Blog post

Digital Marketing Hubs Are the Center of the Digital Marketer’s Universe

By Jake Sorofman | January 15, 2016 | 2 Comments

digital marketing

Suggesting that the digital marketing landscape has grown complex and fragmented is like saying that the universe is vast beyond description. Nobody (save for the astronomer, anyway) will argue with you.

Truth is, sometimes considering the range of available digital marketing technologies can feel a bit like appraising infinite stars against an inky midnight sky. It can be overwhelming in its magnitude.

What you really need is a map:

Transit Map

But while the map may bring order to the madness, you still need a center of gravity, not unlike a galaxy or a solar system. In this more earth-bound context, the center of gravity is the digital marketing hub:


Think of the digital marketing hub as an interstellar junction, the connection point between content, data, rules and insights that inform the next best offer or experience delivered across virtually any channel.

“Digital marketing hub” is the term that Gartner has adopted with the hope of disambiguating what so many vendors had come to ambiguously call “marketing clouds.” (Cloud, in our view, is a delivery option and an implementation detail, a hazy collection of droplets without any discernable form or focus. That’s hardly a description of any set of marketing applications or capabilities and, thus, hardly helpful as a naming convention. I’ve yet to hear anyone disagree, including the vendors themselves).

The digital marketing hub is the gravitational center to a constellation of digital marketing tools and applications. Specifically, the digital marketing hub converges around four fundamental capabilities:

  1. A master audience profile—which unifies first- and third-party customer and audience data for targeting the right experiences to known and anonymous.
  2. Workflow and collaboration—which facilitates and streamlines the creation and onboarding of content, data, plans and other digital marketing assets and artifacts that feed the beast.
  3. Intelligent orchestration—which informs the timing, targeting and coordination of content, offers and experiences across channels through a combination of business rules and algorithms.
  4. Measurement and optimization—which traces the thread between marketing investments and business outcomes and allows marketers to optimize their budgets and efforts to highest yield.

This is all easier said than done, of course. Which is why we believe, more often than not, a digital marketing hub is a design pattern rather than something you buy off the shelf. The digital marketing hub, too, has its own center of gravity (see four capabilities), but the realization of its full promise relies upon a diverse array of constituent parts, many of which are likely nonnative to any specific vendor stack.

Which is why, when we evaluate these digital marketing hub vendors, we consider both native capabilities and extensibility. Why? Because, while a digital marketing hub may invite a certain gravitational attraction, it depends on the considerable energy of its satellites. Beware of hubs that purport to do it all, for the digital marketing universe is vast and even the most capable vendor is infinitely smaller by comparison.

Which vendors are getting it right? See the latest iteration of our Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs, which we published last week (subscription required).

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Comments are closed


  • I wonder if one of these Hubs will ever really help the typical B2B CMO solve their top challenge in 2016 — that being, digital marketing talent development. Having enough skilled and experienced staff that can ‘create’ meaningful and substantive content is an unattainable goal for way too many B2B marketing leaders.

    Case in point: I recent worked with a large software vendor on Cloud market strategy. It typically took their Product Marketing subject-matter experts ~2 months to create a distinctive Powerpoint presentation and ~6 months to create a forward-thinking white paper. Content ideas were never an issue. However, when you asked a meeting of a dozen or more staff “who can start to write the core narrative for this project?” — everybody looks around the room; nobody is confident that they’re qualified.

    My question for you, Jake, are there any Marketing Technology vendors addressing this apparent skills shortage in some shape or form that will likely result in progress? Otherwise, is this mostly a legacy marketing staff ongoing training challenge, and/or an outside talent recruitment objective that CMOs must acknowledge?

  • Mike McMinn says:

    This article is right on the money I’d say; I’ve been in online marketing in many shapes and forms over the past 20 years or so. Part of my current role is heading up online marketing for a cloud intranet software solution called MyHub. Being in a relatively new company means that you can start with a clean slate using the latest online marketing techniques. On one hand this is great because this allows me to use current techniques using many lessons learnt in the past. On the other hand, it also comes with a whole bunch of new processes that have to be managed and metrics that need to be tracked. Naturally, you find yourself wearing lots of different hats covering areas such as content, social, paid advertising, SEO, webmaster, project management, analytics and so on. Each marketing process needs to be trialled end-to-end. You also have to make sure that at each point of the process follows the companies brand requirements and communications style. To have an all singing all dancing central marketing hub would be an absolute dream but, to be honest, I find that with the search landscape changing all the time it’s better to be agile and be able to juggle multiple tools. If I had a central marketing hub, I think it would eventually become restrictive because new tools designed to save hours pop up all the time and it’s only natural to want to be more efficient. So you are right it is most certainly more of a case of having a design pattern rather than a single solution. At the moment, my current favourite tools are BuzzStream for outreach workflow, Spyfu for data, AHREFS for many functions, Blogmutt for content, Hootsuite for social. Would be good to hear from other readers what work well for them specifically regarding managing and training new members of staff on each of the different logical workflows.