The following is a guest opinion piece by Josh Dreller, VP of product marketing at 4C. Note that 4C could be characterized as a provider of “point solutions” themselves, so this opinion is aligned with their business. But as I aruged in defense of marketing technology point solutions a few years ago, consider the inverse justification too: executives align their businesses with their opinions of where the market is going.
Most marketing technology platforms fall into one of two categories:
- Point solutions specialize in solving a deep, defined subset of challenges.
- Hubs offer multiple tools in a single interface and focus on solving the “tool overload” challenge facing many marketing organizations.
Which one is right for you? Of course it depends on your unique situation but, from first-hand knowledge running technology for a digital media agency, evaluating and implementing dozens of platforms for various clients, I can tell you that hubs almost never live up to the hype.
Just look at your standard multi-tool from a hardware store. The knife is never better than a knife you can buy separately. The scissors are always small and don’t work well. Yes, you get it all in one small package, and it’s great for little tasks. But if you want to build something amazing, you’ll never be able to do it with a multi-tool.
Can you imagine a contractor passing out multi-tools to the team that’s about to build a house?
It’s too bad. The marketing hub is a great idea. Save money, cut down on time, integrated technology — all great things on paper. But it hardly ever works out that way.
In almost every instance (that I’ve either been a part of or have heard anecdotally from others), the biggest complaint you’ll hear from the marketing team after a hub purchase is that they love the core tool, but hate the rest of the stack.
Recently, a large CPG brand tested an all-in-one hub for its social marketing, but quickly retrenched back to a core point-solution strategy for its technology stack citing these key reasons:
- The vendor couldn’t keep up with innovation because they were spread across too many products and publishers.
- The customer service team was more generalists at a top-level across the expansive platform than specialists who could provide real, tactical guidance.
- All of the time saved by combining multiple channels into a single hub was then lost when the execution team experienced bugs and other issues because of the poor technology infrastructure.
Why do we often see this with hub technologies? When a company technology splits its time across a wide product set, it splits its focus. It goes from solving deep challenges to being a “mile wide and an inch deep.” Software is hard. Innovation is tough. Just getting it right can take all of a vendor’s time and resources. Now that the development team has been split from solving one challenge and are asked to solve multiple, the results will correlate.
Even worse, the issues that come with putting all of your eggs in the hub basket are exacerbated over time. Maybe in Year 1, the functionality you lose with point solutions is evened out by the hub benefits, but by Years 2 and 3, there’s no way that the individual parts of the hub can stay competitive with the innovations brought forth by the entire rest of the field.
Eventually, you’re working with sub-par tools when there are best-in-class technologies available.
In the Forrester Research brief Buy Social Point Solutions, Not Social Suites, analyst Nate Elliot begins by definitively stating: “More than two-thirds of avid social marketers believe it’s more effective for them to buy all their social tools from a single vendor than to buy social point solutions from several different vendors — but they couldn’t be more wrong.”
In the report, Nate lists multiple reasons why this is the case, but one of the strongest pieces of evidence of his expert opinion shows that just 64% of marketers who use “social suites” (hubs) feel their platforms’ features and functionality live up to what was promised. However, 92% of marketers say their point solutions do.
This same line of thinking applies beyond the social media space to other categories of marketing technology. There are certainly good hubs out there — Gartner recently did an exhaustive review of this category — but generally, I favor the ones who have built multiple tools organically over time and then bring them together into a single platform. This way, each product has had full lifecycles and development focus to mature.
If you’re thinking about bringing in a hub to replace your point solutions, make sure that it’s going to do more than just replace a few point solutions. Evaluate these technologies closely and get your practitioners involved in the decision making. You can never ask too many questions.
For my money, technology is too important for successful marketing today — and too disruptive if you gamble on a poorly evaluated choice. You could end up burning many man-months as you pivot back to your point solutions after a failed attempt at switching to a hub.
So before you start cutting tools, make sure the knife in your multi-tool is sharp enough for the job.
Thanks, Josh. Readers: do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Counterpoint opinion pieces are also solicited.