Sunday, November 15, 2009

Aberdeen Predicts Web Content Systems Will Add Marketing Automation: I Agree, But...

Summary: a new Aberdeen Group report argues that Web content management systems should add customer management features and will ultimately compete with traditional marketing automation products. I agree with one reservation: I doubt large companies will use a single system to manage all customer touchpoints.

I’ve been convinced for some time that Web content management systems (CMS) will become important platforms for marketing automation. The logic is that Web sites are increasingly the primary method of interaction between a company and its customers, and that Web analytics, testing and personalized treatments are better executed within the content management system rather than by external products. See my July 14 post on CMS vendor SiteCore for a more detailed explanation, and the admission that I borrowed much of this thinking from SiteCore VP Marketing Darren Guarnaccia.

(Opposing viewpoint: marketing automation vendors tell me they don’t see CMS systems as competitors, largely because the systems are sold to IT rather than marketing departments. But this could change.)

Aberdeen Group’s report Next Generation Web Content Management makes a convincing case for a similar position. In fact, the study contains any number of pithy summaries of what I see as the fundamental trends driving the industry:

“Supporting prospects throughout the buying cycle requires a dialogue between a company and the prospect, and this dialogue should be highly relevant, timely and personalized to maximize marketing effectiveness and grow top-line revenue.”

“The new paradigm in customer engagement assumes consumers have control over the buying process, not marketers. Marketers now have to embrace the customer centric shift and deliver relevant, timely content when and where the buyer wants to receive it. This demands multi-channel engagement and automated personalized content delivery.”

“By incorporating some of the most valuable components of today’s marketing technologies (like lead scoring, dynamic content, analytics, profiling, and integration), the next generation of WCM [Web content management] tools have the potential to deliver highly personalized online experiences with little or no effort from marketers.”


Author Ian Michiels has been evangelizing integrated marketing platforms for the past year or longer. One section of the paper specifically describes the “battle for the integrated platform.” Michiels writes:

“Niche technology providers are increasingly starting to realize consolidation and integration will be inevitable for marketing technologies. The question is: Which technology will emerge as foundation for integrated capabilities?”

He then offers email marketing, web analytics, web content management and customer relationship management as contenders.

I agree with one major reservation. If I read Michiels correctly, he believes that one integrated system will execute the interactions across all channels. Certainly this is the fond hope of the marketing automation vendors, but I don’t believe that large companies will use the same system for all touchpoints. There are just too many channels, and new options appear too quickly, for any one vendor to satisfy everyone in a large enterprise. It’s more likely that companies will employ multiple touchpoint systems and use a central marketing platform to coordinate them.

More specifically, I see the integrated marketing platform as an underlying technology with three main roles:

- gather data from multiple sources, including touchpoint systems. This will happen in both batch and real time.

- apply analytics and decision rules to select treatments for each customer.

- push the treatment decisions back to the touchpoints for execution.

Products to do this already exist. Major contenders include Chordiant, thinkAnalytics and Infor’s CRM Interaction Advisor.

How important is the distinction having one system execute all interactions and having one system coordinate interactions that are executed by separate systems? Michiels would probably argue it’s a big difference (and I'm wrong) because he sees the difficulty of integrating multiple systems as a major barrier to coordinated treatments, and therefore a primary reason companies will be forced to adopt a single system.

But I feel the main barriers to cross-channel coordination are organizational, not technical. In my view, getting a company to replace all its existing touchpoints with a single central system faces greater organizational and financial barriers than getting it to coordinate its existing separate systems.

Let’s assume I’m right that most companies will deploy a central decision engine with multiple touchpoint systems. Doesn't this contradict my prediction that touchpoints like Web content management and CRM will expand their marketing automation functions, threatening the current marketing automation vendors?

I don’t think so. Even though I expect touchpoint systems to ultimately become delivery channels for central decisions, I doubt the touchpoint vendors will accept this role without a fight. Rather, they will expand their ability to manage interactions, thereby positioning themselves to provide the central decisioning platform itself.

Indeed, there’s a good case for having one touchpoint system make decisions for itself and other touchpoints. This avoids integration hassles between the central decision platform and one execution system, while still allowing coordination across all interactions. The logical candidate for this joint role is a company’s primary touchpoint system, which these days is probably either the Web site or CRM. Hence my prediction.

In fact, if I had to bet, I’d wager that the hybrid model will be the most successful. Financially and organizationally, it's easier to expand a major execution system than to integrate a separate decision engine. Even though an independent decision system may be technically more elegant, the organizational and financial issues are likely to be decisive.

At this point, the “hybrid model” and “one big system” may be sounding pretty similar. After all, both involve central decisions made within a major touchpoint system. But there’s a fundamental difference: “one big system” is designed to avoid integration issues by doing everything internally, while the “hybrid model” uses a primary system designed with external integration in mind. These imply very different technical approaches. Vendors building these systems, and companies looking to buy them, need to choose which philosophy they favor and act accordingly.


Unknown said...

Hi David,
I don't have any reports to support this, but I don't see why they need to be integrated. Having been in this industry for a long time, I haven't seen any noticeable movement to integrated platforms.

Besides being located in different departments, they are not tied together enough to require integration. Sure, sometimes it's a nice to have, but thats not enough to uproot an existing system.

Also, what if the CMS you're leaving is better than the one you're going to? Or vice versa? Also, many CMS systems support intranets, which have little to do with marketing, and require re-training to many users.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this, and that there will be situations that require integrated systems, but it sure doesn't seem to be any mass movement that way.


David Raab said...

Hi Fred,
I don't think anyone expects a sudden mass movement. But the value of personalized customer treatments is well established (see data in the Aberdeen report), and building them into the CMS certainly makes it easier. So I do expect this to happen, first at bigger companies who can justify the additional expense.

Doug Kessler said...

Excellent post. Whichever way it goes, it's an exciting time to be a marketer!