All companies today have to be proficient at digital marketing. But it can be hard to find the right mix of products to do it well. The rapid evolution of tools including web personalization, mobile apps, messaging and social media over the past few years has created a jumbled landscape of product offerings that are often difficult to interconnect. This makes it daunting to provide the joined-up, omni-channel experience that customers are looking for today. One approach is to turn to a vendor that offers all of these capabilities in a single platform — but can one vendor do everything well?
To answer that question in relation to the recent launch of Zoho Marketing Plus, I spoke to one customer who's something of an expert on digital marketing. Saru Saadeh is CEO of Iron Roots, a digital marketing agency based in Austin, Texas. The firm focuses on social media marketing and has orchestrated campaigns for brands including Gillette, Netflix and Warner Brothers, as well as local customers such as the Indigenous Cultures Institute and Marakesh Cafe. It also operates an offshoot business called AdRobin, which creates, places and analyzes digital ad campaigns. This is his verdict:
I've been preaching omni-channel for years, and it's something that I've always been very, I would say, obsessed about, especially from a tactic standpoint, touchpoint strategy and brand consistency. For the first time with the Zoho suite, you're now able to actually build out a cross-channel touchpoint strategy that spans the multiple formats and multiple styles.
So for example, an e-commerce company could personalize the website experience depending on their device or location, produce social media posts with various images and videos, set up an automated response to follow up via email if a customer left products in a shopping cart without checking out, and send SMS reminders for shipping notifications, all as part of a co-ordinated campaign. "When you have all these tools at your disposal, performance is truly in your hands," he says.
Iron Roots has been a Zoho customer for several years and had already been using various apps from the Zoho One integrated suite, including accounting, digital signature, discussion forums, social media management and the PageSense website personalization app. But Saadeh says the integration within Marketing Plus takes everything to a new level, especially around co-ordinating campaigns within a team. He explains:
The element that is brought to the existing stack of technology is the planning components. All these tools existed as standalone applications under the Zoho One suite. Now with Zoho Marketing Plus, they've grabbed all the marketing-based applications to create one comprehensive omni-channel or multi-channel marketing platform ...
Before, it was all done on separate documents where we'd build out the strategy outside of these tools, and then once we go in there, we would deploy. So it brings a level of organization to everything.
This is especially powerful for businesses that don't have a big marketing team or who lack strong marketing resources. He says:
It allows for small businesses to really enter the market, and it levels the playing field a little bit between them and that of other much larger companies ...
For those who don't know marketing too well, it's so intuitive, that it almost educates you along the way, and guides you through the process.
Despite the ease of use, there's still plenty of functionality for advanced users, he adds. This is not a suite where the vendor has skimped on individual products to fill out the offering. He says:
It is very evident that there are [as many] marketers behind the product as engineers behind the product. It's very obvious. Sometimes I'll see features that I know for a fact, small businesses won't even be able to tackle because of the technical implications. So you can see through the [easy-to-use] interface and see that really, they're very product-focused.
Comparison to Salesforce
The product selection came after an intensive look at several alternatives, including Salesforce. The Zoho offering compares well against high-end competition, says Saadeh. He elaborates:
We were getting ready to shift 20 people on to a new system. And so we really went in, and there were a few things that I found that actually don't exist on Salesforce. Now, I think that there is a higher level of enterprise support [from Salesforce]. But I think a majority of the reason that you'll see most companies that are well established going with something like Salesforce is, one, the enterprise support, of course, and it's a little bit more tailored to allow you to scale and really have a large amount of data. But it's also because technology buyers at these companies, decision makers, they don't want to take a risk ...
You have multiple things in Salesforce like Apex, you can write different custom code, the enterprise support, they work with you very closely in order to ensure that the rollout is good. There's a bit more in terms of the data processing and data warehousing and security and things of that sort. But for the most part, from an action-by-action, trigger functionality standpoint, Zoho doesn't fall too short at all.
The Zoho platform still plays well with other applications, including Salesforce, for those who want to integrate with other solutions they're using. But for those who are happy doing everything in the one platform, the ability to set up cross-functional workflows without having to do any coding is a bonus. He says:
Coming from a place where I would always try to build software — and before we had engineers on the team, I would, for lack of a better term, build a house with popsicle sticks from a product development point of view — so the more you could do in the app, the better, and they have a lot of flexibility there, too.