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What’s a ‘Hub,’ Anyway?

By Martin Kihn | April 23, 2014 | 0 Comments


There has been much discussion of late, whispered in the hushed corridors of Gartner for Marketing Leaders’ virtual HQ, on the subject of hubs, clouds, suites — you know, those mysterious items that promise to be a kind of ERP for marketing. So storied are the expectations around these looming leviathans that they’re developing their own vocabulary.

Only yesterday, I heard the following “words” spoken without a trace of flippancy, irony or shame:

  • hubdom
  • hubness
  • hubosity
  • cloudscaping
  • hubification
  • suite relief

That last one, I think, echoes the feeling some of us have when the subject is changed. Because it’s important to remember some things about hubdom that are in danger of getting rinsed in all the reverb:

  1. hubs will never be a substitute for marketing
  2. no hub will ever solve all a marketers’ problems
  3. the perfect “hub” for one marketer will not be the perfect “hub” for many others
  4. no two “hubs” will be the same
  5. the notion of “hubness” does not necessarily imply a single vendor owning all the components

Point 5 is important, because we’ve heard from many marketers across the digital maturity spectrum that they’re looking forward to “consolidating” the confusion of their multiple vendor relationships into a single system of record. The impulse is understandable, but it’s worth hitting pause a moment to ponder whether digital marketing isn’t sufficiently complex to command complex solutions.

In other words, ERP requires a closed and controllable environment with a structured data warehouse; but digital marketing entails an open and chaotic environment with a lot of unstructured, oddly named data that sits all over the web. There is much more to come on this topic, as we develop criteria for our upcoming Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs. For now, let’s consider what are the “must haves” for a successful hub.

Adobe Marketing Cloud
Adobe Marketing Cloud

One of the more significant announcements emerging from #AdobeSummit14 a few weeks ago was the “core services,” a layer of basic services to be made available across the components of the hub. Such services are the essence of  “hubness” — that is, what transforms a group of point solutions into a coherent suite. These core services, rather than the particular components of the cloud itself, point the way toward what will ultimately be required of a successful “hub.”

The two most important seem to me to be:

  1. Manage profiles — i.e., have a reliable customer profile or record that spans channels and devices (where possible)
  2. Manage users and security — i.e., provide ability to orchestrate internal efforts and ensure data integrity

Other elements are more tactical, although APIs are clearly going to be critical as well. Another large company staking a convincing claim to hubosity is, with its Salesforce Exact Target Marketing Cloud, which offers its own version of core services:

Salesforce Exact Targeting Marketing Cloud
Salesforce Exact Targeting Marketing Cloud

They also have both a customer-level record and a user management service. It’s interesting to note the centrality of “predictive intelligence” in this schema, reflecting in part the efforts Salesforce is making to bake its acquisition of iGoDigital into the cloud. There is no doubt both automated segmentation and predictive analytics will be increasingly important turbochargers in future.

We have identified at least 40 viable contenders for hubosity, among whom Adobe and Salesforce are two of the more obvious. An interesting question arises whether the customer record itself is necessarily part of a single system, can be shared across systems, and even whether — as one of our clients described to us recently — it’s possible to build different reference customer records for different purposes (such as marketing analytics vs. customer value).

Who do you think is building the most convincing vision of a hub? We’d welcome your thoughts.

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