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Listen to your customers. Innovate without restriction. Embrace marketing technology to bridge the gap between marketing and IT.

And then just throw up your hands and sigh. Or scream.

Because there are more products in more categories — from CRM and e-commerce to content marketing and sales enablement — than even the most perceptive marketing technologist can wrap her head around.

This was the reality that more than 1,000 participants grappled with at the two-day MarTech conference in San Francisco this week.

The marketing software vendor landscape is twice as big as it was last year. Gerry Murray of IDC, one of the conference speakers, estimated that the worldwide market for marketing software was more than $20 billion last year — and will grow to more than $32 billion in 2018.

But as we've told you before, bigger isn't necessarily better. And more choices rarely make the marketer's job easier, contrary to popular misconception.

All the Best Intentions

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Generally speaking, digital marketers lack the time, resources, energy and patience to evaluate pitches from endless streams of vendors, large and small. But the availability of these options nonetheless heightens expectations — raising the invisible bar by which we measure the success of digital marketing teams.

Marketers embrace the promises of these solutions, even when they lack the resources to implement them.

And that, said Jeff Cram, chief strategy officer and co-founder of digital agency ISITE Design, is creating a disconnect between words and actions.

“We're saying the right things, but we aren't doing the right things,” he said during a presentation on the final day of MarTech.

Marketers say they are obsessed with their customers. They want to deliver information to the right person at the right time. They want a 360-degree view of their customer across all channels. But the reality is that companies still operate in silos, integration of technologies is a problem and personalization is the “phase two that never comes,” he continued.

There are too many technologies in the marketing toolbox, generating complication and confusion. Cram said about two-thirds of companies use more than five marketing technologies — and 25 percent of those use 11 or more.

Redefining Customer-Centric

At a conference designed to showcase the power of marketing technology, speaker after speaker made one reality abundantly clear. The technology is just a means to an end: Customers are the focus.

Successful marketers use marketing technology to forge connections and enhance engagement with their customers. And they keep those customers at the center of their strategy and planning.

“Strategy, design, technology and culture must be connected across insight and execution,” Cram said. Otherwise, he warned, digital can be a word that divides.

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There was no argument from MarTech conference founder Scott Brinker. He agreed that the breadth and diversity of marketing technology is staggering. "It literally makes you stagger," he said.

Brinker is co-founder and chief technology officer of ion interactive, the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog and a CMSWire contributing author. He's also the guy that has created four versions of those amazing (or agonizing, depending on your point of view) marketing technology landscape infographics since 2011.

The first infographic featured about 100 companies. By 2012 there were 350. Two years later it had jumped to nearly 1,000 and now it has swollen to twice that size — just in the past year.

Brinker compared the reaction from marketers to a collective gasp — the visual equivalent of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. "Or that kid from Home Alone, when he slaps aftershave on his face for the first time," he told the MarTech audience.

And he seemed apologetic.

"You know, I didn’t set out with a mission to scare the bejesus out of marketers," he said. Back in 2011, he said, his intent was simply to demonstrate that marketing was becoming a technology-powered discipline.

Looking around the conference, jam packed with dozens of technology vendors and marketing professionals eager to interact with them, it was obvious Brinker was right.

Always On

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Confusing as it may be, marketers live and breathe by technology today. And with good reason: Marketing is a 24/7, 365-day a year proposition.

Corey Craig, customer experience design and innovation lead at Dell, said marketers are always on, listening to customer behavior and experiences. “Wherever customers are, we want to be with them too,” she said.

That means adapting marketing to consumer behavior. Customers no longer seek out marketing or sales reps if they are interested in a product or service. They simply do their own research, generally online.

“You should identify customer intent through your data and then react to that data,” she said. Rather than market to create awareness of a product or service, intent marketing is focused on reaching those consumers who have, implicitly or explicitly, expressed intent to purchase.

Nurture intent, and “let the customer experience drive tech decisions,” she added.

It was one of the single strongest recurring themes at the conference. As Rishi Dave, CMO at Dun & Bradstreet, said, businesses need to create a culture of listening to their customers to succeed.

A Big Baby

Despite it's size and rapid growth, marketing technology is still a young industry, with "tons of small companies," noted Ashu Garg, General Partner at Foundation Capital.

Garg, along with Neeraj Agrawal, general partner at Battery Ventures, Brian Andersen, partner at LUMA Partners, and Ajay Agarwal, managing director at Bain Capital Ventures, took the stage to close out the conference in a roundtable on martech investments.

Garg acknowledged that competition in this tech space is fierce and that mergers and acquisitions will ultimately shake out many of the smaller firms. “This industry could have a dozen or more multi-billion dollar companies,” he continued.

Garg predicts that spend on marketing technology will grow 10x in 10 years — and will come to represent 10 percent of the total spend in marketing.

Andersen estimated about 150 out of Brinker's 2,000 marketing tech companies are in the running to be industry leaders. But it really comes down to what market segment they are attacking, he said, adding that smaller and emerging companies are springing up constantly.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by blachswan.