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Resolving the Complexity of Today’s Marketing Solution Stack

  • Chad Engelgau

    Chad Engelgau

Resolving the Complexity of Today’s Marketing Solution Stack

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” We have all heard this famous first line from Charles Dicken’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, but the next few lines also ring true to what a modern marketer faces today:

“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Many marketers seem to feel the same way today due to the overwhelming options and complexity they face. We have so many amazing ways to connect with people, more than at any other time in history. We have direct mail, email, mobile, social, display, video, cable television, over-the-top television, automated displays on the freeway, in stores and at many transportations stops. And we have the ability to address use cases ranging from targeting, personalized engagement, closed-loop measurement and collaboration with partners, across this wide range of channels. With all of the enabling technology and all of this access to people, it would seem that a marketer could always reach the right person, at the right time with a relevant message. It’s nirvana, right? 

Not quite. Marketers are faced with disconnected systems, segmented channel identifiers and technology, walled-off publishers and a deluge of data from which they constantly struggle to get meaningful insights. A recent survey found that almost half of all marketers rated data management as the most difficult challenge that they face, with 46% saying that marketing technology is the next most difficult challenge. Even when the marketer gets multiple systems to “talk to each other” many are faced with data quality  issues, overwhelming data management, identity resolution issues and integration challenges. So how can a CMO, head of marketing or practitioner resolve this challenge in the short term? Focus on the data layer.

Let’s shed some light on what the world’s best marketing teams are doing to overcome today’s modern marketing chaos and better activate audiences and gain insights from  their consumer engagements so they can delight their customers and create meaningful experiences. One of the amazing lessons is the solution to the problem is not another application, personalization solution, omni-channel dashboard, multi-touch attribution application, marketing cloud, or other new repackaged offering like a customer data platform. What is fundamentally needed to solve for these challenges is unified data and privacy-compliant identity management across all these solutions, but less than 9% of marketers today have implemented a single system of record to bring their data together.

Marketers have a myriad of platforms and applications at their disposal—each suggesting the promise of optimal data management.  These platforms and applications provide a landscape of acronyms, both old and new, such as CRM, CIAM, MDM, DMP, CDP, TMS. These solutions serve meaningful roles in the marketing stack, to be sure, but they do not provide a layer of data unification that can enable identity management and orchestration across the stack. Several seem to offer a solution to the challenge but don’t cover the full spectrum of a marketer’s true needs.


A Data Management Platform can build and extend audiences for digital advertising campaigns to be executed on programmatic and other platforms. Data management platforms ingest deidentified* data from multiple different sources (including internal CRM systems and external data vendors), normalize and configure it, and make it available to marketers to build segments and targets for activation in online advertising campaigns, personalization and measurement. While this can support activation for digital advertising, it is not optimal for a wider range of use cases.


A customer data platform is a marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.” In addition, “a CDP ingests customer-related data from multiple source systems, cleans and unifies it to create a single customer view, and makes it available for other marketing systems to use.”* This category of solution suggests the ability to handle many of the tasks of data unification, but CDP vendors come from a wide-ranging spectrum of capabilities, with varying degrees of maturity. This creates the challenge of assessing whether a CDP can address all of the target use cases and manage challenges of scale and privacy-compliance. 


tag management system is designed to help manage the lifecycle of e-marketing tags (sometimes referred to as tracking pixels or web beacons), which are used to integrate third-party software into digital properties. This system typically works primarily with cookie/mobile device ids. Tag management systems often address the concept of a data layer but do this at the browser level. While the ability to capture and optimize data collection at the browser data layer is important, it doesn’t address all needs of marketers in unifying data for omnichannel engagement and measurement.

Marketing technology leaders need a clear strategy for managing these various solutions and an approach that stitches these various application together and their other key customer data assets leveraging a foundational, unified data layer  that enables maximum agility and dexterity in orchestrating identity. All stakeholders, from a brand’s marketing team, to their agency partners and the platform and publishing partners with whom they collaborate, need the guidance and enabling technology to enable a truly integrated marketing ecosystem to drive the best experiences across all channels.  

Brands must account for a host of wide-ranging and critical requirements to ensure proper data unification and identity management. These requirements include data ingestion across dozens of file types and structures, privacy compliance and ethical use of the data across all of the integrated platforms and customer touchpoints. Data must be properly ingested into an underlying framework that accounts for proper data lineage, with tagging and permission controls on data sources and their uses. And all data and identity information must be accurately linked together, enhanced with additional 1st, 2nd and 3rd party insights, properly scored and segmented, so that it can be activated in a method that enables the process to repeat itself while constantly learning to produce accurate insights that inform all of a marketer’s actions.  

Single MarTech and AdTech solutions, used or connected independently, are not the panacea. Why? Adding another data puddle to the overwhelming set of data systems you already have doesn’t unify your audiences or insights. Disconnected data, applications, channels and teams mean disconnected customer experience. Creating a connected and personalized omnichannel customer experience requires a unified data layer approach. 

* “Customer Data Platform Basics”, Customer Data Platform Institute, 2017