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The Platform Wars: Episode 2 – The Big Suites Strike Back

This is the second of three installments discussing the “Suite vs. Open Platform” debate. The first post discussed arguments for open platforms versus all-in-one marketing solutions (if you haven’t yet read it, I suggest doing so before diving into this one — much of the content below references that piece). As the title implies, this second post reviews recent articles that either discuss the strengths of the marketing suite approach or display some skepticism of open-platform efforts.

The purpose of these posts is to better understand where marketing tech is heading.

The Suite Strikes Back

On the heels of Marketo’s Jon Miller’s post announcing the rise of open marketing platforms, David Raab, one of the most respected names in marketing tech consultation, dove in with a dose of healthy critical analysis of the current “Platform Wars” discourse. Some of the ideas for his post appear to have been sparked during a lively dialogue in the comment section of Brinker’s article, in which Raab questioned Marketo’s open-platform announcement:

Who is the platform’s core constituency? More concretely, should there be a separate “marketing platform” distinct from a “sales” or “service” platform? I really think it should be a “customer platform” (and, indeed, Marketo used the term “customer engagement platform” when they presented this to me last week). But if that’s true, then marketing alone isn’t the primary buyer. This has huge implications for which vendors will ultimately succeed.

Raab’s subsequent article points out that marketing, sales and services should use a common platform if marketers are to deliver a unified customer experience. Raab notes that while Miller named Marketo’s platform a “customer experience platform,” the Marketo co-founder undermined such a holistic approach when he wrote that the “customer engagement platform is the core system of record for marketing, just like CRM is the system for sales.”

Raab is unconvinced of this siloed perspective, citing integration difficulties and the need for a shared customer database (a point that Blair Reeves later builds upon).

More interesting, though, is Raab’s inspection of Marketo’s core platform offering, which comprises both platform and application layers. This causes him to question Marketo’s true differentiation: “[Marketo] sells the platform in combination with applications and delivery systems, some of which are included and some of which are optional.” While there’s no rule stating that open platforms must be entirely application neutral, this article ends on a salient point:

There’s a good case to be made for bundling the platform with applications and execution systems. [….] Of course, this ends up looking an awful lot like a traditional marketing software suite, which is exactly what Marketo was and remains under the hood.

This was hardly meant to question Marketo’s intent, but rather a statement as to the long journey ahead for Marketo (and each competitor) if it wishes to make the “open, customer engagement platform” a reality. Blair Reeves (Product Manager for IBM Digital Analytics) has since published a notable opinion on the subject, presenting three reasons why suites are the superior model.

  1. Marketing vendors that offer a packaged solution built on a “single system of record” have an advantage. He seems to be lining up behind Raab here when he writes, “Ideally, there should be no integration, data feed, export or other intermediate step required.” His thesis is that analytic insight drives marketing, and third-party integrations — while sometimes required — hinder data transmission and marketers’ ability to act on customer behavior analysis.
  2. The open-platform model suffers from two fundamental problems. The first problem pretty much mirrors the points made in his prior reason — unless your marketing solution is directly informed by a digital analytics solution, you’ll run into trouble with regard to “integration, data feeds, effort and costs.” Second, the major suites already offer partner networks, so there’s no point in adding an additional intermediary source of data and third-party marketing actions.
  3. Reeves’ last reason for the suite model’s likely success is a response to Martin Kihn’s statement that big companies are unable to innovate at the rate of startups. According to Reeves, only big companies have the research and development resources to deliver the substantial new capabilities being presented by the likes of IBM and Adobe. He goes to write: “Besides – if you think the pace of integration within a single company’s marketing suite is too slow, try waiting for real integration (rather than vaguely-worded “partnerships”) between small, independent companies.”

What remains to be seen, however, is whether marketing suites execute on the promise of smooth marketing system and data integration better than open platforms. It’s intuitive to think so, but acquisitions don’t always translate to cohesion. And we all know that large enterprises are hardly devoid of problems with product and operational siloes — so homegrown tech innovations don’t necessary mean unity either. Thus, we shouldn’t assume that marketing suites are better prepared to address this issue. In fact, when writing about Adobe’s March 25 2014 announcement to emphasize partnerships and innovation, Forrester analyst Cory Munchbach stated:

But Adobe is still far from realizing Forrester's vision for the marketing cloud. We criticize all of the vendors in the so-called marketing cloud wars for their lack of genuine integration between individual products.

Does this mean Marketo and other open-platform vendors are better suited for integration? Certainly not. But they do seem to be more focused on the issue. And while Blair Reeves makes a great case for large enterprises having more resources to innovate, he still doesn’t address all of Scott Brinker’s points regarding the diseconomies of scale that hinder large enterprise innovation.

Another question: Will the major suites change their approach just because a few smaller, yet growing competitors and several thought leaders question their model? Oracle’s recent introduction of its marketing cloud shows that it’s clearly staying the course. Yet, only two days ago, Adobe announced its intention to embrace a more open model. (See Brinker’s post yesterday).

The customer will decide the outcome of the Platform Wars; only their enthusiastic reaction to open-platform intentions will drive execution and potentially further revolutionize marketing.

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By  David Crane

David Crane joined Integrate in September of 2011. David is an ardent student of marketing technology that borders on nerdy obsession. Fortunately, he uses this psychological abnormality to support the development and communication of solutions to customer-specific marketing-process inefficiencies.

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