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The Myth of the Single Stack

The scene is set: Las Vegas early January 2024, the Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing. Two senior executives, both from New York, but who only manage to see each other at various places on the circuit (CES, Shop.org, Cannes, the ANA Masters, etc) are catching up over coffee.


“We’re primarily a Salesforce shop,” said one of the two executives.


“Ah, we’re almost all Adobe,” said the other.


“Lucky you,” says the first in response. “I bet that gives you a fantastic leg-up on managing your content. You probably have Adobe writing a case study for you on the ‘Content Supply Chain’, and asking you to speak at their summit?”


“Pretty close, yes,” answers the second. “But my counterpart in the sales org isn’t happy because my team hasn’t integrated content into her team’s sales plays at all. She is trying to build out some account-based marketing programs to her prospects, and wants automated, integrated content that her people can personalize and push to prospects across multiple channels. When I mention that its account-based MARKETING, she points out that she owns identified, contactable prospects – who are already considered to be ‘in-funnel’, so even though it’s called marketing, it’s really sales. Thus, she owns it. So now she’s trying to build ‘sales engagement content’ into her stack, totally separate from the capabilities we’ve built.”


“Ugh, I get you. We say we’re ‘primarily’ a Salesforce shop, and we are. We’ve got Sales, Service, Marketing, and we’re piloting Data Cloud this year for identity. But we made a push into eCommerce, and someone else decided we needed to use SAP Hybris for that, because of some of our backend and ERP systems. So now we’re trying to figure out where product content lives, how it gets managed and maintained, and how we connect the shopping behavior of known customers to any offer or promotion journeys we want to trigger in email, messaging, and on-site. All that logic, content, and profiling lives in Salesforce. It’s a nightmare to figure out all these integrations.”


“Sounds like we’re both having fun,” says the second exec, laughing.


“I’m headed to a session on ‘How to Build an Automated AI-based Influencer-Marketing Program for Internet-Direct Sellers’. You?”


“Didn’t we used to call that spam? I’m off to a session called ‘Is it My Data, Your Data, Our Data or Their Data?’. I’m already confused. Compare notes later over a cocktail?”


“Sounds good.”





While that exchange is imaginary, the situations these executives find themselves in is anything but. My business partner Alan often says that ‘no one starts with a blank sheet of paper.’ He’s right – step into a senior role at any company, and you’ll immediately discover five projects already in progress, the license for some major technology that’s your responsibility due for renewal 30 days ago, and customer data living in a bunch of different places in the org, owned by several different people, while you were told ‘you own the top and middle of the funnel’ in your new role. No clean sheet of paper is right.


After over 30 years in advertising and marketing technology, one of the more important realities I’ve faced, and a phrase that a mentor of mine would regularly say is: “everyone is on a journey.” Meaning that while businesses might hit goals or milestones, they never stop. They are always seeking to improve, enhance, optimize, grow, innovate, and adapt. One day you’re a manufacturer, the next you’re an ecommerce direct-to-consumer business. Out of nowhere, you realize your entire customer base is on Instagram and TikTok, not Facebook. Over the last decade your company has built multiple internal applications to capture, store, and analyze customer data, and now the CEO just hired a Chief Data Officer to come in and get it all integrated into a single source of truth on yet another new platform. These are the realities we deal with every day.


And if we pause for a moment and look back over the last 10+ years, I think we can see something profound: there isn’t a single “stack” in our organization. There is no grand unified theory of technology that solves for advertising, marketing, sales, and service in one handy-dandy fully pre-integrated platform. You have to look no further than today at Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2023 event, where they announced their Data Cloud will work seamlessly with both DataBrick’s and Snowflake’s data lakehouse platforms. They know that enterprises are using other platforms to scale data, while Salesforce’s data cloud product brings a single near real-time customer identifier to a wide range of customer experience activations. Of course, that will “go live at a later stage.”


Think about it, whomever oversees advertising and the brand’s media spend – likely owns an ad-tech stack with targeting, media trafficking, creative automation, and media analytics functionality all pieced together – possibly by an outside agency. Then there’s a team that owns the website and associated content. A VP of eCommerce might own the “store”, along with all product content sitting in a Product Information Management (PIM) system like Inriver. Yet another person might own customer satisfaction and success, and controls customer support at the call center, the inbound email service requests, and now service-oriented DMs in social media channels. Every one of these areas of customer experience has its own stack. That’s the silo-ization of customer experience technologies.


Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Where does this journey lead? The short answer is "yes" there is. As we look at the last few years and ahead over the next five or so, we see a push toward unification of these various stacks and technologies. And we’ve begun to see some common areas of focus that form a recipe for success. What does it look like? Well, our perspective is that every enterprise has to excel at six core capabilities to deliver seamless, exceptional customer experiences. Those capabilities include: enterprise identity, experience activation, content supply chain, orchestration, insights, and ecosystem integration. While we’ll look to go in depth on each of these in future posts, the basics of each should be relatively clear to owners of customer experience platforms. When we say capabilities, we aren’t talking about technology alone, rather we mean the combination of technology with processes, policies, and workflows coupled with the right roles and talent both in-house and outsourced. In effect, brands must develop these capabilities like our bodies tone our muscles – we have to practice and work at it constantly.


Identity is the most high-profile capability being focused on today. The promise of technology to power true personalization – real, memorable, well-crafted, and intimate moments that customers value – has been with us for many years. To get there, our platforms need to know precisely who they’re interacting with to make the experience great. While that should be easy, it’s anything but. Between well-intentioned regulatory hurdles and every new mar-tech company suggesting their solution will give you a single view of the customer, brands have wrestled with how to get this right. From cookies and data management platforms (DMPs) to the rise of first-party data graphs and the customer data platform (CDP), time, money, and resources are being pointed at getting this right.


The same goes for activating dynamic experiences, getting content right while reducing the cost to produce it (thank you AI?), advanced decisioning, unified analytics across the entire customer journey, and getting all this stuff into a modern integrated cloud environment, and out of the back-office data center. All of these are emerging capabilities, along with new titles like the aforementioned Chief Data officer, Chief Content Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Analytics Officer, and others. These roles, along with the teams they form and the budgets they will increasingly oversee are shaping the now, near, and next of the customer experience discipline inside of enterprises.


At UpperRight, we think this is all a good thing. I purchased a washer and dryer combo direct from a manufacturer’s website. Over the last 48 hours I received three text messages and two voicemails from that manufacturer and their delivery arm, attempting to come to my house and pick up the damaged equipment, even though they already picked up the broken appliance – SIX MONTHS ago, when I placed the order and got the replacements delivered. I had to call four different numbers to get the erroneous alerts, emails, messages, and phone calls to stop. The left hand certainly not knowing what the right had already done.


As consumers we want better experiences. As customer experience professionals we know it’s possible, and that the tech isn’t the limiter. It’s our ability to organize our people, our methods and practices, and yes – our technology – to serve all the moments in the customer journey the right way. Let’s push harder and get some of this work done.


Adam Lavelle is Co-Founder and CEO of UpperRight - The Customer Experience Consultancy. It's no myth he can be reached at adam@upperight.com

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