The art of building stacks: In-house vs. off-the-shelf martech

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

With regulation putting new stress on data processing relationships, how companies build their marketing stack has become more relevant than ever. Teavaro’s Nico Pizzolato scrutinises the options for marketers and how the implementation of marketing data science is becoming an art form.

In changing the conversation about data privacy, the GDPR has infused new life to the perennial dilemma about how firms should manage their marketing technology, whether by buying an off-the-shelf solution, perhaps an all-in-one marketing suite (such as Adobe or Oracle) or building a customised solution, affecting decisions about the kind of resources, teams and expertise they cultivate in-house.

What’s new in this conversation? Well, firstly, the sheer range of the martech offer. This can be captured at a glance by comparing Scott Binker’s Martech Supergraphic of 2012 with the current one. What once contained 350 companies now struggles to include over 7,000. This has been in part fuelled by the greater availability of cloud computing infrastructure and open-source software that has enabled software-as-a-service companies to scale in an agile way – our own Teavaro has grown within this context. With this complex landscape comes the need for both precision and expertise in designing a martech strategy and its implementation, which can be a challenge. Secondly, there is the correlated trend of an increasing share of the marketing budget earmarked for the adoption of technology, now nearly 30 per cent according to some estimates, a seven per cent increase from last year.

More fundamentally, there is a shift in the perceived importance of the way companies handle their own data, which leads to cogent arguments in favour of in-housing data-driven operations such as advertising and marketing. In-housing means data being controlled by the company, not third parties, the latter with its notorious risks of both exposing this most precious asset to competition and stumbling into privacy mishaps. In martech, there has been a persistent problem of suite marketing solutions not offering all the necessary tools to reach one’s campaign objective, which is only partially mitigated by the incessant expansion of the portfolio of the leading software players, as we are currently seeing in the CDP area.

Are control, privacy, transparency better served by in-house solutions? There are shortcomings on both sides of the argument. This is reflected in a recent poll that showed that the majority of marketers are concerned, for different reasons, by potential data security issues both when they buy third-party solution and create their in-house tools, with the trust in the in-house solution only slightly surpassing the one in external vendors.

Furthermore, resourcing a team that has the expertise to navigate among thousands of vendors to integrate the best of breeds (in addition to maybe building in-house technology) can be a risk. Time to market is another consideration when thinking of advertising and personalisation campaigns that are by their nature data-driven and thus time-sensitive. Solutions that are too long in the making might be obsolete by the time they are deployed. Plugging out of a single-provider solution might be tempting, but building one’s own stack, let alone in-house technology, is a veritable art. According to a 2018 report companies believe there is a significant gap between the set of skills of their marketing teams and the sophistication of data-driven marketing technology available, a skills gap that will only widen as the pool of resources dwindles under increased need for any and all data knowledge.

There are some obvious benefits to the control retained by building in-house, but relying entirely on the understanding, nay prophesying, of a small internal team can lead to difficult consequences when the inevitable incorrect decisions and oversights begin to mount up. In marketing, where competitive edge can make all the difference, going your own way, even with caveats, is a risky strategy. However, as we have seen time and again, your company data is your problem, a motto now enshrined in law by GDPR. Can you really entrust such an important aspect of your business to even the most reputable of providers, particularly wholesale? Surely the same problems exist for large suite-based data companies – resourcing, expertise, the inevitable issues of growing your offering to include the latest shining concept – that can dog the in-house route also, merely moved to another payroll?

An emerging solution is to work with a third-party integrator that brings together a seamless architecture that is tailored to business requirements, without compromising the level of control and transparency that companies now expect to have on their data. Teavaro is one such provider – somewhat ‘niche’ when compared to the larger companies dominating industry headlines with pronouncements about acquisitions and entry into new markets, we have focussed on providing the expertise to our clients not only in delivering our own solutions, but providing an agile and efficient basis to connect to other best-of-breed solutions and amplify their offerings so that the resulting stack works together, ensuring data strategies flow through in-house and legacy solutions as well as the many martech offerings like notes of a symphony. Flexibility allows any ‘bumnotes’ to be replaced without interrupting that flow.

Drawing on external expertise reduces the frustration of internal teams in managing custom-made stacks, which eventually leads back to resorting to constraining off-the-shelf solutions. An added benefit is that, while increasing control and reducing costs and speed to market, a third-party integrator makes decisions with the in-house data and marketing teams that also increase the latter skills, expertise and martech knowledge. While the choice between out-of-the box and home-grown solutions will always be led by business objectives, a middle-of-the-road approach is to rely on providers that enable digital transformation by connecting the dots between supply- and demand-side partners.