Tuesday, March 24, 2015
At pretty much the same moment I was publishing my post on the merger of martech and adtech into madtech, Adobe was announcing its latest marketing products, including a press release on uniting “Data-driven Marketing and Ad Tech” . Naturally, this caught my attention.
As you might expect, Adobe’s reality is considerably more complicated than the simplicity of the “madtech” vision. Like the other enterprise software vendors who offer broad martech and adtech solutions, Adobe has built its marketing cloud by buying specialist systems. And, again like its competitors, it has only integrated them to a limited degree.
In Adobe’s case, the various products remain as distinct “solutions” served by a common set of “core services”. The current set of eight solutions includes Analytics (Web, video and mobile analytics, née Omniture Site Catalyst), Social (social publishing, based on Context Optional), Target (Web optimization and personalization, derived from Omniture Test & Target/Offermatica), Experience Manager (Web content management , originally Day Software), Media Optimizer (based on Efficient Frontier and Demdex), Campaign (formerly Neolane); Primetime (addressable TV) and Audience Manager (data management platform, formerly Demdex). Of course, the products have all been modified to some degree since their acquisitions. But each still has its own data store, business logic and execution components.
Rather than replacing these components with common systems, Adobe has enabled a certain amount of sharing through its core services. In the case of customer data, the “profiles and audiences” core service maintains a common ID that is mapped to identities in the different solutions. This means that even though most customer data stays in the solutions’ own databases, the core service can use that data to build audience segments. There's also an option to load some attributes into the core services profiles themselves. Audiences, which are lists of IDs, can either be defined in solutions and sent to the core service or built within the core service itself. Either way, they can then be shared with other solutions. Data from external systems can also be imported to the core service in batch processes and used in segmentation.
Adobe says that data stored in the solutions can be accessed in real time. I'm skeptical about performance of such queries, but the ability to store key attributes within the core service profiles should give marketers direct access when necessary. There’s certainly a case to be made that digital volumes are so huge and change so quickly that it would be impractical to copy data from the solutions to a central database. Where external data is concerned, marketers will increasingly have no choice but to rely on distributed data access.
But here’s the catch: Adobe's approach only works if all your systems are actually tied into the central system. Adobe recognizes this and is working on it, but so far has only integrated five of its solutions with the profiles and audiences core service. These are Analytics, Target, Campaign, Audience Manager, and Media Optimizer. The rest will be added over time.
The second big limit to Adobe’s current approach is sharing with external systems. Only Adobe solutions can access other solutions’ data through core services. This makes it difficult to substitute an external product if you already have one in place for a particular function or don’t like Adobe’s solution.
Adobe does connect with non-Adobe systems through Audience Manager, its data management platform, which can exchange data with a company’s own CRM or operational databases, business partners, and external data pools and ad networks. Audience Manager can hold vast amounts of detailed data, but does not store personally identifiable information such as names or email addresses. Audience Manager can also copy Web behavior information directly from Analytics, the one instance (so far as I know) where detailed data is shared between Adobe solutions.
So far, I’ve only been discussing data integration. The various Adobe components also have their own tools for segmentation, decision logic, content creation, and other functions. These are also slowly converging across products: for example, there is an “assets” core service that provides a central asset library whose components can be uploaded to at least some of the individual solutions. The segmentation interface is also being standardized product-by-product. There’s no point in trying to list exactly what is and isn't standard today, since this will only change over time.
The lesson here is that suites are not simple. Marketers considering Adobe or any other Marketing Cloud need to examine the details of the architectures, integration, and consistency among the components they plan on using. The differences can be subtle and the vendors often don’t explain them very clearly. But it pays to dig in: the answers have a big impact on whether the system you choose will deliver the results you expect.