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Clouds, with more clouds - the digital marketing weather forecast


It’s May, which can mean only one thing in London – the start of the cricket season, a sudden spate of Bank Holidays that makes you wonder why you haven’t had a holiday for ages, and Marketing Cloud conferences.

Quite why they all happen in May, I don’t know – maybe they all get discounts on the space – but this month we have seen the Google Cloud conference, the Salesforce Dreamforce event, and the Adobe Summit.  All of these took place in London; indeed, in some instances, using exactly the same conference space, and nearly the same set-up.

Given these all take place in the same month, it’s possible to do a “progress report” on where the digital marketing and insight sector is across Europe and EMEA.


It’s very Cloudy

All of the main players have clouds.  That’s not new; we know that the main vendors have been focused on a cloud-based, software-as-a-service, model for some time.

But we now seem to have clouds proliferating within clouds.  Salesforce has so many clouds (Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, App Cloud, Analytics Cloud, Community Cloud, and no doubt others that I have missed), it’s almost as though they are trying to make a Cloud Atlas for a corporate coffee table.  It’s quite difficult to keep up and work out how they integrate.  At the same time, Adobe has its Experience Cloud – an all-encompassing, joined-up cloud vision that links Marketing and Customer Experience with Data and Analytics.  At its conference, it announced that whilst the Experience Cloud still exists, it now comprises 3 smaller clouds – Marketing, Advertising and Analytics.

I think it’s possible to see a recognition that companies, and especially enterprise ones, seldom buy everything from a single vendor.  For the vast majority, the proposition of a holistic cloud-based solution for all marketing, whilst generally a desirable strategy in principle, is not necessarily a practicality.

The fact that we are seeing these “mini-clouds” probably reflects that the vendors have got better about accepting this reality.  Furthermore, I think it also indicates that the different vendors are starting to integrate better with each other than they perhaps have in the past.  I think that’s only partly because vendors realise there are very few people will buy their all-singing, all-dancing proposition.

There is also another, more practical reason for these mini-clouds.  In truth, most of these Marketing Cloud propositions have grown by acquisition, and so don’t really integrate with their constituent parts in the way that the sales pitch suggests.  And most clients have now realised this.  So, the mini-clouds represent those areas where there actually are “native” or established integrations between the relevant tools or parts.


The market is much more competitive

For several years, there has been a sense that the overall market opportunity, or total addressable market, for digital and omnichannel experience marketing has been so vast that the main vendors in the space have tolerated each other’s existence, and rubbed along with each other relatively well.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that these are fiercely competitive companies who don’t want to lose to each other, but it’s often felt like their core products were serving different needs in the marketplace, particularly with their core product offerings.  It’s what biologists might call “specialisation”, where different organisms focus on different available food in a particular ecosystem, so that they can all co-exist without causing conflict with each other.

So, in this (very simplified) view of the marketplace, Google “owns” digital search marketing and advertising, Salesforce equally “owns” sales force automation and CRM, Oracle has had back-end process automation sewn up and Adobe possesses the Content Creation and Management space.  Other products have then grown around these specialisations – in particular, analytics and optimisation offerings.  However, these are generally focused on understanding and informing the particular “owned” space of that vendor, rather than encroaching on other “owned” areas of the ecosystem.

Therefore, the Insight, Analytics and Optimisation space has always been more crowded, but again with a sense of specialisation and “getting along with each other”.  But as a result, it’s also an early indicator of changes to the wider ecosystem.

This view of a digital marketing environment idyll, if it ever really existed (and I don’t think it did), is becoming less bucolic, as the vendors start eyeing up each other’s lunch.  And we can tell that by looking at the Insight and Analytics part of the ecosystem.  Last year, Google launched Google Analytics 360, which is a more competitive paid-for reporting and analytics product, designed to compete more directly with Adobe Analytics.  At the same time, Salesforce bought Krux, a machine-learning analytics tool, which can help to improve their marketing automation offering.  Oracle bought Maxymiser, the “stand-alone” optimisation tool, and more recently bought Webtrends’ analytics product, Infinity.  So, the big players have been gearing up at least to shore up their own positions, but also probably to start to use them to be more competitive in areas of the Marketing Cloud world that may be “owned” by others.

In this context, it’s worth pointing out two things.  Firstly, that it’s still very clear that the digital and omnichannel customer experience marketplace has only just started, and there is still a long way to go, and a lot of money to be made, before there is any sense of saturation.  So, this is still a pretty harmonious environment, and there is a lot of collaboration and integration between the different tools in the marketplace, as they all continue to grow.

Secondly, Adobe bought TubeMogul, which is a digital video advertising media planning and buying platform.   This is more directly competitive with tools like Google Adwords, and so represents a clearer suggestion that the period of specialisation-driven co-habitation is perhaps changing, as vendors start to experiment to see whether they can get footholds in other “owned” areas.  Expect more experimentation across the clouds in the future.