Let's start defining what I'm calling a marketing cloud and "point solutions in this article. A marketing cloud is a technology platform providing a marketing team with a set of functionalities and capabilities across the different components and channels underpinning a marketing campaign. It is also called Enterprise Marketing Software suite or Digital Marketing hub respectively by Forrester and Gartner.
Some Software vendors, like Adobe, went and defined an even broader category of software that they named "Experience Cloud" to encapsulate not only the marketing activities but the overall customer experience delivery.
Point solutions are product/solutions solving a specific problem within the digital marketing spectrum. They are not looking at solving every problem but instead focus on solving one very well.
"The Digital Marketing ecosystem"
Let's have a look at the different macro components composing the digital marketing ecosystem and involved in a marketing campaign:
Pretty long list, isn't it? and I haven't even listed all of them. So if you're an Entreprise with an actual digital marketing strategy you will need to purchase/implement/maintain/upgrade and use few dozens of different tools to execute that strategy.
But at the same time, this is what companies have been doing since... ever actually. This is how it started, niche software vendors solving newly appeared problems for marketers or trying to provide them with more efficiency, and IT integrating all those solutions because there was no other choice. Today, the complexity of the digital marketing ecosystem and the multiplicity of channels is such that it now calls out for a consolidation of the technology stack. This is the natural next step for digital marketing tech, to get rid of silos, as it is a blocker to connected customer experiences.The promise and the reality
Now, a marketing cloud platform is aiming at providing and end to end solution, a one stop shop for marketers to manage their entire marketing campaigns. Wishful thinking unfortunately :)
Reality is that not one software vendor today can cover the entire spectrum of the digital marketing ecosystem.
So what's the point then if they cannot provide the end to end platform?
Well it will get you half way there (or a bit more for certain marketing clouds)...Half way to the point where your digital (and potentially non digital) channels are integrated across DATA, CONTENT, DELIVERY along with the collaborative connected tissue.
I mentioned earlier briefly the challenge with having dozens of software vendors to deal with, dozens of UI for users to be across, dozens of platforms to maintain and dozens of technical pipes to plug together. See below a quick example to illustrate the challenge for each and every macro components:
So you get the gist, Data and content need to flow across the different components and channels of your digital ecosystem like blood in your veins, to allow you to deliver a connected and multi-channel experience for your customers. That is the main challenge for the digital marketing technology ecosystem today."License integration versus technical integration"
So I have just said that native integration and the collaborative tissue across components is what differentiate marketing clouds from a set of point solutions. Now this is where you need to be very critical and inquisitive if you're considering selecting a marketing cloud as not all of them are equal in that regard. Indeed, some are just a bunch of point solutions "integrated" by a licensing model.
How can you make the difference? Analysts report is a good start. Gartner Quadrant and Forester Waves will give you the top 3 you need to look into but I wouldn't hesitate to meet existing customers to get their feedbacks or invest in short POC (Proof of Concept) or even pilot projects to confirm that it indeed connects the dots with limited effort (eg: creating content in the CMS, creating segment in the DMP or Analytics solution and leveraging both seamlessly within the optimisation/personalisation tool)."Who's best of breed?"
One big argument of point solutions lovers is that they'd rather buy niche, specialised, best of breed solutions and invest in integration as opposed to get average capabilities already integrated from a platform vendor.
The top2 marketing cloud platforms, Adobe and Salesforce, actually acquired/built best of breed solutions and are leading in most analyts' reports. However, it's not the case necessarily for the rest of the pack.
Regardless, this is a very good question to ask yourself and the answer is fairly easy to get. You need to make sure that the marketing cloud vendor is described as a leader in each and every Gartner quadrant or Forester Wave category that represent a digital marketing capability. For example, you might want to check that your marketing cloud candidate is a leader across each basic marketing capability you'll need like:
It is important to differentiate Marketing cloud platforms and what I call "all-in-one" platforms. On the paper, if you look at their messaging, they do the same thing, they provide CMS, Analytics, personalisation capabilities, CRM, etc. The fundamental difference is that neither of those capabilities can stand alone and compare to best of breed solutions. It's usually shallow capabilities built around a core capability like a CMS for example. Again, an easy way to see through it is to look at the forester/gartner reports in each category and look for that vendor.
Now, those platforms are great for SMB who have basic needs and potentially a limited digital marketing team. They are perfect to implement "the essentials" of digital marketing however Enterprise level organisations will quickly outgrow this kind of platforms considering their multi-channel, orchestration, automation and personalisation intense requirements.
"Complexity & future proofing" Many customers, especially those at the beginning of their digital journey, feel overwhelmed by the breadth of those marketing clouds' capabilities, not to mention the associated costs. That's why they usually keep it simple at first and buy piecemeal elements of the digital marketing puzzle.
You need to be clear on the capabilities that you'll need within the next 3 years to execute on your digital strategy and how steady your ramp up will be. From there you'll be able to determine what is the most effective way forward, either buying few capabilities separately, an all-in-one platform or an Enterprise marketing cloud.
Be wary though not to be driven only by cost sensitivity when making a decision. This is a race and you don't want to spend half of the race building your car especially in the fast moving digital marketing space.
A marketing cloud platform will provide the components you need to accompany your growth and your increasing maturity. Note that you won't have to buy the whole platform at once. You'll have the possibility to add one component, one brick at a time and when the time is right for you to take it to the next step, you'll benefit from a native integration with your existing stack.
Ultimately, you want to avoid investing into a tool just to realise 6 months later that you've outgrown its capabilities and that you need to reimplement a new one. A marketing cloud composed of best in class components/solutions will mitigate completely that risk."The Cost"
As mentioned earlier, each component can usually be purchased separately, like any other point solutions. What you get on top is the connecting tissue when you buy more than one component/solution. So the question you need to answer is: how much is worth that "connecting tissue" to you and your organisation? To estimate that you need not only to estimate the integration cost but also the efficiency/operational gain and extra capabilities you'll gain.
For that you need to compare apples with apples, meaning you need to compare the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) including the licenses, the implementation costs, the integration costs for point solutions and the run/maintenance costs. Think about the ongoing integration costs, whenever you have to upgrade one of your point solutions, you need to update your integration code potentially.
You also need to input the ongoing innovation leading toward more features, a better/tighter integration as well as a better usability of that integration. Keep in mind that integration doesn't only mean plugging the technical pipes but delivering a user experience for the business user that feels seamless and integrated.
5 x (Point solutions licenses costs)
+ (5x selection/RFP costs)
+ (5x point solution contracting/procurement costs)
+ (5x point solution implementation costs)
+ (20 x back-end integration points implementation costs between each and every one of them)
+ (5x front-end custom Data/Content integration costs)
+ ongoing integration bugfixing/maintenance/upgrades costs
+ ongoing innovation/development cost
+ Time... a lot of time...
Marketing Cloud license cost
+ (1x selection/RFP costs)
+ (1x point solution contracting/procurement costs)
+ 5x (implementation cost per component)
Now, the most critical thing in that simple equation is not necessarily about the extensive integration costs but more about time. We're talking about months or years of differences, months or years of delays with building a best in class experience for your consumers. Even if your competitors are not doing anything to go faster than you do (which I highly doubt) then think about the missed opportunity to increase revenue and market share. This will account to millions potentially depending on the size of your business.