Why Distributed Marketing Systems Fail

September 21, 2011 Jared Shusterman

Distributed Marketing systems, in the broader ecosystem of Marketing Resource Management, isn't a simple shoe-in to solve for the challenges of decentralized marketing organizations. And perhaps especially due to the relatively young nature of the industry, both the technology, and the partner selected, need to be the proper fit to meet the challenges of such an organization head-on.

I thought about this while reading an article recently published by Adweek titled The Trouble with Back-Ends: Why Publishers can't Publish on the Web.

The article highlights the high-probability of failure for Content Management System (or CMS) installations, even recounting a $20 million debacle at BusinessWeek that purportedly led to the publication's financial demise. The giant takeaway from the article? There is no silver-bullet.....Every publisher has different needs for how they manage their content online.

Why do so many get it wrong? The lucky few were lucky....or they had enough foresight to think through all business requirements, and how the organization can grow with the platform to which they commit. For the unlucky? Over time, millions of dollars are invested - both in hard-costs and labor - which inevitably gets tossed aside once the white flag goes up.

Distributed Marketing -(c) Adweek, 2011. Kyle T. Webster.

(c) Adweek, 2011. Kyle T. Webster

So how can a decentralized marketing organization avoid the same pitfalls publications are making when choosing their CMS systems? There are a few key points that come to mind he lping decision makers at decentralized marketing entities choose the proper distributed marketing partner.

Software versus Service - Does Your Partner Provide Both?

Perhaps the greatest point to look for in your partner: to what extent are they strictly a software company versus a marketing services company? How does your potential partner make a living? Let me explain why this is important.

Surely - no matter what type of company you look at, they must build, configure and maintain their own technology. The difference is software companies will license you their software (they make money on the software). A marketing services company, on the other hand, will provide you the software as a means to provide services to the field (they make money on the marketing services behind it).

All things the same....which one is better? It depends.

Without a doubt, the number one rule in running a successful distributed marketing strategy to properly support decentralized marketing initiatives is putting people behind those initiatives. This includes strong Account Management (to be guiding forces of best practices through the use of software) and strong field customer service (knowledgeable experts on the phone to guide end-users of the software and preach local marketing best practices). Typically, a marketing services organization will provide much stronger Account Support when compared to a pure-play software company (whose Account support may be non-existent).

Large Fortune 100 enterprises may prefer the pure-software route because they want to operationally staff and manage the entire initiative - including the whole vendor marketing execution chain behind the system. On the other hand, organizations that feel it would be better served outsourced, or simply don't have the resources to add another operational layer, often require strong account management.

We often like to quote a famous line from Field of Dreams - "If you build it, they will come." In reality, nothing can be further from the truth. You need to push methods for strong field and user engagement behind the platform. Either way you slice it - the general rule of thumb is that without strong support (usually with a pure software install), a distributed marketing initiative will fail.

An Ad Builder? Or a Marketing Platform? Know the Difference.

Second rule. Whenever the onus is placed on the field to finish the marketing execution chain, it impacts adoption (negatively). We often refer to this as the "last-mile problem".

What do we mean by this? Many companies represent that they have a marketing platform, but at the end of the day, all it really is is an Ad-Builder. The user builds an Ad (in whatever medium - e-mail, direct mail, social media, etc.), but then he/she is responsible for taking it the last mile.... to an e-mail system to send the e-mail, or a printer to mail the file, or a social media site to broadcast the message.

If your system can't handle this in a turnkey manner, deflecting the responsibility to the field is a sure-fire way to decrease use of your marketing programs/materials and lead to a failed initiative.

Concentrate on Your Core Requirements, but Make sure you can Grow

In consideration to the above requirement, the honest feedback is that no one company has "all-areas" covered. You'll also most likely need to take baby steps on how you launch your platform and corresponding services to the field. Its a marathon, not a sprint.

In marketing, we always love to focus on the buzz words of what's hot. But what are your core requirements? What does your organization spend 80% of their time supporting, or what is the most difficult challenges you are facing with your field? By focusing there first, you are solving for problems that are immediate and most important, rather than getting jazzed up by a certain feature that may have little overall relevance in the beginnings of your system.

That being said, you also MUST explore your partner's growth potential to ensure your future objectives are aligned with the product and service roadmap of your company of choice. In evaluating your partner, to what extent is their core focus squarely focused on solving the needs of decentralized marketing organizations? What is on their product roadmap, and to what extent do your opinions matter in developing this roadmap. Is this their core platform, or just an extension of their system outside their area of focus? Is development finished on the software platform, or are their continued IT resources improving the technology? What are these resources?

By not focusing on core requirements, and/or choosing a company not dedicated to solving the complex challenges for decentralized marketing initiatives, long-term viability of your solution is poor.

In conclusion - always remember......be forward thinking about the potential growth of your marketing intiatives. Where you will be two years down the line will be a lot different from today. Avoid the pitfalls of the CMS landscape by understanding who your partner really is - and their philosophies on helping you drive strategy to deliver valuable local marketing solutions for your network.

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About the Author

Jared Shusterman

Jared is the Founder and Managing Partner of SproutLoud. Since 2005, he has been primarily responsible for strategic direction of the Company, as well as the oversight of SproutLoud's Partner ecosystem. Prior to SproutLoud, Jared worked in Thomas Weisel Partner’s internet and online advertising investment banking practice in San Francisco. He served as the lead analyst on a number of Corporate Finance and M&A deals including Newscorps’ buyout of Intermix Media (Myspace.com). Jared graduated with a B.A. in Finance and Marketing from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. Jared has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is a member of the Young President's Organization (YPO). Jared has been honored as one of the Top 40 under 40 entrepreneurs by South Florida Business Journal and a Top 50 Entrepreneur by Business Leader Magazine. Jared lives in South Florida with his wife and two sons.

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