Marketers: Stop, Drop, and Build a Digital Hub

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by Sanjay Dholakia

If your company doesn’t yet have a digital hub, it won’t be long before your CEO demands to know why not.

What is a digital hub, you ask? That’s an excellent question.

A digital hub is the central nervous system behind all of a company’s marketing activities. But it doesn’t just stop with marketing; a true digital hub will communicate and integrate with other systems, too, from sales to content management and beyond.

The old model is changing. Organizations have historically existed with single-process systems like the ones I just mentioned that each had their limitations. But now, businesses can equip themselves with more sophisticated single data repositories that orchestrate how they talk to their customers, prospects, partners — even their employees.

Digital hubs already have many CEOs and CMOs jumping for joy, and the ones who haven’t adopted this technology should be scrambling to get on board.

This is because we’ve reached a critical point at which a central digital marketing platform is a must-have piece of infrastructure. These hubs essentially function as digital brains, analyzing and communicating with customers across online and offline channels and touch points to present a comprehensive view of customer experiences.

It’s not that that creative doesn’t matter anymore, but as a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study (registration required) sponsored by Marketo (my employer) found, marketing has to supplement its traditional creative background with more technical skills. Capturing all of the new information available and turning raw data into actionable intelligence is where the digital hub becomes the game-changer.

The neck bone’s connected to the head bone …

So, how’s it all connected?

The essentials start with a single database of record, one that can track all of your company’s customer interactions. There’s a reason why Gartner describes digital hubs as foundational.

Marketers need to know when someone has visited their company website or when a potential customer opened — or didn’t open — an email. These simple metrics are the building blocks of informed marketing decisions in the new era of customer engagement.

A disconnected view of the customer is now a relic from the boom-box era; you can’t make sense of different streams of data if you’re supporting dozens of separate databases that don’t communicate.

Therefore, it’s essential for a digital hub to be part of a digital ecosystem with extensible technology that allows for integration with other applications. It needs to communicate across any of the various channels where your customers might want to interact with the company — digital, social, mobile.

And, in this nascent age of the Internet of Things, when literally billions of devices are getting connected to the internet, interoperability will allow you to collate signals from everywhere — literally!

Worlds collide: adtech and martech

You may be thinking, “But I’m already doing things like spending money on Google AdWords and programmatic to make sure I’m getting in front of people who will care about my messages.”

Too many of us can’t shake old habits and often just replicate what we used to do before the invention of the internet, when millions of dollars got spent on television and print advertisements. Back then, it was called “spraying and praying.”

Nowadays too many marketers are still flying blind. They may use hip jargon like “programmatic,” but it’s just more inefficient spraying and praying.

A digital hub puts an end to that charade by helping to identify instantly what is and isn’t working with your digital spend, from Google to adtech and beyond.

Marketers can use the full power of digital tools to find out what their customers care about, whether that’s information gleaned from emails, websites, or through ads on social media. At that point, you can calibrate and focus on one-to-one interactions, rather than default to a blunderbuss spending approach. Otherwise, you’re just flushing money down the toilet.

Analytics and attribution

The other big plus of a digital hub is the analytical insights it offers. For the first time, marketers can knit together relevant data from multiple channels into a coherent and actionable portrait of the consumer.

Marketers not only can see all their touchpoints with customers and prospects — from initial awareness through loyalty and advocacy — but also now have a way to attribute value from those interactions to outcomes. That helps to solve one of marketers’ biggest challenges: trying to prove the value of what they’re doing.

This is where data science augments the art of marketing. With digital hubs parsing the data, CMOs can use marketing analytics to predict and better forecast. For the first time, marketers can essentially see into the future and plan how to interact with people, rather than always being forced into reacting.

The clock is ticking

With no shortage of suitors vying for customers’ time and attention, it’s up to CEOs and their CMOs to figure this out soon. Digital hubs are going to become standard pieces of marketing infrastructure at companies hoping to compete in this era of digital engagement.

And if you’re still on the fence about whether this makes sense for your company, consider this: For every CEO or CMO who doesn’t have a digital hub helping their organization engage with their customers, rest assured that another rival does.

This post originally appeared on Marketing Land on July 22, 2016.