Oracle’s Siren Song of Less is More

marketing automation decision-making

Oracle has waxed and waned over the years about the benefits accrued using an integrated suite of applications instead of opening up to a slew of best-of-breed apps. They’re back now, peddling the idea of a unified suite in marketing. Recently EVP Rob Tarkoff went so far as to say that “best of breed has jumped the shark.”

I’ve been skeptical of such arguments partly because integration services have become so robust that I believe that almost any assembly of best-of-breed marketing apps could provide a serviceable “integrated” suite. But now I think Tarkoff and Oracle might have a point, though I don’t arrive at it the same way.

Marketers, I love you dearly, but you tend to adopt the latest craze because it seems to work elsewhere. You know what I mean. Marketers are somewhat driven by the same behaviors they try to inspire in customers. Marketing tugs at emotions rather than logic because, hey, even if you’re hungry, the thing about the steak you’re selling is that it sizzles on the grill and not that it is highly nutritious.

Limiting Options for Better Solutions

In marketing and many other pursuits limiting your options can lead to unanticipated and perhaps better solutions. Those options might be otherwise hidden from view, but they can spark the creativity you need to get to solutions of the 1 + 1 = 3 variety.

I came to this conclusion circuitously through another discipline. I don’t advertise it, nor do I hide the fact that my hobby is visual art, specifically oil painting. There are many ideas about how to paint in oil, what surfaces and brushes to use, which paints, and even whether to work indoors or on location, as the French would say, en plein aire. It’s paint and color that gave me this minimalist insight. Here’s why.

We all learned in grade school about primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (orange, green, violet) colors and how two primaries can make a secondary.

It’s surprising to see how many different shades of colors are on the market. In just green, there must be a dozen colors that are easily accessible at the art store. The trouble is that the exact shade you want right now is probably still at the store unless you become adept at mixing color, one of the hidden disciplines of painting.

The professionals I know ignore all that variety and carry around a limited palette comprised of the primaries, black, white, and some earth tones (browns and tans). The whole kit comes to just eight tubes; that’s all they need because even landscape painters can coax any green they want from such a limited palette.

If you think that’s impressive, and it is, consider the great 19th-century Swedish portrait artist Anders Zorn whose palette consisted of only four tubes of paint, including black and white. His skin tones are radiant, and many portraitists today swear by the Zorn palette.

Merits of a Limited Data Palette

So, when I think of marketing suites, my mind gravitates to the limited palette and the power it gives anyone employing it to maximize their creativity and get the results they need.

To a degree, the fussing over best-of-breed and integration can be seen as losing sight of the prize in favor of a questionable debate. Limit the choices, and your options improve.


Let’s change gears but keep the limited palette (and Oracle) in mind. In a related area of the front office, Oracle just released a report on research into executive decision-making. Among the many findings were these nuggets:

  • 35% don’t know which data or sources to trust, and 70% have given up on making a decision because the data was overwhelming;
  • 85% of people say this inability to make decisions negatively impacts their quality of life. It is causing spikes in anxiety (36%), missed opportunities (33%), and unnecessary spending (29%).

I have two findings here. First, as I have said many times, there’s a huge difference between data, information, and knowledge. Second, this is the downside of too many choices, too many tubes of green, and an endorsement of the limited palette idea.

For too long, we’ve relied on our IT systems to serve up data with which we make intelligent business decisions. In effect, we use our minds to munge the data (that’s a technical term) and develop the information that leads to knowledge for decision-making. All that works until you realize there is way more data than you can effectively munge.

AI’s Role in Decision-Making: Moving Beyond Data Overload

Rather than making decisions with all this data, this survey shows that we just shut down. It’s the flight part of the fight or flight mechanism adapted to the civilized world. This is what AI should be groomed for. Better than our brains, AI can weigh many more options in real time and suggest one or a small number of best possible solutions — a limited palette of alternatives for our creative business selves to act on.

I think AI’s real strength is not in shadowing human decision-making. It’s in anticipating need. Simply put, the next step in AI’s evolution ought to be enabling us to give it specific goals to suss out solutions for, like improving close rates, a perennial and frustrating objective in many sales organizations. This approach limits the palette of options and enables us to make good, data-based decisions.

Business has always been part science and part art. Technology accelerated the science part but maybe to the detriment of the art component. AI’s rigorous science-driven tools may be rebalancing decision-making so that humans exercise their artistic powers taking better advantage of the limited palette of options that lead to success.

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