Marketing Ecosystem

Stacks, Ecosystems, and Customer Engagement: Where Are We Now?

Adam Biehler By Adam Biehler May 7, 2019

Data is essential to modern marketing. But too often, “data” gets used in the digital marketing space as a comfortable catch-all to convey complex information and procedures, with the tacit implication that everyone at the table understands how the word is being used. Many times, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Data” ends up meaning different things to different people across different teams, departments, and organizations.

Arguably, this expansive definition of data is what makes it such a popular concept. When people talk about data in the digital marketing world, they often think of it as THE cure-all for marketing ROI issues, unhappy customers, underwhelming product features, and other issues that contribute to poor overall performance. But while data IS extremely important, it isn’t a silver bullet that can fix everything ailing a company.

Achieving Data-Driven Customer Engagement Takes Planning… and the Right Stack

For data to benefit your company, there needs to be a shared understanding across the whole organization about the particulars of your data strategy: where data is being collected; how it’s being used and shared between teams; and, above all, a strict adherence to data quality standards. That’s when data goes from a fun buzzword to a major strategic asset.

Data makes effective customer engagement possible, but leveraging data without context is like trying to understand distance when you’ve got the number but no unit of measurement—it just doesn’t work. That’s why companies have come to place such a high level of importance on the technologies that make up their marketing technology stack, especially now that customers are able to interact with brands across devices and platforms.

Consumers have come to expect brands to be able to understand and speak to them without skipping a beat as they jump from device to device. Anything less than this kind of seamless experience just won’t cut it—and to make it happen, brands have to have access to timely, meaningful customer data.

To allow you to understand and capitalize on how customers interact with your messages and digital properties, you need a best-in-class marketing technology ecosystem. But before you can build one that fits your brand’s unique needs, you need to understand what’s possible today—and how we got here.

Customer Data Management: Where Are We, and How Did We Get Here?

When mobile exploded onto the scene more than a decade ago, it introduced an entirely new realm for customer engagement. Suddenly, customers could access apps and websites on the go, and receive messages wherever they went. That transformed the customer experience and added layers and layers of new data points that could be used to tailor messaging to customers more effectively and drive better outcomes. Excitement about mobile marketing waned slightly, however, when it became clear that they way brands had been hoping to collect and use all these new data types wasn’t quite as simple as they’d hoped.

The Difficulties of Doing Mobile with a Built-for-Web Stack

Back then, most companies viewed their mobile data strategy as an offshoot of their existing web-based data strategy. Unfortunately, while legacy marketing stacks built for web could be rigged to work with mobile devices, their architecture just wasn’t built with mobile in mind. To make sense of all this new information, marketers and engineers found themselves trying to put together pieces of the puzzle by hand and then manually pushing what they’d assembled to other systems. (Picture endless CSVs and a whole lot of time spent cross-referencing data sets in an effort to keep records up to date.)

As you’d imagine, things had a tendency to slip through the cracks. And while brands were playing catch up with their mobile data, their customers were receiving emails, push notifications, and other messages that didn’t make sense to them—and even seeing increased issues with responsiveness thanks to apps bloated with third-party code and jerry-rigged web systems.

The Single-Vendor Vision (and Its Downsides)

The big marketing clouds argued that it was the fact that brands were using many different tools for different functions within their apps. Their solution? Use a single, monolithic vendor (e.g. them) for everything.

In order to bring that vision to life—to try and cover every part of their clients’ stacks as quickly as possible—the major marketing clouds have been and are buying up existing vendors that specialize in different customer-related functions, effectively assembling an all-in-one vertical stack through acquisition. It’s a time-tested strategy that allowed these large clouds to add to their catalog of service much faster than they would have been able to if they’d developed all that functionality in-house. However, they quickly ran into the same issue as the companies they were trying to help: they couldn’t connect and coordinate data across their owned systems.

Because the different tools that the major marketing clouds had bought up had all been developed in isolation and then bundled together after the fact, many of them simply weren’t capable of passing information to each other in a timely, effective fashion. That left brands back at square one (minus a significant chunk of cash). But the frustration that came with being unable to do something as basic as connecting data from their different tools had an unexpected benefit: It inspired others to look for ways to create a truly functional system for collecting and using customer data across mobile, the web, and beyond.

From Masters of None to Masters of 1:1

That brings us up to the present day. Over the past five years, we’ve seen more changes in how we look at and act on customer data than in the previous 30. That may seem like a bold claim at first, but just think about the ads and messages you were receiving back at the beginning of the decade and compare that to the kinds of relevant, responsive, personalized customer experiences that are possible today—from location-based ads to push messaging that’s dyamically adjusted based on your engagement with a brand’s app or website.

So, what’s changed, and how?

Well, one big change is the evolution of company’s technology stacks. We’ve seen these data stacks become more complex, but also more efficient.

For many brands, customer engagement means leveraging a range of different technologies...and doing so in a thoughtful, coordinated manner

That means that instead of every vendor trying to do a little bit of everything, the solutions ecosystem has become highly specialized, giving brands more options for nearly every customer-related need. This focus on specialization—and a very healthy sense of competition—has led to technologies that are leaps and bounds better than their predecessors.

Different teams within a given organization have different needs, and the rise of more built-for-purpose marketing, engagement, and data management technologies have made it possible for brands to create unique technology ecosystems that are tailored to their teams’ unique needs and specific business goals. And because they’re not locked into a single provider, these companies have the flexibility to add or substitute tools that aren’t cutting it. These hybrid stacks—built with best-in-class components—have shown themselves to be ideal for supporting today’s more agile marketing and sales operations, while also paving the way for more personalized, more impactful customer experiences.

You may be asking yourself how adding more tools to the mix could possibly make it easier to connect and activate customer data—and that skepticism is understandable, given recent history. But while these tools are defined by their specialization, they also differ from older solutions in another key way: This new generation of marketing tools were created with data agility and connectivity in mind. In particular, solutions like Braze and mParticle, for example, were designed around the idea that customer data is only valuable if brands are given the ability to actually use it and learn from it.

A successful customer engagement ecosystem has to have the ability to manage data at every stage of the process, and to leverage feedback loops to support ongoing iteration

Using a customer data platform (CDP) like mParticle with a best-in-class stack allows brands to collect customer data from every relevant tool and every digital property or touchpoint associated with their customers and centralize it. This data is then cleaned up and transformed so that it can be seamlessly shared with a customer engagement platform like Braze. Using a CDP eliminates siloed data as an issue and minimizes the amount of time that has to be spent manually trying to process data and individually uploading it to the technologies associated with each of your engagement channels.

With access to a central data repository that’s accessible through a user-friendly interface, brands can make sure that everyone in their organization who needs access to the data they’re collecting can get access and do it without relying on backend technical work every time. Giving teams access to data allows companies to create a culture that’s genuinely driven by data. A shared understanding of what data means and where it’s coming from empowers everyone to use data to drive their thought processes and to provide context across departments, supporting smarter collaboration and better outcomes.

Embracing an integrated stack can also benefit your digital properties by improving integration timelines and performance across the stack. You can use a CDP as the connection layer between some or all of those technologies and the rest of your technology ecosystem, reducing dependencies without sacrificing the benefits of a best-in-class stack. And, of course, being able to connect data from every touch point from across the ecosystem with your customer engagement platform to create and deliver messages across mobile, email, web, and beyond, it what makes all of this worth it.

By conceiving of a marketing technology stack as an interconnected ecosystem, these new tools have made it possible for companies to not only make use of the data they’re collecting, but to go a step further and automate these processes so that engineers, marketers, and product managers alike can focus on bigger initiatives. It’s really only by using these kinds of tools in concert that companies are finally beginning to see their dreams of using mobile data to power better customer experiences finally come to fruition.

Beyond Best-in-Class: Building the Ecosystem that Fits Your Needs

Your company’s customer engagements needs are just like your customers—unique. And the reality is, different brands with different strategies and different business models are naturally going to need different technology ecosystems to fit their particular needs.

What technologies you need to leverage will depend on your industry and your unique business needs and goals—but here's some ideas to get you started

To ensure that you’re creating a stack that can effectively serve your brand’s purposes, you need to be clear about your organization’s needs—and the needs of your customers.

Think about the platforms that your customers use to engage with your brand. Think about whether your marketing strategy requires specialized tools like customer service platforms or recommendation engines. And once you have a comprehensive picture of the customer experience you’re looking to provide and the technologies that you need to make it possible, it’s time to investigate whether they’re built to support the kinds of seamless, timely data management that best-in-class customer experiences are built on.

Final Thoughts

Your brand’s marketing technology stack plays a major role in determining the long-term success of your engagement and retention efforts. Get it right and you can provide the kinds of relevant, personalized, data-driven experiences that customers crave—and keep them coming back for more. Get it wrong, and your brand may find itself serving up broken, frustrating experiences to its audience.

To make it easier for companies to make smart decisions about their customer engagement technology ecosystem, Braze has launched the Braze Alloys technical partner hub, which includes mParticle as a Featured Technology Partner. To learn more about how to use Braze and mParticle together to power meaningful, impactful customer experiences, visit Braze Alloys’ mParticle Technical Partner Page.

Adam Biehler

Adam Biehler

Adam Biehler is Head of Partnerships at mParticle where he leverages his passion for building business and solving problems through consultative sales and partnerships. Previously, Adam acted as Director of Global ISV Strategic Partnerships and Business Development for Mulesoft.

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