Can marketing tech track the entire customer lifecycle?

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The capability to follow a customer through all phases of the buying process has long been considered the holy grail of enterprise marketing. Has technology finally evolved to deliver on that process?

It’s old news that technology is the beating heart of today’s marketing. In fact, deep within the desktops, laptops and mobile devices of any enterprise marketing department you’ll find a complex technology stack of solutions. As Scott Brinker’s graphic on ChiefMartec shows, there’s an exploding landscape of thousands of companies vying for the CMO’s attention, in dozens of Martech categories from mobile and display to email, analytics, audience data and testing. 

What is news is how these technologies have helped shift marketing at its very core, to address today’s demanding, device-savvy customers who expect brands to follow them seamlessly from search engine to shopping cart to loyalty program and back. The practice of marketing has moved from a primary focus on brand awareness and lead generation to the convergence of acquisition and retention capabilities across the entire customer lifecycle, from the moment a potential shopper searches online to years after they swiped their credit card. 

No longer is an enterprise’s digital marketing efforts about the top of the funnel, to be passed post-purchase to customer care for upsell, cross-sell and retention efforts. Instead, marketing is now at the confluence of action/conversion strategies pre-purchase and marketing/CRM strategies post-purchase, says Rusty Warner, a Forrester analyst who specializes in marketing technologies. 

To accomplish this kind of long-term customer relationship from a technology perspective, companies find themselves squarely focused on identity resolution across channels and devices, he says. “Companies need to match anonymous with known customer profiles and make sure they are consistent across various touch points,” he says. “There is far more effort put into ensuring those technologies integrate and play well together.” 

The problem? Integration between inbound and outbound as well as digital and offline turns out to be a seriously difficult puzzle that companies are valiantly trying to solve. “While digital does provide tremendous opportunities for brands, the resulting technology infrastructure is extremely complex and marketers are struggling to fully integrate,” he says. 

[Related: How (and why) marketing tech fails to deliver on its promise] 

The fact is, the transformation of martech to fully cover the entire customer lifecycle is still in its infancy for most organizations. And in this highly complex martech era, the CIO and the CMO need to work together to develop a “business technology agenda” focused on applications that are focused on customer interactions. That is where organizations will be able to differentiate themselves in a competitive landscape moving forward, says Warner. 

An increasingly complex martech stack 

“We sometimes talk about how marketing technology investments blend both art and science,” Warner says. The CIO, he adds, needs to ensure a meeting of the minds between the business and the technology, so the company develops a plan to execute against a well-thought-out customer-focused strategy — one that addresses the full length and breadth of the customer lifecycle. That means marketing departments planning for the future also need to take a hard look at what they have today in terms of technology. For example, many marketers have made their own purchase decisions about cloud-based technology using operating budgets. “That means there are now often multiple vendor agreements, resulting in infrastructure and spending bloat,” Warner says. 

He adds that there may some emotional attachments to the existing technology that have to be nipped in the bud: “Groups may have made those decisions operating independently in silos, but now they need to be defining strategies for longer-term customer metrics that span multiple channels,” he says, pointing out that companies that don’t heed this advice often end up with  “frankenstacks” of components in a technology ecosystem which aren’t integrated: “The mistake a lot of organizations make is they start throwing technology at the problem without looking at bigger picture.” 

So where is martech headed in its holy grail-like quest to address the entire customer lifecycle? Warner points to three key trends: 

1. Martech clouds are not integrated to address every customer lifecycle need

While comprehensive marketing cloud vendors such as Adobe, IBM and Oracle have become popular, companies are finally recognizing that they are not fully integrated to address all requirements, says Warner. “Each organization needs to build its own marketing unique ecosystem,” he adds, which might mean multiple components from a single marketing cloud vendor — helpful from a strategic procurement or vendor management standpoint — but marketers also need to balance investments with the big marketing vendors with the appropriate best-of-breed components you would integrate into that stack. 

In the future, “I think we will see marketing cloud portfolios grow both through internal development and acquisition to add more components,” he says. “But at the same time we will see more deeply-integrated partner ecosystems emerge.” 

2. Martech needs to continue to evolve so there is more common functionality 

As marketers have realized there is no single database platform to address every requirement, ecosystems have evolved towards the concept of a common or universal customer profile and real-time simultaneous access to customer data across multiple sources. 

[Related: 7 marketing technology predictions for 2016] 

“Most work has to be done is in the evolution of the technologies themselves, so there is more common functionality and deeper integration across martech platforms,” says Warner. “Operational and marketing applications need to leverage more persistent customer data that will span the customer lifecycle and different technologies. 

3. Marketing automation is moving towards a greater focus on interaction 

Historically, marketing automation workflows have been linear in nature, says Warner — that is, a marketing executive working on a campaign sends an email, for example, and waits for a response. Some of the tools may have become more event-based or triggered, but today’s tools are enabling campaigns to become more proactive. “Campaigns now offer more real-time interaction management, where you use predictive analytics and self-learning algorithms aligning with business rules,” says Warner. 

The result is more centralized decision-making for the next best campaign action and that applies across the customer lifecycle and to more channels. “Today, for instance, people do analytics for email and separate web analytics and personalization tools for web content management,” he says. “Now, we will see this come together so there is more consistency across the board.”

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