Friday, April 17, 2015

Marketo Adds Custom Objects. It's a Big Deal. Trust Me.

My first question when Marketo announced its new mobile app connector this week wasn’t, “What cool new things can marketers do?” but “Where is the data stored?”

It's not that I'm obsessed with data.  (Well, maybe a little.)  But one of Marketo’s biggest technical weaknesses has always been an inflexible data model. Specifically, it hasn’t let users set up custom objects (although they’ve been able to import custom objects from or Microsoft Dynamics CRM). This was a common limitation among early B2B marketing automation products but many have removed it over the years. Indeed, even $300 per month Ontraport is about to add custom objects (and does a good job of explaining the concept in a typically wry video).

Sure enough, when I finally connected with Marketo SVP Products and Engineering Steve Sloan, he revealed that the mobile data is being managed through a new custom objects capability – one that Marketo didn’t announce prominently because they felt Marketing Nation attendees wouldn’t be interested. I suspect that underestimates the technical savvy of Marketo users, but no matter.

For people who understand such things, the importance is clear: custom objects open the path to Marketo supporting new channels and interactions, removing a major roadblock to competing as the core decision engine of an enterprise-grade customer management system. This will be more true once Marketo finishes its planned migration of activity data to a combination of Hadoop and HBase.  This will give vastly greater scale and flexibility than the current relational database (MySQL). Sloan said that even before this happens, data in the custom objects will be fully available to Marketo rules for list building and campaign flows.

The strategic importance of this development to Marketo is high. Marketo is increasingly squeezed between enterprise marketing suites and smaller, cheaper B2B marketing automation specialists. Its limited data structure and scale were primary obstacles to competing in the B2C market, where custom data models have always been standard. Even in B2B, Marketo’s ability to serve the largest enterprises was limited without custom objects. While this one change won’t magically make Marketo a success in those markets, its prospects without the change were bleak.

All that being said, the immediate impact of Marketo’s new mobile and ad integration features is modest. The mobile features let Marketo capture actions within a mobile app and push out messages in response. This is pretty standard functionality, although Marketo users will benefit from coordinating the in-app messages with messages in other channels. Similarly, the advertising features make it simpler to export audiences to receive ads in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google and to find similar audiences in ad platforms Turn, MediaMath, and Rocketfuel. Again, this is pretty standard retargeting and look-alike targeting, with the advantage of tailoring messages to people in different stages in Marketo campaigns. The actual matching of Marketo contacts to the advertising audiences will rely on whatever methods the ad platform has available, not on anything unique to the Marketo integration.

In fact, I’d say the audience reaction to the announcement of these features during the Marketing Nation keynote was pretty subdued. (They were probably more excited that they can now manage their email campaigns from their mobile devices.) So maybe next time, Marketo should make the technical announcements during the big speech: at least the martech geeks will be on their chairs cheering, even if everybody else just keeps looking at their email or cat videos or whatever it is they do to amuse themselves during these things.

Note: for an excellent in-depth review of what Marketo announced, look at this post from Perkuto.

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