HubShout is a blend of a marketing agency and a software development company. The people of HubShout influence our bias and since Adam has a deep background in enterprise IT and I have spent a good part of my career in product management, we constantly think about how technology can solve various online marketing problems.
In our 2-year history as HubShout, we have built an enterprise platform for managing and tracking SEO and PPC campaigns. The platform today is integrated with 8 data sources. We both identified that one of the biggest issues is scaling SEO and PPC services is accountability and tracking results. Our workflow tool allows us to keep organized while managing 100's of seemingly different campaigns. And while they are most certainly different, there are common tasks across every campaign that we can track and manage through our platform.
The old and the new
Marketing Systems Integration is not a new discipline. When I worked at AOL there was a whole team that focused on data warehousing. Data warehouses were created so that marketing, finance, customer service and others could get a holistic view of customers from transactional IT systems across the enterprise. Data warehouses were the only way to pull together a view of the customer across home grown systems and off-the-shelf systems. My experience is that data warehouses are never as flexible as you would like and it costs a fortune to man the team and their infrastructure.
SaaS has changed the model. Marketers now have many point services that provide best of class services for next to nothing. Think about Google Analytics (free), MailChimp or CampaignMonitor (extremely inexpensive), Salesforce (still a little expensive in my opinion) and many other services. All of these services offer APIs to open up access to their data. APIs are application programming interfaces that provide a published way for other web applications to access their data. The reason they have APIs is because they know that they can't provide all features to everyone so they let other applications access their data so that other programmers and customers can use their service. The Small Business Web group was formed to promote the interoperability of more point services.
Here is the gap that I see. There is a gap between businesses/marketers that get what they want from out-of-the-box integration of the current generation of point services and the large enterprises that can staff a data warehouse team. These are the $5 - $50k projects that have real business and customer value but don't fit neatly into the skill set of most internal IT departments or external agencies.
We have a client that is interested in building a email refer a friend program. They want the process to be completely automated so that at the end of each day all new customers who received a delivery would be offered an incentive to refer a friend. They want the system to track referrals and then identify matches with a way for a resource to review the matches and automate delivery of the incentive. They have built a custom internal system so none of the out-of-the-box services will work.
Why it isn't a good fit for today's options:
Internal IT - Most internal IT departments are tasked with transactional and financial tasks. Keep the work and money moving. They also focus on security and supporting end users. Most IT groups would see the problem above and miss the opportunity for social media integration (Facebook / Twitter) as well as the potential SEO value of capturing reviews and publishing them on the website or syndicating them to various review services. Furthermore, they would have to integrate with at least two new platforms and build new transactional and UI capabilities to support managing the workflow.
External agency - An external agency would probably capture the SEO and social media opportunity but they would also have to build some custom transactional pieces that would need to be supported. You'd be paying for the whole development of the system, integration with customer data plus ongoing support for your customer application.
Why there is a need for a Marketing Systems Integrator:
Assuming a company like HubShout would be considered a Marketing System Integrator, here is why a marketing systems integrator would be uniquely positioned to build this service:
1. We have a hosted application that already supports importing data through email feeds or APIs. We've built the notification processes to handle data import errors and redundancy. The platform cost is shared by all of our clients so while you would be creating a custom set of requirements you would only pay for the new features not building a whole platform.
2. We have already integrated with Campaigner for sending and reporting on emails. Campaigner is not as slick as MailChimp but we have been impressed with the features and price. We've also integrated with Facebook and Google Analytics that would be useful in this service.
3. Our management team are seasoned product management experts who would not miss the opportunity for social media, SEO and other hooks.
4.The workflow and management side of the service would be accessed through our existing dashboard.
5.Finally, we would be able to track and report on all aspects of the program through our central reporting dashboard.
The current state of web applications and APIs makes it an exciting time for marketers with big and small ideas. They just need the right partner to work with to make those ideas realities. Enter the Marketing Systems Integration firm.