Welcome to prediction season, again! It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know you’re going to be inundated over the next 30 days with people prophesying your future — at least your future in marketing for the year ahead.
Personally, I subscribe to Yogi Berra’s worldview, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” (Variations of which are sometimes attributed to Niels Bohr.) Most of the so-called predictions we’ll hear in the month ahead fall into one of three categories:
- Trends that are already underway (“mobile usage will increase!”).
- Hopes of the predicting author (“my product category will dominate the world!”).
- Vague claims that are hard to disprove (“there will be a backlash against big data!”).
I don’t want to be The Grinch Who Stole Christmastime Content, but to me, a real prediction is like a SMART goal: it’s specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
For example, here’s a prediction that I’ll make:
Microsoft will make one or more major acquisitions in the marketing technology space in 2015, spending more than $1 billion in M&A to make a bid as a major marketing platform provider.
Now, I don’t claim this is an especially brilliant prediction. Microsoft is conspicuously one of the last major enterprise software vendors that has yet to make a significant move on the marketing technology landscape. Dynamics CRM is a good piece of the puzzle, but it’s just one piece.
They may acquire a “traditional” marketing platform — such as Marketo, HubSpot, SAS, Sitecore, Acquia, or possibly even HP’s Autonomy. But I think it’s just as likely that they’ll take a different tack with a move for marketing middleware (DMPs, customer data platforms, tag management) or a web service further downstream in the digital marketing channel, such as LinkedIn or possibly Yahoo.
At the end of 2015, I’ll either have been right or wrong. That’s a prediction. (However, it is not investment advice. I don’t actually know what Microsoft will do — this is just my educated guess — and whatever they do may help or hurt their valuation. I also own a small number of MSFT shares that I bought in the 1990’s, so my fixation on them may be subconsciously motivated by that.)
7 Strongly-Held Beliefs about Marketing Technology in 2015
However, while I’m wary of overemphasizing “predictions,” I do agree that the end of the year is a good time to step back, reflect on the year that’s been, and contemplate the year ahead. Trends, hopes, and even vague-but-meaningful claims all have a part to play in that meditation.
So here are 7 not-quite-predictions that I believe about marketing technology in 2015:
#1. Marketing technologists will multiply. Whatever label you want to put on them, the number of technical professionals working in the service of marketing is clearly on the rise. I’m hearing the term “marketing technologist” used more frequently, and I expect that it will gain more traction in the year ahead. Where will these previously nonexistent marketing technologists come from? Many will migrate from IT, where a subset of those professionals are eager to apply their technical talents in the pursuit of more exciting, customer-facing innovations that are recognized as driving revenue, not merely containing expense.
#2. The marketing technology landscape will grow, not shrink. Yes, there will continue to be big deals that feed the counter-narrative of consolidation. For instance, if Microsoft does fulfill my prediction, that will be a consolidation. However, the number of new entrants will continue to outpace the number of exits (happy or otherwise). As Neeraj Agrawal of Battery Ventures said in his Q&A with me, we’re just in the 4th inning of the game. There’s money. There’s opportunity. And it’s never been easier to create software in the cloud.
I can make a promise — stronger than a prediction — that the 2015 version of my marketing technology landscape will have more companies represented than 2014. And yet it still will be woefully incomplete.
UPDATE: This promise has been fulfilled. The 2015 edition of my marketing technology landscape has been released, now charting 1,876 companies and open sources projects — nearly double from 2014.
The next three factors, however, will make this incrementally more manageable.
#3. The ISV ecosystems around major platforms will flourish. 2014 was a remarkable year for the public support that many of the major enterprise marketing cloud providers — Adobe, IBM, Marketo, Oracle, Salesforce.com — gave to their ISV communities. Marketo recently celebrated over 400 third-parties officially in their LaunchPoint ecosystem. The message: one company can’t do it all. I believe these platform strategies will accelerate in the year ahead, and they will make it easier to find and integrate the right capabilities from a very large field of more specialized vendors. I expect that we’ll also see some impressive innovations in the depth of these plug-and-play integrations — they’ll fit into a platform’s user interface and data services features much more seamlessly.
#4. The adoption of “marketing middleware” will increase. Tag management systems, data management platforms (DMPs), customer data platforms (CDPs), cloud app connectors, enterprise service buses (ESBs), etc., have all had a terrific year and are poised for more growth in 2015. These software solutions provide a layer of marketing data management that spans many different systems. When implemented well, they make heterogeneous marketing stacks more manageable — which also enables brands to avoid being cornered by a single vendor. Greater IT talent applied to marketing technology management will help proliferate these more advanced and adaptable architectures.
#5. The line between software vendors and service providers will blur. Everyone in the marketing technology field should read Software vs. Services: Is There Really A Difference by Martin Kihn of Gartner. This is so spot-on. And with Publicis’s pending acquisition of SapientNitro, the stakes for the major agency holding companies to embrace this blurring have ratcheted up considerably.
Having reflected on marketing-as-a-service (MaaS) since my debate (in the comments) about it with Gerry Murray from IDC last month, I think he’s right: it’s going to be a major channel for marketing software. But not just for the big marketing clouds. This will be a tremendous channel for innovative and niche marketing applications — including specialized software programs, everything from custom algorithms to cross-system “glue,” that will be developed by those service providers themselves to create non-commoditized competitive advantages.
Those last three — ISV ecosystems, middleware, as software/service convergence — all help make a rich and diverse landscape of marketing software more accessible to marketers who don’t want to get bogged down in a bunch of complex integrations themselves. Effectively, they can now offload that technical effort to vendors, middleware architectures, and service providers. It begins to turn the vast scale of the landscape from a bug into a feature.
#6. Several big companies will become new entrants in the marketing tech space. Dell’s entrance is the most recent example. I’ve already made my prediction for Microsoft. Other classic tech giants that I would keep an eye on include Cisco, Citrix, Intel, Intuit, and Xerox. I also believe that Amazon, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter will significantly expand their software offerings to marketers — LinkedIn’s acquisition of Bizo is Exhibit A — which will start to impact the competitive dynamics with marketing clouds from the “traditional” enterprise software companies.
#7. All of marketing technology will be hot — but some categories will be really hot. 2014 was the year of content marketing and predictive analytics, which will remain big. Next year, I think we’ll see five other categories gain traction. Four of them — sales enablement, post-sale customer marketing, marketing finance, and marketing talent management — are all about hybridization between marketing and other departments: sales, customer service, finance, and HR, respectively. The fifth will be innovations related to the Internet of Things (IoT). Yes, I can’t but help cringe a bit when I say that, as I know there’s a lot of hype around IoT. But the reality is that with ubiquitous connectivity and device proliferation, the field of hybridized online/offline experiences is almost — almost — ready to blossom.
Actually, I believe there’s also a sixth category that will be on fire in 2015 — interactive content. I feel a little sheepish saying that because, well, my company, ion interactive, offers interactive content marketing software (you can read the story of our pivot here). So you could certainly argue this is my “hope” more than a prediction. But, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, it’s evident that content marketing is becoming a victim of its own success: the noise of passive content (the world-wide web of white papers and webinars!) is deafening, steadily reducing its efficacy in engaging and educating prospects. Interactive content changes the rules of that game, by letting marketers produce more permanent customer experiences instead of just more transient customer communications. And it’s not just me. I’ve been seeing a lot of new competitors emerge in the category. There’s going to be some really interesting innovations around interactive content in 2015. In keeping with the hybrid theme of the other five categories, think of this as the hybridization of communications and experiences.
But, yes, I’m pretty biased on that last one.
One last thing: if you’re interested in marketing technology in 2015, I hope you’ll plan to join us for the next MarTech Conference in San Francisco, March 31 – April 1. It’s going to be two intense days of diving into the details of how innovative companies are harnessing all these amazing dynamics to their advantage. We’d love to have you join us.
What do you believe will be important to marketing in 2015?