Your MarTech Stack is Missing the Mark: How Retailers Can Overcome

The first marketing technology stacks were created to organize, analyze and improve performance. They surfaced in the early 2000’s when three adventurous CMO’s invested in fundamental tools made for superior management of their campaigns and audiences. These integrated systems induced order, unlocked targeted campaigns, and personalized messages for improved results for a variety for retailers.

In recent few years the retail marketing industry has come a great distance, comparable to the evolution of the first printing press that began with quill and parchment paper writing. The changes have been particularly swift. In 2011, there were roughly 150 firms offering marketing technology. Now, more than 6,800 technology-based tools including digital advertising, data analytics, content marketing, marketing automation, social media, and much more.

At some point, marketers became stack managers: shadow IT masters spending more time on implementing technology than creative development, customer research, and messaging. As for budgets, marketing technology generally surpasses IT budgets now and spending on marketing software is forecasted to exceed $32 billion in this year alone.

For some, now the job is “nothing but the stack.”

Current marketers in the retail industry are facing remarkable pressure to build and manage stacks. Software and Technology firms are desperate to control as much of the stack as possible and in-house technology teams are desperate to retain their seat at the table. As a result, customers are left with the burden too often.

This is partially due to intense competition between major software companies striving for ultimate control over the marketing stack. Firms picture a walled garden of coordinated platforms – their platforms – and the result lack incentive to build in a way that enables sharing and communication with competitive or ancillary products.

With collection and distribution of customer communications consent and preferences – likes, dislikes topics of interest, channels of choice, etc. – the problem is clear. The majority of retail marketing technology systems and frameworks that make up the powerful stack collect and store preferences, however, their functionality is limited. Only few of them are made to communicate with other technologies or contribute to a holistic customer record.

This means customer consent and preferences stored in a sales CRM system never transfer to customer support, marketing, or third-party providers. For example, explicit permission to contact a cell phone – absolutely crucial for compliance purposes- remains within an ESP unable to link with the marketing automation solution.

When asked, many enterprise clients often think their customer preference information flows through four to six separate, detached technologies. In successive analysis, an average of 12-14 distinct are revealed, more than double their estimate, along with apparent evidence of deep compliance and customer experience challenges.

This all makes sense considering each system is superior at one thing than another.

Retailers using Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics or SAP, want to track their customers from a “sales” perspective – the classic customer relationship management (CRM) solution. These platforms are tailored to enable sales organizations with the information necessary to do their job – understand the customer across the life cycle and achieve insight into what the customer has bought – or could but – form the company.

Preference and compliance requires maintaining history – the ability to look back over time as the customer changes preferences. With the forward-looking bias of these platforms, use of a CRM-oriented system can leave you with an incomplete image of the customer, lacking the information needed to answer a compliance inquiry.

Retail organizations implementing an outbound email service provider, like IBM Watson Marketing (formally Silverpop), Oracle Responsys, or Oracle Eloqua have the primary goal to send communications to the customer to move them further along in the buyer journey based on scoring, behavior, or company objectives. These systems have email covered as the main form of communication, however, it’s likely the customer is engaging with the company across multiple channels. These systems are not designed to provide interconnect all points and systems encountered by each customer.

When providing a preference to one channel, customers expect the preference is integrated across the organization. Frustrations are present when the customer feels unheard. Preferences shared to one systems should easily be shared across all of your platforms for outbound communication with a clear understanding of the source of change.

Any retailers relying on customer identity access management systems like SAP (formally Gigya), Janrain, or LoginRadius to solve the problem need to focus on their primary purpose to understand why they fall short. These systems are built to provide customers with easy access across the enterprise and understand them more deeply (from third party sources, for example). To find the power in effective preference management implementation, a continuing conversation with the customer as their desires shift for communication preferences across channels is required.

A thorough picture of your customer requires more than the information collected from them to date. It requires that they have seamless access to update their preferences and profile data as their situation evolves. It is not a “point in time” collection. It is a combination of a technology approach with a built-in process that considers the customer and their ability to participate in the preference conversation in an ongoing fashion.

What is the largest issue retail marketers are facing today with these technological systems?

None of them are built with direct customer interaction in mind for the management, maintenance and collection of preference data or to provide compliance support across the enterprise.

Enterprises are always hopeful to discover one systems capable of solving all needs of the marketing stack, but often forget it is called a “stack” with reason.  Each part resolves a specific marketing issue. It’s important to acknowledge the background of any system a business may be considering.

Eric V. Holtzclaw is Chief Strategist of PossibleNOW

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