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Get ready for Smart Spokes and Dumb Hubs

By Benjamin Bloom | August 01, 2019 | 0 Comments

Digital Marketing Strategy and ExecutionMarketing Technology and Emerging Trendsmultichannel marketing

To quote Frank Zappa, “You are what you is.  You ain’t what you’re not.” In the same vein, many multichannel marketing solutions claim mobile marketing channel support. Despite those claims, marketing teams seeking deeper and mobile-optimized capabilities to power a mobile-first marketing strategy have been turning to mobile marketing platforms (MMPs).  


Multichannel marketing hubs (MMHs) enable companies to plan, design, launch, manage and measure marketing programs targeted at specific customer segments across a multichannel environment. Mobile marketing support varies widely among these solutions (see Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Multichannel Marketing Hubs -subscription required). The heritage of these platforms often includes multiple channel-specific point solutions – including email marketing– assembled into “marketing clouds.” 


By contrast, mobile marketing platforms support a range of mobile-specific tactics, including mobile websites, mobile applications, messaging, push-notifications and mobile wallet cards. The mobile capabilities of several MMHs meet the minimum criteria for Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Mobile Marketing Platforms, but the majority of solution providers, including those in the “Leaders” quadrant, are purpose-built mobile marketing platform (PBMs). My colleague Noah Elkin explores this distinction in this blog post:  The Tangled Webs Martech Vendors Weave.


The heritage of each of these solutions meaningfully influences their underlying strategy for customer profile management. Mobile marketing necessitates a more flexible data structure and native support for cross-device identity resolution. By contrast, many multichannel marketing hubs trace their heritage to email marketing solutions, and are hard at work to address the deficiencies in their rigid and email-centric architectures to support personalization and other advanced capabilities. 


Gartner research reveals that co-existence between the two platforms is common (see Survey Analysis: Multichannel Marketing Hub, Mobile Marketing Platform or Both?) Nearly 50% of multichannel marketers say they use two or more solutions for last-mile marketing execution – so even if they use a multichannel solution, it’s not guaranteed to be all-encompassing. MMPs play a significant role in execution and helping marketers to master the nuances of mobile channels. 


For marketers leveraging MMH solutions, customer profile management is one of the key capabilities of their “smart hub” – enabling execution to be accomplished by any number of “dumb spokes.” [see my 2018 blog post on this approach] Some customer data platforms (CDPs) parlay this success into advancing positions as Challengers or Visionaries in the MMH Magic Quadrant, based on the idea that message execution itself lacks differentiation, a view backed up by (among other signals) the consolidation of recent years which has left few standalone email marketing solutions. Productized integrations that enable the hub to connect to a diversity of channels via integration spokes are gaining momentum; it’s no longer possible to be a closed system while demanding a central role in the multichannel marketer’s set of tools. Marketer demands (and their increasing adoption of CDPs) have forced vendors to address the inflexible architecture of multichannel marketing solutions.


By contrast, we have mobile-focused solutions with newer architectures in the MMP Market  – largely without the heritage or baggage of email marketing solutions that drags on many of the leaders in the MMH market.


Do the MMPs represent the same level of challenge to MMHs and CDPs? As the MMP market comes into focus, perhaps the MMP can become a hub in its own right rather than just one endpoint among many spokes. The Magic Quadrant for Mobile Marketing Platforms evaluates the mobile functionality of multichannel marketing hubs as well as purpose-built mobile marketing platforms. Most of the purpose built solutions offer email marketing execution, and natively support customer data integrations that MMHs find more challenging. These same challenges plague MMH solutions, resulting in more work to be done by IT teams and systems integrators, which has become so commonplace that many Gartner clients report that avoiding such integration headache motivates them to consider a CDP. 


As our Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising, 2019 reveals, the future of the CDP as an independent and standalone technology platform isn’t a sure thing. Marketers are not sentimental; they care about capabilities and impact, and the CDP category now seems to have competition from the MMP as well as legacy MMH vendors.  Accepting that specific use cases often require only a subset of a brand’s customer data (see Align Your Customer Data Strategy With Your Marketing Technology Strategy there is room in the martech stack for only so many solutions that provide a unified customer profile. The past year has seen the announcements of both a Salesforce CDP and an open-source CDP engine, with pure-play CDPs working hard to win enterprise clients and keep them delighted.

So if the MMPs attack toward the center from the edge, and the MMHs look to re-platform, this is one exciting ballgame- each of these is likely to have some ardent advocates as well as some significant detractors.  For marketers, realization of technology promises remains a matter of fit between marketers use cases and technology features. Assess your use cases, with particular emphasis on required data elements and what level of bundled analytic and execution support is needed- a CDP, an MMH, a MMP, all three or none at all (a frightening scenario confronting slightly more than 10% of respondents to our multichannel marketing survey). In the meantime, tailor your technology stack to what you really need or you may regret forcing one technology to do something it just ain’t.


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