Richard Mullins, Director at Acceleration, looks at how companies can make sure online marketing technology integration projects deliver on their promise.
The benefits of integrating online marketing systems seem obvious: better insight into prospect and customer data, more granular segmentation and improved targeting, along with more meaningful measurement and better results.
Integration of online marketing systems also helps put the user back in control of the process, so that campaigns can be quickly and easily adjusted in line with business goals. And for many marketers, the promise of being able to automate and run marketing programs across various communication channels is a compelling one.
Perhaps the most important promise of integration is unleashing the true power of the many technology tools marketers have at their disposal: sophisticated email, ad serving, web analytics and search marketing platforms. These systems are technically sound, yet often fail to live up to expectations because users have often not been trained to use them to full effect together with their other business systems and processes.
However, integrating marketing technology systems creates a whole new set of challenges that marketers need to be aware of if they're to avoid disappointment.
The first of these is data overload. Marketers can be overwhelmed by the volume of information available. They may struggle with inconsistent reporting data that brings into question the usefulness of the new system. For example, data from a legacy system might provide the basis for management reports, while the new system provides data that cannot be correlated with the management reports. Which set of data is accurate? Which set can be trusted?
Managing these disparate systems is a key challenge: ways need to be found to understand the delta between the data coming from legacy systems and that of the new technology.
Equally challenging is driving internal adoption of the new system. The effect of people's natural resistance to change cannot be underestimated, especially with the teething problems usually associated with a new system.
The new tool can also come into disrepute if users aren't trained properly and taken through a change management process. Without buy-in from the top or an internal champion to drive the implementation, the system will fail to gain traction.
Once the process of integration is complete, user-level issues such as data management, technical support and training will start to come to the fore.
Post-implementation service is often remote and impersonal. A typical response from many vendors is to cross-sell or up-sell additional software and other components, rather than deal with user issues.
So, what can marketers do to close the gap between technology promises and perceived value they derive from their systems? The first step is to identify where workflow processes can be automated and optimised. This will help to improve operational efficiency and to expedite campaign launches.
Next, the level of skill required to use the tool needs to be determined. Training is vital: it should not be viewed as a grudge purchase or an intrusion on time, but as an investment in knowledge and the pursuit of better results.
Also, sufficient time should be set aside for testing to make sure the system works properly. This stage is instrumental in managing expectations and facilitating internal adoption.
Importantly, reporting requirements and associated metrics should be defined up front, and the reporting process automated. This will enable reports to be customised and limit data overload. It will also make the decision-making process a little easier.
It is advisable to have a knowledgeable partner that one can turn to for best practice advice when there's a bump in the road. This partner needs to be able to solve your problem and implement a custom solution, rather than simply sell another piece of off-the-shelf-technology. This is the domain of an expert.