movie marquis with sign "closed for renovation" (missing a few letters)
PHOTO: Ben Hershey

The lightning-fast pace of today’s customer experience (CX) developments can boggle even the most tech-savvy marketer. Take the rapid ascension of voice as a key marketing tool. When Siri debuted in 2011, its voice recognition functions were far from mature. Who could have imagined that within the same decade the technology would advance so dramatically that people would rather use a voice assistant than visit a website?

While the list of marketing technologies (martech) designed to help keep pace with these changes has grown, marketers’ jobs haven’t gotten much easier. This is because many marketing suites haven’t responded in kind. Despite the influx of new tools, many of today’s marketing clouds remain closed off and stagnant, hindering the ambitious digital experiences that marketers could achieve given the freedom to do so.

The Integration Imperative

You’ve heard it all before: marketing has become more complex, competitive, and nuanced than ever before. As customer expectations become more advanced, marketers need to stay ahead of the curve ... or risk their brand becoming obsolete.

What’s only now becoming clear is how to meet those expectations. A brand’s success (and survival) is becoming increasingly dependent on how quickly and effectively they can tap into new marketing channels, including voice assistants, mobile apps— even connected cars — to reach their consumers in a personal, intelligent and valuable way. Technologies that were once novelties are becoming strategic imperatives, but are today’s marketers equipped to embrace them?

Many marketers believe that because top marketing cloud vendors claim to have opened their platforms to integrations with the latest point solutions, they are well positioned to take advantage of these new marketing pathways. And why think otherwise? We’re in the midst of what Scott Brinker has dubbed the Second Golden Age of Martech, which is seeing many marketing cloud players shift to open solutions ... but marketers would be wise to check the fine print.

Related Article: How CMOs Can Tame the Martech Beast

Debunking the Open Platform Myth

Ostensibly, these “open” cloud ecosystems eliminate interoperability challenges, allowing marketers to seamlessly integrate any of the vast martech solutions available today and bring their customer experience visions to life.

The reality, however, is quite different. Many of today’s marketing cloud vendors claim to be open to integrations, but this promise is often only fulfilled if you stay within their ecosystem — and that ecosystem is inherently limited and self-serving. Products outside of their network are met with interoperability hurdles that can stifle innovation and make the best tools for you impossible to use.

Granted, many platform providers have vastly expanded the scope of their solutions. There’s likely an option for your stack among a vendor’s offerings, but is it the best option out there? Even the most prolific organizations can’t deliver the absolute best solution for every marketing application. This is why personalization continues to elude top brands, who — despite vendor efforts like the Open Data Initiative — can’t seem to share customer data across technologies and touchpoints in meaningful ways. Imagine what happens when brands add voice technology or other connected devices to their CX plans — the need for agility and choice become painfully apparent.

But truly open marketing stacks do exist, and they are required for marketers who aspire to innovate at the speed of the market, seamlessly leveraging best-of-breed tools to meet — and exceed — the sophisticated and ever-changing needs of customers.

Related Article: Will Open Data Initiative From Adobe, Microsoft, SAP Break Down Silos?

Marketing on Your Own Terms

Marketers have spent most of their careers within vendor roadmaps, but now is the time to go off the beaten path. Today, we have the benefit of more than 7,000 potential tools, according to Brinker’s most recent landscape supergraphic. What does that mean to you? Your marketing cloud “core” must be agile enough to accept any of them into the fold, at any time.

A truly open marketing cloud offers unfettered and unconditional integrations, affording marketers the power, resources and, most importantly, freedom to do this. What’s more, it should benefit from near-constant surveillance and a more aggressive update schedule than proprietary options, including upgrades that address potential vulnerabilities in software as soon as they are discovered.

Today’s leading proprietary marketing clouds have made a lot of progress toward their goals of allowing open data sharing and integrations across a broader landscape of marketing tech, but calling them "open" is a misnomer that can have devastating ramifications for a marketing team that makes big investments only to realize later that it can’t deliver the experience their customers demand. Implementing new solutions that automate simple tasks, streamline data collection and analysis, and even open the door to solutions that tap into the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence has become a strategic priority for all marketers and the brands they steward.

Marketers have barely scratched the surface of open innovation. There’s a lot to be excited about when looking at the future of martech, but there’s also cause to be wary. In today’s fiercely competitive landscape, the tools you use can make or break your next marketing campaign — make sure you’re using the best-of-the-best, not just the best of what works for your marketing cloud vendor.

With truly open marketing tools now becoming more accessible than ever before, the time has come to reevaluate your "open platform."

And I hope you do it with a close eye and an open mind.