Stack Vs. Cloud: What Marketers Need to Know

Learn the key differences between all-in-one marketing clouds and best-in-class stacks

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There aren’t a lot of Don Draper types left in the world of digital marketing. Creativity is just as important as ever, but that era of romantic and dreamy ideation born from intuition and ego alone is over.Today, effective marketing decisions are powered by nuanced user data, making it possible for brand to provide customer experiences that are more responsive and relevant than ever before. But to get those outcomes, brands have to have the ability to collect, understand, manage, and act on that data—and that takes technology.

Marketing decisions are based more and more on the tech we use, and effective marketing today depends on the right tool or tools to support your engagement efforts. And while there are a lot of possible technologies and solutions out there that can help, there’s one big decision that you have to make before you start using them: stack or cloud?

What’s the difference between marketing clouds and marketing stacks?

At the core, marketing stacks and marketing clouds are two different approaches to providing comprehensive tools that brands can use to support better relationships with their audiences.

First, let’s take a look at marketing clouds. Clickz.com explains marketing clouds simply, noting that they tend to be “made up of a suite of cloud-based marketing tools covering analytics, targeting, social media management, audience management, customer experience and more. It can be used to track and measure customer data, keep tabs on individual users and automate time-consuming tasks.”

While marketing clouds tend to provide an all-in-one approach to marketing technologies, creating a sort of marketing tech bundle assembled by a single outside vendor, marketing stacks are a little different. Because marketing stacks are overseen and assembled by the companies using them, you have the ability to mix and match your favorite platforms and solutions from a variety of different vendors.

That’s the key in a nutsell: convenience versus flexibility.

Should I use cloud’s one-stop-shop approach? Or go for stack’s pick-’em choose-’em?

No reason to beat around the bush here: innovators tends to favor stacks over clouds. The most forward-thinking brands out there are moving away from cloud solutions and toward best-in-class stacks, and the reasons why are clear.

Think of it like tools in a workshop, or art supplies in an artist’s studio. You can go to a big box store and buy a prefab kit—replete with someone else’s idea about what you might want—but if you’re anything more than a dilettante, you’ll immediately realize the kit is missing critical items, that maybe the quality isn’t what you’re after, and that perhaps the convenience and cost of the purchase wasn’t worth the work you’ll have to do to make up for it after the fact.

Creating a great marketing tech stack requires more up-front work than a marketing cloud. It takes more research, for sure. In the end, though, you can be sure you’ll have the supplies you need to stay ahead of the curve… and then the next curve, and the next one, too. Customer behaviors change, platform and outreach channels change, trends emerge. With stack, you can keep up with all of it, and won’t be stuck with a subpar tool just because it came bundled with the other stuff.

One tool to make the stack process easier is Braze Currents, a high-volume data export interface that lets you connect Braze’s products with other software solutions seamlessly. Currents supports direct connections among all the most important layers of the modern marketing tech stack, and helps them play nicely with one another. That makes it possible to automatically stream customer engagement data to an analytics platforms to support large-scale analysis of data and identify hidden magic moments in your product experience, or to transfer information to a data management platform that, in turn, integrates with key tools like product recommendation engines, DSPs, data enrichment solutions, and more.

How to assemble a best-in-class stack

Just because you already use a handful of independent systems to create and serve up a digital experience, and to impact each customer journey, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve curated your stack well. To create a best-in-class stack, you’ll want to consider things like the flow of data between each solution, how well they communicate, and ease of accessibility of information.

Every team’s marketing needs are different, and a stack solution is customizable, which is great! That said, most brands will have three baseline needs for a best in class stack: a lifecycle engagement platform, an analytics platform, and a data management platforms. Lifecycle engagement solutions will tend focus on things like customer segmentation, real-time behaviors, cross-channel marketing campaigns, and various types of message and campaign testing. Analytics systems make it easier for your team to analyze large volumes of customer data; and data management platforms make it possible to seamlessly collect and distribute customer data to other systems and tools, supporting a holistic understanding of each customer and a coordinated approach to customer engagement.

Not all stacks are equal—yours is as useful and efficient as you make it. Take the time to think through the entirety of the brand experience you’re looking to provide to your customers, then choose solutions that (a) can provide key elements of that experience and (b) can communication effectively with each other. Your customers will thank you.

Isn’t a cloud solution just easier?

In theory, yes—what’s not to like about having all the tools you need in one place?

But because marketing clouds tend to grow by buying up other companies that offer tools that their suite lacks, rather than building them internally, coordination between different tools is often a problem. In fact, it’s pretty common for two solutions within a single marketing cloud to be less integrated and have as much or more difficulty effectively sharing data in real-time as two different layers of a stack, even though those stack layers are overseen by different vendors. That means that all too often the dream of an all-in-one marketing solution doesn’t live up to the hype.

Choosing a stack is a commitment to choosing innovatio

The digital world is only becoming more complex with time. We are at a point now where brands across verticals are having a hard time keeping up with the growing demands our data driven digital world. No matter how savvy a single vendor is, if they’re trying to be all things to all brands, marketing-wise, the odds are that their solution is going to fall short. It’s like gas station sushi, or ordering pizza off the Chinese restaurant menu. Each meal is tastier when it’s made by someone devoted to the craft of that particular cuisine.

Looking to get started? Check out our 9 Keys for Building a Killer Marketing Tech Stack and get ready to take your digital marketing strategy to the next level.

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