Frady: ESP Marketing Stacks - Dead, Dying or Vibrant?

bob frady

One of the interesting developments in Martech has been the emergence of the ESP-centric marketing stack. Companies start off as email service providers then – because they have PII – start to say things like “wouldn’t it be great if we got customers to put ALL of their touchpoint efforts under one roof…let’s start gobbling up companies!” Companies then spend a lot of effort developing PowerPoints and videos that show a multi-touch, multi-channel customer marketing effort with customers so happy that it’s a no-brainer to buy into the vision.

Here’s the first problem with this vision.

ESP “Marketing Stacks” really seem to suck at managing data. Data expands and the ESP stacks choke on the volume. So your vision of multi-touch thrilling of the customer never gets off the ground because of “data issues.”

Marketing stacks I’ve worked with in the past sometimes even fail to get the basics right – count your data in one place and it’s different than if you count it on your database. Two different answers for the same data segmentation does not inspire confidence that your ESP’s “Valhalla Vision” may not deliver on its promise.

Here’s a second problem with that vision.

Marketing departments are often siloed – the email department, the SMS group and the web team are all (probably) under different department heads who may or may not be working together. They might not ever like each other. Each department wants to use what they want to use, regardless of the brand.

Even getting a company to exist on the same email platform can be problematic. I worked at one company where the marketing team wanted to use one ESP and the sales team wanted to use another – and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I consulted with another company that wanted a “power tool” for their email marketers and MailChimp for the field users. Still a 3rd company used one flavor/brand of an ESPs product in one country, another in another country – and none of the data talked to each other.

Here’s the third problem.

After your products, your people and your brand, your DATA is your most valuable asset. The tools that you use to access and manipulate that data should not be holding your data hostage – which is far too often the case. One of the fears (and it’s a well-founded fear) is that if you change platforms, you lose the underlying data. It’s almost nonsensical to think that one of your most valuable assets is locked into a proprietary system that few people can access.

Enter the CDP.

Customer Data Platforms exist to serve one function – to tie all of your data together, regardless of the source, into a single, unified platform of customer data. The CDP centralizes the data, then pushes it to the appropriate marketing platform. The CDP doesn’t have a vested interest in which tool you’re using – the gathering of the data is their primary purpose. The CDP can even take the decisioning/audience creation out of the hands of the ESP by moving the logic for audience creation to the CDP – turning the ESP into, essentially, a slave of the CDP. The very best CDPs have pre-built integrations with any number of platforms, so the data can be pushed simply into whatever system you want.

Most ESPs are not CDPs. Many ESPs can barely manage their existing data infrastructure – never mind ingesting huge quantiles of non-critical data. Some ESPs will talk about their “CDP-like capabilities,” only to discover they’re still “putting the finishing touches” on that capability.

Smart organizations that feel they are choking on data would be wise to look into a CDP, if only to free themselves from the tyranny of the ESP marketing stack (“data extensions”, anyone?) Most of these ESP Marketing stacks were founded when proprietary data configurations were the only way to effectively manage large quantities of data. However, technology has rapidly advanced to the point where these custom, proprietary data architectures simply are no longer necessary. If you’re trying to harness AI, the data from other channels is critical in filling in the pieces of a customer profile.

Using a CDP won’t mean that you’re going to change your marketing tool providers. It will, however, make sure that you have the ability to select the right tool for your specific needs – or at least adapt to the tools that each marketing department chooses to use, regardless of brand.

So – in answer to the question – are ESP Marketing stack dead, dying or vibrant…it depends on who you ask. In my eyes, using a tool (the CDP) that allows the marketer to use ANY number of tools while simultaneously keeping ahold of and integrating your most valuable asset (the data) is a no-brainer. Plus, you move all of your data organization efforts back where it belongs – to the IT groups who can help secure and manage that data.

The people who think proprietary marketing stacks are vibrant? Usually, it’s the people selling those stacks.

CDPs may not be for you. But if you want to tie together multiple data feeds, a CDP should be on your shopping list.

Title: ESP Marketing Stacks - Dead, Dying or Vibrant?
About: Customer Data Platforms
Audience: Email Marketers
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