– “Excuse me? What does your blog title mean?” – “I have no idea.” But by combining two or three words from the title you get many of the latest product or service brand names of big IT vendors. These brand names are astonishingly identical.
North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.
Check out these examples (in random order):
- Adobe Marketing Cloud
- SDL Customer Experience Cloud
- Oracle Marketing Cloud
- Sitecore Experience Platform and Experience Marketing Cloud
- EPiServer Digital Experience Cloud
- Sitefinity Digital Experience Cloud
- Acquia Digital Experience Cloud
- IBM Digital Experience on Cloud
- Genesys Customer Experience Platform
- Salesforce Marketing Cloud
And there are many more similar ones. All vendors seem to be chasing the same goal. I guess it’s pretty safe to say that there are plenty of technology options when it comes to supporting customer acquisition and nurturing customer relationships. We are living interesting times but simultaneously these times are slightly odd and confusing.
Long live the experience
Experience is the thing nowadays. Not only in marketing messages of these big IT vendors, but in their product development as well. No matter where your origins are, if you’re in a web-related business, you need to focus on digital experiences – and preferably offer a cloud-compatible solution to go with it.
In content management systems, plain CMS is and has already been dead for a while. Of course CMS is not really dead, but rather an essential commodity. CMS is just CMS, not exactly an innovative sales pitch these days. In marketing messages and visionary product roadmaps the focus is on digital customer experiences: delivering the right content to the right person at the right time. Lately, the focus has also broadened into omnichannel possibilities in combining real-world and digital experiences.
The most visionary vendors and major research companies like Gartner and Forrester are the ones who have caused this experience buzz. These forces are shaping the market and other players are following close behind. When an influential actor with credibility tells you how it’s going to be, it usually ends up being just like that. The future has a tendency to evolve to the predicted direction.
Control the customer journey
The whole point of digital experience is combining two types of data: customer-related data and the actual content. The goal is to control the customer journey as much as possible and steer the (potential) customer to take favorable action. Help a drifting customer to engage with you, and ultimately hook her into your sales/marketing/nurturing processes.
Companies must (or at least should) utilize the data they have about their customers. As Martha Rogers once simplified it: “A company that does not use the information it has about its customers… has no advantage over a company that does not have information about its customers.”
The challenge is that more often than not, customer-related data resides in several different systems. Companies have CRM systems, ERP systems, analytics tools, email tools, web shops, online services, etc. Most likely many Excel sheets on top of these. There are massive amounts of data, but it is in bits and pieces all over the company, and different departments are responsible for different subsets of this customer data. It is really difficult to gather all the data to one place and obtain a single view to it.
This is one of the reasons why big data is such an interesting topic nowadays. As Gartner’s IT Glossary defines: “Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.” There are many other definitions as well, but insight and grounds for decision-making are exactly what you need to create digital experiences: Quality content for the right audience with a perfect timing by using multiple channels. Plus continuous performance analysis to support you.
The challenge from the content perspective is that it seems to be a handful for most organizations to produce up-to-date and interesting common content to one or two channels frequently. It is no wonder things get complicated when you should create personalized messages to several different audiences, possibly in many languages, and provide these messages in a relevant context at the right time.
One race, different approaches
From the vendor perspective, the competition is definitely intense. Some vendors are selling integrated suites, others extensive product families, and yet others focus their efforts on more narrow sectors and ready-made integration modules to other systems.
- Integrated suites provide plenty of functionalities in one place through a single user interface. The suite approach tries to narrow down the need for other systems as much as possible. Typically suites aren’t quite as good as separate best-of-breed products, but the approach definitely has its advantages.
- Product families (e.g. Microsoft Dynamics) include several different products that might be intended for quite different purposes, but the branding is the same, the look and feel are similar, and the vendors are making an effort to bind these products together as tightly as possible. The more products you buy from one product family, the more you gain.
- By more narrow focus I mean that if you’re e.g. a CRM vendor, you focus on being an excellent CRM vendor and not even try to conquer the whole world. Instead focus on what you do best and try to enable as fluent integrations as possible between your system and third party tools.
One thing is certain. Today all these vendors are selling a future vision. To achieve or even dream about success, a long-term commitment is required from customers. The vendors are increasingly targeting CMOs rather than CIOs with their sales efforts. As Gartner analyst Laura McLellan stated already in 2012: “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO”.
It’s a race for glory. Let’s see who comes up as the winner.
How to select the right system?
There is no single truth to it. Even though the product/service brand names are quite similar, the actual products are quite different from each other. They all are world-class systems, but they all have pros and cons. There is no single system that can do everything. One system is suitable for one organization, and another system to another one. Benchmarking is totally fine, but being a copycat doesn’t usually pay off. Feature comparison one-by-one is almost impossible. For instance, the word “personalization” as a bullet point on a PowerPoint sales slide can mean almost anything.
Still you should try to familiarize yourself with possible options. Besides evaluating products and their compatibility with your existing technology stack, I’d suggest you to focus on two things:
- Examine your own organization: Consider where your main focus is and what kind of digital ambitions you have. Remain realistic on your evaluations. Like stated earlier, one system isn’t the answer for everything. You need to prioritize and make choices based on whether your focus is on content/asset management, multi-/omnichannel publishing, pricing logic with your web shop, customer relationship management, marketing automation or whatever. Try to think beyond the renewal project. What kind of skills and resources do you have? What kind of competences do you need more? What to do yourself and what to buy from others? You should make sure that the selected platform fits your organization’s ways of working for the coming years.
- Select suitable partners: Don’t evaluate only products, but rather combinations of products and partners. The product should naturally be widely-used and future-proof (except if a totally tailored system is the best fit for your requirements), but I’d emphasize the importance of partner relationships. Meet partner candidates, talk with them and trust your instincts besides reviewing the partner’s technical credibility. You need to work with partners, so work with people you feel good working with.
Naturally, you also need to know your customers and their behavior. But remember one thing before grabbing a bull by the horns: Providing great digital experiences to your (potential) customers requires a lot of effort and commitment also from your own organization.