There’s been a tremendous amount of talk about the importance of marketing integrations lately. In fact, it was a key theme at Oracle Interact this year. Kevin Akeroyd, general manager of the Oracle Marketing Cloud, recently stated in a CMSWire blog post: “Unlike the past, when it's been enough to go out and buy best-of-breed, I believe the winners are going to be the ones who are very committed to integration. Integration is going to become as important, if not more important, as buying best-of-breed assets."
As Scott Brinker predicted months ago, due to the proliferation of marketing technologies, marketing cloud vendors are increasingly leaning toward integrated, open-platform strategies to provide their customers all the capabilities they require.
But among all the blog posts, trade articles, conference presentations and webinars, there’s been very little dialogue addressing the specifics of integration:
- What does it mean to be integrated?
- What exactly do businesses need to know in order to integrate their marketing operations?
- And how do they go about implementing their new integrated strategy?
Each of these questions merit a post of their own, but this is a survey course, so we’ll start with the basics - Integrations 101.
What it means to be integrated
“Integration” is sometimes used to describe the connection of systems via manual processes. Take for example the now ubiquitous idea of closing the marketing loop; you could retrieve specific learnings from a marketing automation or CRM system and apply them to your top-of-funnel data acquisition solutions to optimize the quality of your prospects, and this could arguably be considered integration. After all, you’re combining numerous systems within an overarching marketing operation.
However, when we speak of integration, we’re referring specifically to the automated, direct communication of data from one system to another — and, typically, in real time. For example: data captured from a third-party content syndication site and automatically sent directly through a data-cleansing and normalization software and then imported into a marketing automation system, all in a matter of milliseconds.
Enabling systems to communicate directly via application programming interfaces (APIs) provides the speed, accuracy and resource efficiency that marketers require to remain competitive and drive business value.
What you need to know to integrate your systems
Understand what you’ve already got
First and foremost, integration requires an in-depth understanding of your existing systems and processes (as well as who uses them). You can’t connect two systems if you don’t know exactly what each does with the data — just like you wouldn’t try to fix your home’s plumbing if you couldn’t decipher which pipes ran the water and which flushed out the sewage. This seems self-evident, but believe me, many marketing organizations are far from cognizant of the ways their systems interact.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some very sophisticated tech blueprints that link every type of data to numerous systems while outlining each outcome along the way. This is what every marketing org should strive for.
My colleagues have already discussed the importance of tech blueprints and how to create one in other posts, so I won’t belabor the issue now — but it remains incredibly important if you intend to fully integrate.
Understand what you can get
With blueprint in hand you can identify the gaps and chokepoints restricting the flow, value or use of data. This will then allow you to begin researching possible solutions, whether they be apps that simply facilitate integration between existing systems or automate an entire process.
Marketing tech solutions abound and they’re proliferating daily. Understanding how they all work and where they may solve issues seems daunting, but it’s doable and the benefits of the right solutions far outweigh the time and effort that go into finding them.
Available types of integrations
You know what you have and what type of solution you need. Now you need to adopt the right system — one that will fill any gaps or choke points that may be hamstringing your operation. Remember: integration is key. And not all integrations are created equal. Generally speaking, we can put API integrations into three categories:
Custom API unique to the systems involved — These APIs are typical between homegrown or very specialized systems that don’t garner wide usage. They require coding and substantial IT expertise on both sides to ensure effective data flow.
Open, established API — This category is very common. Here the vendor usually provides the customer’s IT team (or tech savvy marketer) with a standard set of instructions. The customer may need to copy and paste some code, but it should be fairly light work to get the systems communicating (especially considering the instructional support that most vendors provide these days).
Button-click API — This is by far the easiest to implement, but that doesn’t make it any better or worse than the other types — it only means that less effort is required to set up and tweak as needs and tech capabilities evolve. If your IT team is inaccessible and your marketing pros less than comfortable with this type of work, it may be an important selection factor.
Selecting new systems and executing integration
Most marketing orgs will seek out solutions that fall somewhere between Levels 2 and 3. And, most solutions these days typically offer these types of APIs.
It’s good practice, however, to have the vendor’s rep show you exactly how the integration works, and not with PowerPoint screenshots. They should be able to tell you what data you’ll need to provide and what tasks you’ll need to perform in order to integrate their particular system with yours (and possibly a third system as well). It’s a very good idea to have the rep set you up with a dummy account so that you can see the data delivery firsthand.
For example, at Integrate, our customer success team can typically set up and have data running through a dummy account in five to twenty minutes, depending on whether the customer has their data available. If the vendor can’t show you exactly how the integration works, don’t select them.
Choosing an in-house power user (or users if you’re integrating with multiple systems) is also a very good idea. These individuals will own the solution and should always act as the point of contact between your team and the vendor’s support team. This line of communication is important because your needs will change often and so will the vendor’s capabilities. The relationship between your organization and the solution should evolve at the same pace as your needs and the solution’s technology.
Marketing tech integration will increasingly influence your marketing organization’s effectiveness. Taking the first step toward integration is always the hardest. But once you complete this step, everything else will gradually fall into place and you’ll soon be on your way towards achieving all the objectives businesses are placing on their marketing departments — generating pipeline, creating customers and generating revenue.