If open platforms are beating tech’s walled gardens, what does this mean for marketing?

Multi platforms on devices

Traditionally, marketers tend to think about channels. But as digital blurs lines between ‘the product’ and ‘the marketing’, marketers need to think harder about ecosystems - and particularly innovations like AI and voice that come with them.

Ecosystems owned by Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon control how people find and experience your brand. It becomes critical to hedge your bets and stay flexible because open ecosystems are winning - which means faster innovation, more change, and more for marketers to think about.

Remember AOL’s ill-fated takeover of Time Warner 20 years ago? AOL chief executive Steve Case’s vision was creating a closed “walled garden” of dial-up connections and content that web-browsers would never leave. It failed. So too did Microsoft’s unsuccessful attempt to build a closed ecosystem around Windows, Xbox and Windows Phone a decade later.

Apple has made a success of closed. But with the HomePod, its voice speaker / home automation product it’s gone too far. It only works with an iPhone. And if customers want to stream music by voice-control, they need a subscription for Apple Music. That’s too locked-in for even the most ardent Apple fans. With the relative weakness of Siri as a voice-assisted AI technology, Apple may become more open to ‘open’.

Microsoft’s rapid about-turn under current CEO Satya Nadella has brought in a more open approach, where people can use its software across multiple platforms and devices, and the company has seen its fortunes transformed as a result. What does a shift to open platforms, therefore, mean for brand marketers?

Go agile to take control of your brand

With strategic technology decisions still largely the realm of CTOs, CMOs often have limited influence on digital UX - not ideal as for many of us the experience is the brand.

Switching to an agile operating mindset allows marketers to wrest control of digital UX and other digital design technologies from the chief technology officer to operate more strategically - by ensuring every experience of the brand is consistent, and tactically, by quickly iterating on the product to move with the market.

Avoid monolithic enterprise platforms to capitalise on AI, voice and whatever's next

Headless content management systems (CMS) are a major talking point in 2018. These platforms essentially separate the back-end from the front-end. But really, they are just a central part of the move towards a microservices architecture that we are seeing (and helping) many brands move towards.

Uber, for example, uses over 800 microservices to help you book a taxi from A to B. This makes their platform incredibly flexible, allowing them to innovate rapidly and switch services in and out without replacing the whole system.

Well architected microservices mean you can make new products faster and knit them together easily. We know AI is playing a bigger role in aspects of marketing and voice search is increasing. But we don’t yet know how this will play out exactly.

Say Google released a voice AI smartwatch in the autumn and by Christmas it’s the must have gadget. With microservices in place you can innovate much more quickly than with a single large enterprise platform so your brand wins in that context. Without that in place, you might lose out.

Prioritise open systems over closed for innovation

At home, browsing on my Samsung phone, based on Google’s Android platform, I can interact with Amazon’s Alexa and play music from Spotify.

Far from suffering from clunky connections between four very different technology groups, the experience is smooth and trouble-free. Open is the new norm. Pity the marketers who invested time in readying their systems for the Home Pod - a closed platform flop.

Optimising for voice will be very important. Comscore forecasts that half of all internet searches will be carried out by voice within the next three years. And the OC&C, meanwhile, confidently expects voice shopping to generate revenues of more than $40bn within a five-year timeframe.

Every brand is going to need a strategy for voice and AI and this has much wider implications than simply upskilling systems and staff.

We will be discussing some of these strategies at The Drum’s Future of Marketing Conference on November 22. I am going to be joined by Jon Davies, head of digital, Vodafone; Joanne Smith, group CEO & co-founder, TCC and Recordsure ; and Jeremy Waite, chief strategy officer, IBM to discuss how AI can have a profound short-term positive impact on the performance of your business and why the marketer is best-placed to lead the AI revolution.

Remember, if you embrace open, adopt agile, and invest in architecture that supports microservices, you will be ready for whatever comes next.

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