Is your first reaction to this post “Marketing middlewhat?” If so, you’re not alone: most marketers are unaware of what marketing middleware is, and what it can do to simplify their day-to-day marketing operations.

What is Marketing Middleware?

The term “marketing middleware” is something we are using at Napier to describe a class of software that is technically called “integration platforms” or for the cloud-based systems iPaaS (integration platform as a service). We like our name as it’s simple and this software is used in between two different applications to share data: effectively providing “software glue” between two separate systems.

Why Do we Need this Software?

In the past, data tended to be locked into a particular system. Linking different systems was difficult and expensive, and vendors tended to make it extremely difficult to integrate systems from two different vendors in the same market.

In the MarTech (marketing technology) world, this is a particularly bad thing. With marketing sectors such as digital publishing, social media and website technology developing so rapidly, it’s practically impossible for any vendor to provide a tool that is really good at everything you want to do as a marketer. In the old days you’d have to either buy multiple tools and accept that data couldn’t be shared between them, or compromise with a tool that could do most things you needed it to at a just-acceptable level.

The marketing middleware sits between the different systems ensuring data is shared between them, allowing marketing teams to get the best of both worlds: integration of the data and the best-in-class tools.

Why Now? The Rise of the API

Interestingly it turned out that making it difficult to integrate different tools was not a good idea for the software companies that did it. Although there was some element of lock-in, this was more than offset by the need to create integrations because they were demanded by large, important customers or a significant number of smaller users.

So, companies started to make integrations easier by providing an API – an “application programming interface”. An API is a set of clearly defined methods for communicating with a software application or module: for example, allowing the data for a particular contact to be retrieved easily from a CRM package.

Although APIs solve many problems, they don’t actually interface between different martech systems: each API is different and designed specifically for the package. So, to integrate between different systems we need marketing middleware that is able to access data using the APIs used by specific systems. The use of standard integrations simplifies the challenge of integrating between the many different vendors and systems: rather than having to write integrations for every possible combination of tools, the marketing middleware vendors simply write one interface to each system’s API and use the core of their platform to move the data.

The systems also typically have direct interfaces into common databases, allowing access to some databases that don’t have an API.

How Do These Tools Work?

These tools are typically cloud-based applications, which makes sense as they are generally transferring data from one cloud application to another. Often, they will offer a less-common self-hosted version, and most also provide on-premise connectors that allow thee systems to securely access data behind the organisation’s firewall.

To use the systems, you generally just select the connectors you want and then map fields from one system to another. The platforms will process the data, and generally have a simple programming-like language to modify information as required. Some also offer functions such as lookup tables. Once you understand how to code for these systems, integrations can be set up in a matter of minutes or hours, rather than the weeks or months that would be required to write bespoke software to interface between two systems.

Some Leading Marketing Middleware Vendors

There are several companies that provide integration platforms that can be used as glue between marketing software applications. They include:

Zapier – many marketers are already using Zapier to execute simple actions to automate marketing work. Zapier is one of the simpler, and more limited solutions, yet it still provides excellent integration functionality that meets the needs of many marketing teams.

Scribe Online – this has been our favourite platform, partly because they offered an amazingly powerful, low-cost solution for HubSpot. Although this plan is no longer available, Scribe Online still provides extensive capabilities at a reasonable price.

Mulesoft – this is probably the system your IT department would like to use. It’s well-known with a strong market share and provides powerful functionality. Although it has readily available connectors for the major enterprise marketing systems, it perhaps is less well served when looking at other martech vendors.

Dell Boomi – another product that really focusses on the IT department, but Boomi also offers a large range of connectors for various marketing technology applications.

snapLogic – another IT-focussed product, with a limited number of martech connectors. Make sure that you can get the connectors you need off-the-shelf, otherwise you’ll be calling on your IT department to build connectors, which rather misses the point of using marketing middleware.

Jitterbit – a solution that also claims to offer AI capabilities to your integrations. Jitterbit has a large number of martech integrations as standard on its website and also has integration with agile tools such as Jiri, which might be attractive if you use agile marketing techniques.

How Do I Get Started?

Many of these tools offer free trials, so it’s fairly easy to evaluate what they can do for you. Once you are in a subscription, you’ll probably be paying something between $500 and $2000 per month, depending upon how many systems you need to integrate.

Although they are much simpler than writing code, it still takes real expertise to take advantage of marketing middleware. The fastest way to realise all the benefits of these solutions is to contact an agency that has experience of using these platforms to simplify and improve marketing processes. We’d done it, so why not ask Napier how you can use marketing middleware?