I was recently invited by Adobe to join them at Dmexco, a veritable behemoth of an expo and conference, held in Cologne, Germany.

Attended by almost 32,000 digital marketing professionals, and with 807 exhibitors and 470 speakers, the event promised much in terms of digital discussion.

During the two-day conference, I attended Adobe’s keynote from Brad Rencher, entitled “Nerd is the New Black”, in which he proudly declared himself to be a ‘nerd’.

In an increasingly digital world, where consumers have become publishers and are creating vast quantities of data, his position is that it takes a nerd to make sense of this data, which is most definitely ‘big’. Gone are the days when marketing was considered a numbers-free profession.

In an interesting standpoint, Brad called for marketers to stand out by not following the trends – by doing what they know best instead, and be generalists rather than specialists.

The term ‘generalist’ can be seen as a dirty word in an industry which every day has a new specialist – a ‘wearables specialist’ and an ‘internet of things’ specialist were two examples used in the speech.

Advocating a focus on the ideas and concepts that are evergreen, rather than chasing technology trends, is something the growing number of cloud-based technologies would like to steer marketers away from.

Evidently a marketing suite which aims to cover all areas is more suited to a company which is silo-free: which has generalist digital or even generalist marketing teams which work together on campaigns.

Breaking down silos is a strategy encouraged by Econsultancy, and by wider digital transformation thought leaders. However, it is an interesting argument that companies should not aim to have specialists in new technologies and trends, a strategy which, in Brad Rencher’s words, allows us be “tossed to and fro with the trends”.

However, is it not the specialist who can get the most from a specific marketing discipline? Is it not the specialist who will know the extremes of their channel’s capabilities and therefore be able to exploit them to the best possible advantage?

Brad says no:

The more we try to specialise, the harder it becomes to create something special.

When I asked Peter Eiselt, Senior Solution Consultant at Adobe, why companies should choose a marketing suite versus a specialist tool for one of its many functions, it was the issue of data that we returned to.

The ease of exchange of data between each solution, and the ability to create and share complex customer segments which can be used across the marketing cloud. For Peter, it was also the ability to react rapidly on the data that analysts generate, across channels and teams, concluding “analytics is the fuel that enables the car to drive”.

Obviously, there is always an alternative viewpoint. Another concept encouraged by Econsultancy is that of agility, and the increasing need for organisational agility to enable innovation.  

It is a well-known conundrum that success leading to a company’s growth can also cause a loss in the agility that enabled the growth in the first place.

Having a generalist marketing cloud that “does everything”, can come at the detriment of agility, according to Ensighten’s Product Marketing Director, Karen Wood.

When speaking to her regarding website personalisation solutions, she said:

Companies who are incorporating personalisation solutions into their marketing cloud should evaluate whether that solution will strong-arm them into a closed suite of solutions, whereby companies will find it difficult to migrate to a new solution or test what may be a better fit for them down the road.

Karen summarises the challenge as:

The dilemma every marketer must face in choosing the best solutions for their business, which is choosing multiple technologies from a single vendor or being selective about best of breed across multiple vendors.

A dilemma indeed, as the pros and cons of small specialists battle it out against large marketing suites. The Adobes of the world would like you to believe that the ease of sharing data across an all-in-one platform can fulfil an entire company’s needs, whereas the specialists would argue that you should assemble a set of the best-in-breed solutions and get the best of all worlds.

I’d argue that the dilemma can be somewhat solved by knowing what you want and knowing the limits of your resources, both in terms of budget and skills, before you go shopping for any kind of marketing software.

One useful technique is the MoSCoW method, which helps set out what you Must, Should, Could, and Won’t have in a technology or provider.

Certainly there are benefits to having a technology where there are (arguably) none of the integration issues that come with having multiple solutions, and where data sharing is easy. These kind of solutions do come at a cost, so perhaps this is only a dilemma for the enterprise level companies who can afford to choose, who have the size of marketing activity and data that actually require the diverse suite of tools supplied by marketing suites or clouds.

Maybe the answer is the wait for the utopia where a suite of solutions exists in which each solution is also the best-in-breed. Although the current rate of acquisition of specialist companies is high, I think the person that waits might be waiting a long time…

Amy Rodgers

Published 6 October, 2014 by Amy Rodgers

Amy Rodgers is a Research Analyst at Econsultancy. You can find Amy on Google+

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Comments (2)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Here's a 2-part thought experiment for people.

(1) If you need the services of a greengrocer, a teacher, a doctor and a bus driver - would you rather deal with a 4 people each of them a specialist in their field, or a single generalist who does all 4 jobs?

(2) Suppose there is a database for each of these professions. Would it be a good thing to break down these silos, and have a single big database with 4x as many fields, so it can handle vegetables, school courses, diseases and vehicles, all mixed up together.

I hope it's obvious that specialists/silos have benefits.

almost 4 years ago

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Dave Harris, Job Title at SMD

Couldn't agree more, Pete. A "Do-it-all Pete" approach is good for general stuff, but more specialised approach requires granularity and segmentation - not in the marketing itself but also in technology that drives it.

almost 4 years ago

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