Suggesting that the digital marketing landscape has grown complex and fragmented is like saying that the universe is vast beyond description. Nobody (save for the astronomer, anyway) will argue with you. Truth is, sometimes considering the range of available digital marketing technologies can feel a bit like appraising infinite stars against an inky midnight sky. It can be overwhelming in its magnitude.

What you really need is a map:


HubBut while the map may bring order to the madness, you still need a center of gravity, not unlike a galaxy or a solar system. In this more earth-bound context, the center of gravity is the digital marketing hub:

 Think of the digital marketing hub as an interstellar junction, the connection point between content, data, rules and insights that inform the next best offer or experience delivered across virtually any channel.

“Digital marketing hub” is the term that Gartner has adopted with the hope of disambiguating what so many vendors had come to ambiguously call “marketing clouds.” (Cloud, in our view, is a delivery option and an implementation detail, a hazy collection of droplets without any discernable form or focus. That’s hardly a description of any set of marketing applications or capabilities and, thus, hardly helpful as a naming convention. I’ve yet to hear anyone disagree, including the vendors themselves).

The digital marketing hub is the gravitational center to a constellation of digital marketing tools and applications. Specifically, the digital marketing hub converges around four fundamental capabilities:

1. A master audience profile—which unifies first- and third-party customer and audience data for targeting the right experiences to known customers and anonymous
2. Workflow and collaboration—which facilitates and streamlines the creation and onboarding of content, data, plans and other digital marketing assets and artifacts that feed the beast.
3. Intelligent orchestration—which informs the timing, targeting and coordination of content, offers and experiences across channels through a combination of business rules and algorithms.
4. Measurement and optimization—which traces the thread between marketing investments and business outcomes and allows marketers to optimize their budgets and efforts to highest yield.

This is all easier said than done, of course. Which is why we believe, more often than not, a digital marketing hub is a design pattern rather than something you buy off the shelf. The digital marketing hub, too, has its own center of gravity (see four capabilities), but the realization of its full promise relies upon a diverse array of constituent parts, many of which are likely nonnative to any specific vendor stack.

Which is why, when we evaluate these digital marketing hub vendors, we consider both native capabilities and extensibility. Why? Because, while a digital marketing hub may invite a certain gravitational attraction, it depends on the considerable energy of its satellites. Beware of hubs that purport to do it all, for the digital marketing universe is vast and even the most capable vendor is infinitely smaller by comparison.