Yes, there are a lot of buzzwords in our industry. (Joe Lazauskas over at Contently has a running, funning series that collects them.) “Open marketing ecosystem” may not be one of them.
There is a core concept – interoperability – that lies at the heart of what makes our real and virtual infrastructure work. Beginning with the mud hut, humanity eventually developed relatively consistent standards of measurement. Examples:
- We all agree on the standards of what a foot and an inch and a meter are. That’s how architects and ironmongers and carpenters and engineers can build cathedrals and bridges and your local Subway … and how they can design computers and software.
- Railroads (in the US) agree on the standards of how wide commercial tracks will be. This means anyone can build an innovative new boxcar to fit the open-standard track, and anyone can run that boxcar full of feathers or concrete on any of those tracks.
- You get email (reliably, most of the time) because Internet pioneers agreed on a set of basic standards (SMTP, RFC 5322, MIME, POP3, IMAP4, et alia). These are the inches, the feet, the track specifications, for email. It is an open platform, and anyone can play.
“Open” and “closed” are concepts that apply to both hardware and software, and to real-word objects. Proprietary, closed systems have been used as a marketing advantage. For one example, for the longest time phone chargers in the US were all proprietary. You could not plug my Moto X charger into your Samsung device, or vice versa. This was the manufacturer’s way of selling more cables, and it worked really well – for the manufacturer. It was a royal pain for consumers. The situation is improving; many smartphones can now use the same micro USB cables, but it’s still a problem with lots of devices, at least in the US. (The EU is moving towards charger standardization.)
What’s an open platform?
Without getting too technical, an “open system” in the strictest sense is an operating system that’s based on open source code, e.g., Linux. An “open platform” may or may not be based on open source code, but it allows approved third parties to participate in its platform, e.g., WordPress.
The VISA network is an example of a proprietary network that chose to function like an open platform: VISA standardized data transactions that made it possible for customers of almost any bank to enjoy the convenience of paying with a card at almost any vendor, large or small, almost anyplace in the world. That’s a very good customer experience, made possible by an open platform that allowed all those vendors to connect. (And note that VISA has invested in Square, giving support to yet another open vendor network.)
Closed systems inhibit innovation
Closed systems often are not user-friendly, and in this customer-centric world, that’s a problem. One interesting theory is that closed systems are necessary to start a market but they will usually be overtaken by open systems.
Another big problem with closed systems: they don’t encourage innovation.
Take Apple as an example: the iPhone began as a closed system (and its hardware still is). When it finally allowed third-party app developers in, the newly open software spurred a whole lot of creative people to develop some amazing apps, and that in turn aided adoption of the iPhone. The Android system has gone even further, opening its hardware as well as software.
As Gil Canales of SiriusDecisions notes:
“By any objective measure … Apple [is] a hugely successful smartphone company. In 2014, they shipped something like 190 million phones. … [but] when you put this into context, they are producing less than a quarter of what’s shipped [by] Android. … One of the big differences between iOS and Android is that Android is an open ecosystem the whole way through, not just in the software, but also in the hardware. So on the Android side you have some of the largest electronics companies in the world like Samsung and LG participating, but you also get these small tiny manufacturers in Shenzhen and these little boutique hardware companies that are starting up on Kickstarter. They’re all participants and active users and active stakeholders in the Android ecosystem. As a result you see enormous uptake and adoption worldwide for this platform.”
Why an open platform matters to marketers
Let’s begin by talking about what life is like in a closed system. Imagine that you have an all-in-one marketing solution. Your customer relationship management (CRM), your marketing automation, your social tracking, reporting, analytics, and so on, are all in one system. Typically these come from a larger company that has acquired smaller companies with dedicated specialties.
Those smaller companies (now divisions or departments) no longer have the mandate to innovate. No longer independent, they now function as part of a team that has other, larger goals in mind. Your all-in-one system may grow stale, and then dated, piece by piece.
And most all-in-ones don’t play well with others. If you want some fabulous new emerging functionality, you’ll either have to buy and manage it separately, or wait for the Big Company to decide to incorporate it (or knock it off). The first option costs time and trouble; the second could be a loooong time coming.
How is an open marketing platform different?
Your open marketing platform typically starts with an open platform that has a constellation of tried-and-true, well-designed, well-integrated basics such as email marketing, website visitor tracking, a database, some kind of reporting, and so on. Then you integrate what you need and want beyond that, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) system or a business intelligence (BI) system.
There are two giant advantages of an open system:
- You get to pick exactly what you want. What type of technology, which brand. Which means you essentially craft your own customized marketing stack, to suit your own unique purposes. You create your own open marketing ecosystem.
- Your stack is future-proofed. Want to get your hands on a brand new tool? Go for it. Want to replace your version 5.0 with 5.5? Just do it.
Act-On’s CMO, Atri Chatterjee, summed it up in a conversation with The Hub:
“Marketers will require their marketing automation platforms to be open systems that empower them to customize their solution with other third-party cloud services to enhance its overall use. Doing so will allow marketers to differentiate their digital marketing experiences and be able to augment campaigns using data from other systems such as ERP [enterprise resource planning], HR [human resources], CRM and others. Think of marketing automation as a train’s locomotive and the cab cars as the eco-system of apps.”
Need one more reason to consider an open platform?
Think about this: Forward-acting marketers are well-aligned with their sales departments. Forward-thinking marketers are adding their customer success teams to the alignment mix, so that all customer-facing teams are working from the same playbook, with the same messaging, underlain by shared customer intelligence.
Marketing tends to write and manage this playbook, as (unlike sales or customer success) marketing has some degree of presence in every stage of the customer lifecycle. This means the technologies that support each team must be aligned also, so your marketing automation platform must be interoperable with the ERP, HR, and CRM systems that Atri mentioned above, along with whatever existing or soon-to-be-invented tools you will need.
So, it’s an open-and-shut case: only an open system will provide the flexibility and interoperability you need today – and will need even more tomorrow.
And because it can be daunting sorting through the diverse ecosystem of technology vendors available, we’ve developed our guide – Marketing Tech 101, which will help you make better decisions about where and how to plan your technology investments to prepare for the open marketing ecosystem.
* * *
Is this type of information your cup of tea? Then you might enjoy reading these:
- Harvard Business Review: How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies
- Chief Marketer: Redesigning Business to Optimize the Customer Experience
- FierceCMO: Act-On Software unites marketing automation, BI with its Data Studio
- Kindle book by Pete O’Dell: Silver Bullets: How Interoperable Data will Revolutionize Information Sharing (Full disclosure: I edited the first edition of Pete’s book)