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GUEST COMMENT The new recipe for marketing cloud success

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Retailer websites in 1998 felt novel, even if they were mostly a vehicle for contacting customer service or using the store locator. Several years had to pass before they were functional enough to showcase products effectively or enable transactions. I remember the first time it dawned on me to visit (via Netscape) to purchase a ticket as an alternative to waiting on my landline to speak with a representative. British Airways, a dominant global travel brand throughout the 90’s, had a website in 1998 that looked like this:

Today’s version is a little different. British Airways hosts many international sites, mobile applications, mobile websites, loyalty experiences, and other platforms. Of course British Airways didn’t become a software company. Rather, ecommerce progress from 1998 to today can be told as a story of third-party technology partnerships, each of which helps deliver a unified brand experience, secure new customers, optimise purchase funnels, and measure marketing success.

Third-party technology relationships are so complex that many retailers don’t even know who they are working with anymore. Most retail sites now host over 70 third-party technologies, but with an average of only 20% being placed on the website by the retailer itself. The most common examples are services like Google Analytics, Facebook widgets or ad servers like Open X. The third-party map on just one page of the British Airways site looks like this. Each of these third-parties serves to improve marketing efforts and user experiences, but each can slow down a site, disrupt a user experience, collect and repurpose customer information, impact site security, and infringe on privacy policies.

So what does this all mean for online retailers?

Enterprises no longer have a website; they have a marketing cloud. The marketing cloud is the collection of technologies employed across websites, mobile platforms, servers, and hosted systems, along with the 4th, 5th, 6th party technologies they bring with them. Pulsepoint, for example, is a 5th party on British Airways as is introduced by Magnetic, which is introduced by DoubleClick Floodlight. The numbers of third parties in each enterprise’s marketing cloud has increased dramatically over the past several years, mirroring the rise of eCommerce and illustrating the increased importance of digital channels.

US eCommerce revenue totalled over $263 billion in 2013, an almost 17% increase from 2012, and is predicted to be almost $400 billion by 2016. US mobile commerce totalled over $42 billion in 2013 – a 70% increase from 2012 – and, together with ecommerce, will represent over 10% of the total US retail market by 2016. In reaction to this trend, thousands of marketing and website technology companies have proliferated in the past several years.

As marketing departments first began to understand their potential for customer acquisition, to build brand loyalty, retarget likely purchasers, and improve campaign ROI, they were quick to partner with agencies and website tech companies to round-out their capabilities. Without deep internal technical expertise, however, many marketing departments were not structured with the staff and knowledge base needed to properly manage their partners. Few companies created best practices to determine what data third party digital partners collect, what other companies they might bring with them to a website, how they might impact site performance, and if they might pose a risk to security or customer privacy. This problem was compounded with the rise of third-parties delivering big data analytics, which in order to be leveraged, also required new skill sets, staff, and process adjustment.

Advanced enterprises now recognise that online technology partners require new processes, staff and skill sets across marketing and technology departments. The good news is that many large eCommerce companies have already started to address and dramatically improve their marketing cloud control. They have adopted the guidelines of marketing cloud management in order to achieve better campaign results and website performance by establishing a culture of data governance. This culture is different within each organisation but shares a set of common principles:

• Website and marketing strategies are cross-departmental efforts and require cooperation between tech, marketing, legal, and security.

• An individual within the enterprise needs to be tasked with digital vendor management and should work with each department to establish vendor guidelines, SLAs, whitelists, and blacklists.

• The process of good vendor management is ongoing; monitoring is key as well as using a good alerting service, which saves time and resources.

• Clients consistently report that the process changes and organisational adjustments are worth it.

Adjusting internal channels and creating an area to oversee marketing cloud management as a diligent practice within an organisation will reap benefits across marketing, IT, and legal. Using a common platform, departments will work together to establish shared vendor management strategies. SLAs will be vetted and monitored, eliminating unwanted data sharing and better securing pages. This will enable the website to deliver a better user experience since any problematic tags are flagged and addressed. New vendors will be assessed by the value they do or do not add to the overall strategy, which will be agreed upon by each department before implementation. In essence, the culture of data governance will extend and ensure improved marketing and website results.

The 70 third-parties per retail site average will also grow to 90 or higher in a short period of time. The landscape will become increasingly complex in the near term as new technologies offer greater opportunity to bring the brand experience from stores to mobile devices, cars and beyond. Each of these platforms advance seamless brand experiences and deepens customer engagement, but many require a sophisticated technology strategy and controlled vendor management. An example is iBeacon, Apple’s in-store location services platform, which requires certain capabilities to be in place and marketing cloud control for successful implementation. Technologies that rely on technologies require companies to establish a clear path towards better marketing cloud management.

Start designing your better process and structure today. You will be better positioned to use new solutions, improve site performance and security, and streamline your vendors for more effective customer acquisition and brand management. Then wait for the waves of praise as customers, vendors, and colleagues admire your well-planned recipe for marketing success.

Amy King is VP product marketing at Ghostery, Inc.

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