud’) based development and use of computer technology (‘computing’). It is a style of computing in which resources are provided ‘as a service’ over the Internet to users who need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure (‘in the cloud’) that supports them.” The concepts of Web services, hosted applications and software-as-a-service — which you have likely heard of and possibly today know to ask about — are all baked into the total cloud, but the point is not to get caught up in this minutia.
Cast Iron Systems, which has a cloud solution that “… provides pre-configured solutions for each of today’s leading enterprise and On-Demand applications,” describes the cloud approach as ‘configuration, not coding.’ And it uses this approach to integrate many of the leading CRM, business intelligence and ERP frameworks for enterprise organizations of various sizes.
[Our] solutions, built using the Cast Iron product offerings offer out-of-the-box connectivity to specific applications, and template integration processes (TIPs) for the most common integration scenarios. For example, the Cast Iron solution for Salesforce.com comes with built-in AppExchange connectivity, and TIPs for customer master, product master and contact data integration.
Cast Iron solutions enable customers to rapidly complete application-specific integrations using a “configuration, not coding” approach. By using a pre-configured template, rather than starting from scratch with complex software tools and writing lots of code, enterprises complete business-critical projects in days rather than months.
Cloud computing in many ways is the ‘anti-technology’ approach to business technology. Erik Arnold explains in an article on NewsFactor Network:
Technology has too often been something that business managers have feared. Detailed requirement documents, security issues, and long deployments are the reasons that IT departments exist. However, the allure of cloud computing is to reduce the time of development for new applications and to make managers more productive through increased productivity, information access, and collaboration.
This is good news for marketers.
How can marketers benefit from cloud services?
Cloud services have the potential to help marketers finally start to get a handle on the myriad IT and Internet-based resources, communication channels and data sources necessary to execute complex, integrated marketing communication programs … without needing to become experts in the technology.
At a core level, cloud services create a common layer where all of these resources, channels and data sources can interact — so that disparate applications, both installed ‘on-premises’ and delivered via Web/softare-as-a-service, as well as various customer and industry databases, can all ‘talk’ to each other. This translates into improved integration of marketing activities through improved integration of marketing systems.
Some more specific benefits include:
> Centralization of both internal and external marketing resources: Using common Web interfaces and ‘service layers,’ a myriad of marketing applications and data sources can interact, cross-platform, in an orchestrated fashion, regardless of location or underlying technology architecture. Moreover, making use of a cloud services layer improves the utility and value of deploying a cross-channel marketing execution management platform, which is designed to enable centralized execution and coordination of integrated marketing communication activities. Examples include platforms from vendors such as Active Conversion, Eloqua, Market2Lead and Neolane.
In fact, the cloud-services approach is increasingly being embraced by many of these vendors. Geoff Rego of Market2Lead explains that the problem with the existing, myriad tactical marketing technologies and databases upon which marketers rely today is the eventual ‘spaghetti board’ that results. “How do I bring method to the madness?” challenged Rego in a recent phone conversation with me. While not necessarily articulating their direction today as being 100% enabled by cloud services, the idea of integrating with anything in ‘the cloud’ is very much integral to Rego’s approach. “You have to be architected as the intelligent glue.”
Competitor Neolane has taken this a step further in their offering and is actively rolling out a cloud services option for its customers — an option it is finding very popular with marketing organizations. Their PR representative commented to me in an e-mail that “[b]y providing access to enterprise marketing software in a cloud services environment, customers can centrally manage direct marketing campaigns, leads, resources, customer data and analytics from a single, open platform. This model overcomes the security issues associated with outsourcing marketing functions and helps companies quickly benefit from an enterprise-class marketing automation solution, with little up-front investment.”
As an added benefit, this level of internal and external connectedness also ensures real-time feedback, which can help tune processes and activities and incrementally improve execution, especially when it comes to targeting and personalization.
> Virtual ‘pooling’ of marketing data/insights while maintaining individual providers’ ownership, security and ‘health’ of this data: Marketers can gain a total and integrated picture of their marketing environment — tying internal databases and resources to those of external providers, especially syndicators and aggregators such as Arbitron, D&B, Google and Nielsen, as well as insights via customer comments, socia media platforms and user communities — all in real time. Meanwhile, anyone who ‘owns’ data can maintain that data behind their own firewalls and control levels of access. This is especially important when it comes to the diversity of providers marketers rely upon to execute and analyze campaign effectiveness. In fact, this is a key objective of SugarCRM’s foray into cloud services — offering access to databases that can help identify and qualify potential sales leads and blending these insights with a marketing organization’s existing customer database.
> Improved ability to constantly ‘mix and match’ applications and services to best fit the unique needs of your growing marketing organization: Off-the-shelf, ‘packaged’ applications — especially far-reaching marketing application suites that are built on proprietary plaforms — can often present many limitations to a marketing organization. Marketers should not have to change how they operate to meet the confines of software, and there has clearly been a backlash against this. “What has become evident is that more B2B enterprises are turning their backs on off-the-shelf marketing systems,” asserted Dave Howell in B2B Marketing Magazine this past June. Yet choosing to go either with a packaged application or a custom system is increasingly not a zero-sum, all-or-nothing proposition.
Cloud services enable cross-platform interaction between a broad range of applications and services — enabling marketers literally to mix and match and essentially to custom build a total solution from existing packaged applications. This helps marketers focus on building Marketing Infrastructure that supports existing marketing best practices, and it enables them to do so in a very technology-agnostic fashion.
Organizations’ needs also change over time. Lauren McKay commented on this benefit of cloud services in a December piece in CRM Magazine: “[T]he biggest benefits are the built-in elasticity and scalability, which not only reduce barriers to entry, but also enable these companies to grow quickly.”
> Improved integration between the online and offline worlds, as well as within the enterprise: Existing applications and data that are tied to the Internet can be quickly integrated through mechanisms designed to collect data from offline activities. This might include ‘field’ personnel inputting information via a Web form or mobile device; down the road it might include sensors and audio/video systems that can translate real-time observations into integrated observational data. Cloud services can also help improve intra-enterprise integration, enabling technology-based Marketing Infrastructure to ‘talk’ to other enterprise systems, such as those used by finance, operations and supply-chain teams.
What’s next? What do you think?
As always, this dialogue is just beginning.
- What are the major pain points your marketing organization suffers when it comes to integration?
- Have you leveraged cloud services, and if so, what have been the results?
- Do you have experiences with any of the vendors cited above?
- What are the barriers to marketing organizations becoming more technologically sophisticated?