Marketing Platform User Experience: The Most Important Feature You Can Buy

I’ve worked a lot of web and marketing technology in the 10 years I’ve been professionally marketing and the 18 years I’ve lived on the internet. So it comes as no surprise that I hate inefficient marketing platforms, things that require too much operational effort to produce results. Nothing these days holds up successful marketing like a software that needs to be integrated with too many other services and isn’t intuitive when it is setup properly.

Take Google Analytics, for example, something I’ve used since it was first freely made available. It like many of Google’s advertising and marketing products are designed for advanced users first. If you have the time and money to invest in the setup and maintenance of a actual, working analytics system, then it can be extremely beneficial. For medium- and large-scale ecommerce efforts, Google Analytics is a very important solution.  But what about the rest of us?

Or how about IBM’s Silverpop, a completely functional marketing automation platform that is great when you mainly need to send emails. To truly take advantage of this left-brained, tech-minded, user-unfriendly solution, you have to work too hard to set it up and make sense of it’s overly logical infrastructure. Right-brained marketers and creatives, do not enter.

The Problem Started More than a Decade Ago…

Most tactical services, like old-school, system-gaming SEO, weren’t made for marketers. And with marketing systems, IT buyers were pulled in because they were involved in any technology decision, meaning platforms designed in the early- to mid-2000s need to appeal to people who had not idea what marketing needed.

Today, marketers need to be just as tech savvy as the next person in their organization because every marketer needs a technology platform to do their jobs. It’s also the only way to get IT out of the marketing technology buying business. (They shouldn’t be involved, except to check business system integrations, but more on that later.)

And marketers, to say we’re busy is often an understatement. (I’ve worked in-house at a software company, as well as a number of other organizations, and marketing was often the last department to get personnel budget.) Trying to make technology work is the last thing you need to worry about when there are just as many offline activities—events, trade shows, print media buying—to worry about as online ones. That’s why user experience is the most important thing you need to focus on in choosing a marketing platform.

User Experience as the Deciding Factor

Marketing activities from organization are complex and varied. There are dozens of choices out there when it comes to getting a platform that’s right for your business. But most marketers look at the wrong things:

  • What marketing campaign activities can you perform?
  • What reporting is available?
  • How does this get leads to sales?

That’s a best case scenario. Worst case scenario: They’re looking for a “marketing automation platform” not a “marketing platform”.

Instead of asking the questions above, you need to reevaluate what you really need. Try this:

  • How easy is it to setup and deploy campaigns?
  • How easy is it to pull complex reports that matter?
  • How easy is it to get sales to buy into your pre-sales nurturing efforts?

But the key to UX is this: If someone leaves my company, can I jump in and understand what’s going on?

When I log into most marketing platforms, the UX has traditionally been… lacking. (Silverpop, Marketo, and Eloqua, for example.) They do what any marketing automation platform needs to do, but they feel like systems built for techies not users. Plus, in the case of Marketo and Eloqua, they’re overly complex, meaning it’s hard to understand what’s going on if there’s a power user in the house. HubSpot and Pardot, on the other hand are intuitive, able to complete complex activities if necessary (but discourage it by design), and make sense on login immediately.

Why is that important? Well, remember back in 2008 when we learned that just seeing the Apple logo makes you more creative? That’s the essence of great marketing platform user experience. It makes you do your job better. You’re more efficient, more creative and simply don’t feel encumbered by the tech.

Over Integration Breakdown

UX isn’t limited to just the system you’re using, though. There’s a certain level of UX importance in making systems work together. If you have too many divergent systems in the first place, it’s a problem. Most marketing automation platforms are designed as marketing automation platforms first. They integrated with your website on another CMS. They work with your Google Analytics. They send leads to your CRM system. They connect with a personalization system. They track social but you use HootSuite or BufferApp anyway.

But as a marketer, the last thing I want to do is worry about more than 2 or 3 systems in the first place. System overload is going to kill marketing… and most businesses as a whole. And it’s where most interdepartmental conflicts or breakdowns can be traced back to. That’s why the marketing platform was born.

Marketo is buying companies to build out a platform, but it’s not a reality yet. Salesforce is doing the same with it acquisitions over the years of Radian6, ExactTarget and Pardot. Eloqua got pulled into Oracle’s marketing cloud, but they systems aren’t what I’d call a platform. In the end, when it comes to marketing systems that are as close to the all-in-one platform you want with the UX that enables efficient, accessible marketing, there’s only HubSpot.

HubSpot as Your UX-Centric Option

You can see by the badges in my right hand nav, that I’m a big fan of HubSpot. (I quit a job because I couldn’t get it, in fact.) The reason I’ve always been a fan of HubSpot is because it’s the only system that was designed with platform in mind from the start. Content marketing to social media management to lead nurturing to automation to web personalization to reporting on all of this, it’s all there.Now, HubSpot even has a CRM component that can break down the sales and marketing divide.

When HubSpot doesn’t do something, it’s often by design. It violates inbound marketing philosophy, something that modern marketers should be embracing as the power in the buying process has shifted to the consumer. When it doesn’t integrate with a system easily (NetSuite, I’m looking in your direction), it’s because that system doesn’t make sense in the current marketing world where 80% of the buyers journey and nearly all customer data is in the hands of marketing. And usually it’s the other system that doesn’t play well with other in the first place.

Then there’s the UX snobbery. I don’t feel inspired when I touch any other system. It actually makes doing my job more painful, less exciting. HubSpot is the gold standard when it comes to marketing platform user experience.

Like every system, there are limitations with HubSpot. You can’t get everything you want, which sometimes aggravates the tech-minded person in me. But the marketer in me? Well, I’ll live with the limitations for a service that can connect all of my marketing efforts in a single place, while making me want to do my job better. Inspiration creates innovation, and in our ever-evolving world of marketing technology, innovation is what drives success.

photo credit: Procrastination Flowchart(license)

Author: Dan Stasiewski

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