Is Splunk set to take aim at the marketing department?

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez May 11, 2016
At this week’s SplunkLive! event in London, we got a bit of an indication about the future potential of Splunk and how it may be of interest to CMOs.

splunk logo
This week’s SplunkLive! in London was an interesting event. For a few years now I’ve thought that Splunk was an interesting tool, one that could quickly deliver value for a lot of enterprises.

Having said that, I often felt that there was an opportunity missed - or a disconnect - between Splunk being used in the back-office and it’s potential for helping companies deliver a better customer experience. It has been perceived as a very techie tool and a very techie subject.

Machine data analytics doesn’t fill many people with excitement. But it should, given that machine data is increasingly important in monitoring and improving customer interactions and the customer’s journey with your business.

And yesterday I began to see evidence of this. BBC Worldwide was speaking at the event, where head of service operations, Zoe Bolton, told delegates about how the broadcaster is using the tool to improve the user experience for customers using the new BBC Store streaming and download service. She said:

We tried our best to translate that data so we could build a picture around customer experience.

It was so important for us to break down the journey – if we do get an alert it’s very quick for us to spot on the dashboard where the trends are, where the issues are. Having those already established dashboards was critical to us.

Not only this, but Bolton was sharing data with the marketing team to provide them with insights about how the customer was experiencing the app.

Which led me to wonder, as Splunk builds out its platform approach and capabilities, will it soon be vying for attention from the CMO? As we know, the marketing technology market is becoming increasingly competitive and is seen as an attractive proposition for vendors that had traditionally focused on the back-office.

Does Splunk see potential for itself there too?

Understanding the customer

I got the chance to sit down with Splunk’s chief technology advocate, Andi Mann, to get a clearer picture about the company’s intentions in this area. I highlighted to him that this is the first event I’d been to where Splunk customers were on stage specifically talking about using the tool as a direct incentive to improve customer experience. Is this something we are going to see more of? He thinks so.

Absolutely. [Companies] are trying to understand what their customers are doing, where their journey is going, how they’re engaging with them, when and why. And you start to think about multi-channel engagement as well. So you think about someone coming into a branch, coming onto your website, your mobile app, using the phone service - maybe working with a partner of yours - [that] multi-channel engagement, how do you correlate all that?

How do you know that the same person that is working with your app now is the same person that was in your branch yesterday and on your website tomorrow? The one constant is the machine data, the machines know everything. Being able to connect that together gives you really fascinating insight.

One of the things that Splunk is really, really good at is correlation. Being able to pick the same data point from multiple different locations and connecting those together and showing you patterns. Being able to enquire after a customer. And then you can start to get in other information about their customer, you can get in their social content, start to deal with customer sentiment.

andi mann
Splunk's Chief Technology Advocate, Andi Mann

See what I mean? This is far from the conversations I’ve had with Splunk executives about the importance of log data to optimise system performance and operations. Splunk is thinking about how it can put the customer at the centre of its pitch to market.

And Mann thinks this will certainly be of interest to CMOs. He said:

Marketing really cares about that. They can understand where to put investment. I need to investment more in the website. Or maybe it’s the opposite, maybe I need to invest more on the app because not enough people engage. Then you can drill down into those numbers, see who is using two, or three, or both.

Over the next 12 to 24 months we want to become that platform. This is where we have to do a lot of work. We have to build out partnerships, build out capabilities as well, it’s not simple. But we are ready to do that. To become a platform for machine data. We are already seeing some things around internet of things, business analytics, customers showing dashboards to marketing and e-commerce departments.

You get CMOs who are running technology capabilities, they are doing marketing automation and stuff like that. So being able to correlate information out of stems like Marketo and email, or whatever it happens to be, we are seeing a lot more customers on the IT side start to try and get ahead of that.

We are seeing more CMOs getting more data around the marketing automation, around the customer engagement, the customer journey. The content marketing we are putting out, is it getting traction? Is it getting promoted on social media? Who is clicking through? Did they get the same document that I sent them last time? Being able to correlate this information using Splunk is really important, being able to correlate the operational metrics.

But does Mann envision a time where Splunk is selling directly to the CMO, as opposed to pushing the IT department to share information with the marketing department? And will Splunk have marketing applications to sell? It’s certainly possible. He said:

I’d hate to jump the gun and say that’s where we are going. It would not surprise me though. The trick is that everyone is becoming a technologist, so you are getting marketing people that want that data. It’s no longer enough for them to understand advertising rights and circulation, they need to understand click through rates, they need to understand who is clicking, as well as correlating that with other information.

The platform is key

However, to get to this point, where Splunk is perceived as a core marketing tool, Mann believes that it is critical for Splunk to get its platform play right - to ensure that it is ‘the platform for machine data’ in the enterprise vendor market.

But Mann admits that there is still work to do and that it’s possible that a lot of the solutions built on Splunk’s platforms, which fall outside of its core expertise (operations and security), may be built by an ecosystem of partners and other companies. He said:

What we want to try and do is as a platform for machine data, maybe not necessarily build it all ourselves. We are only so many people and we need to grow significantly. To do that you need leverage, you need partners, so maybe that’s an area where our partners will develop on top. There is so much capability, we have the SDKs, the APIs, it’s all configurable. Being able to empower partners to build capabilities like that.

I think we have to educate to start with, we are seen as an IT tool. We are seen as either an ops tool or a security tool. And it really is so much more. It is a platform. We have got to educate our marketplace that there is all this great data. Trying to talk to a marketing team about machine data? We are going to have to use some different words occasionally. We are going to have to popularise the concept and get separation from the technology, versus the usability of that technology.

Growing our partner ecosystem, finding the right partners, getting them engaged. But we also need to transform the way that people think about Splunk, not as this techie tool, but something a business leader will take on board.

My take

A very interesting conversation with Mann, who seems to get the business potential of Splunk. And it’s good to see that the company is shifting the dialogue in this direction, as the platform itself has a broader appeal and broader potential outside of the IT.

However, Mann is right to highlight that the success of this will depend upon Splunk’s success in establishing a vibrant platform - which as we know, is not an easy task.