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Scott Brinker probably didn't shock any participants at the MarTech conference in San Francisco this week.

In fact, it seemed, he reiterated a lot of what they already know.

The marketing technology landscape is evolving rapidly. There are twice as many companies in the space now — nearly 2,000 — than last year. MarTech is a hot topic in the business world. 

But Brinker, co-founder and chief technology officer of ion interactive, the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog and a CMSWire contributing author, seemed to get their attention anyway.

“Marketing today isn't about getting buyers to picture your narrative. It's about getting them to experience it,” he said.

And that's really what the two-day conference was: It was an experience, a chance to bring together more than 1,000 delegates and 65 exhibitors to share problems, solutions and ideas about a cluttered tech space.

New Perspectives

Brinker defined MarTech as a form of digital storytelling — and urged attendees to think about ways to harness the power of marketing technology innovation to deliver better customer experiences.

The conference included some two dozen sessions by marketing technology practitioners as well as analysts and authors.

Mayur Gupta, global head of marketing technology and Innovation at Kimberly Clark, said that despite all the data and technology involved in marketing tech, the key is to remember the human element in it all.

“People no longer think about technology,” Gupta said. “They are confident it works.”

The challenge is to find ways to integrate technology seamlessly to accomplish larger objectives — giving customers a better experience.

Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said knowing your customer is the entire battle. “Customer obsession is your only competitive advantage,” she said.

She pointed out that digital innovation has made customers perpetually connected, but pressed for time and overrun with choices.

“Anyone can create innovation,” Ramos said, which means choices are always growing. And in this environment, getting customers' attention is more valuable than what's in their wallets. Customers have finite attention spans, she said.

Digital-Not

What's worrisome is that organizations are ill-equipped for digital success. Only 39 percent think their marketing team has the necessary skills to be digitally successful — and about 43 percent complain they can't find the right talent with digital marketing skill and experience, she said.

"Marketers treat digital as another line item in the media plan,” she continued.

Marketers should continuously exploit technology to create new sources of value for customers and increase operational agility in service of technology, she added.

Ramos also said businesses need to change from an inside-out viewpoint, where processes, technologies, resources and service were all in their own silos, to an outside-in viewpoint where customer objectives, journeys, contexts, touchpoints and personas encompass every part of the business.

The Same Page

Marketing, sales, service and tech all need to be in synergy, with the chief marketing officer and chief information officer (CIO) aligned on a tech-centric agenda, Ramos said.

It was a common theme, one that speakers including Joseph Kurian, head of marketing technology and innovation at Aetna, also discussed.

Kurian said the MarTech landscape is full of both opportunities and challenges. It can be overwhelming to evaluate these platforms and understand them completely, he noted, adding that selecting the right technology requires, “A new skill set and perspective."

That requires tight alignment between the CIO and the CMO, since it is virtually impossible now to separate the technology from the marketing.

Kurian envisions his own role as a customer-focused one that bridges the relationship between marketing and IT.

For marketing tech practitioners to succeed, they have to have the blessing of top executives and control over their own budgets. They also have to prove their value to the company by demonstrating solid return on investment, he said.

Listen to the Data

Saad Hameed, head of marketing technology at LinkedIn, said analytics plays an increasingly vital role in marketing.

To take best advantage of this data, marketers need to create a strategy and a plan. They need to understand the data and how to use it — before developing tactics to implement it. In addition, he said, “Marketing technologists need to speak to all aspects of the business."

It's also important to optimize the customer experience. Don't keep data in silos, he suggested. Rather, make it accessible to those who need it, without making them "jump through hoops."

Cynthia Gumbert, vice president of digital and new accounts marketing at CA Technologies, shared Hameed's sentiments that analytics and marketing technology are tied together.

“Marketing and IT got together and they're becoming one and the same,” she said. Gumbert also made an important point that customer experience will drive the marketing tech blueprint, and that the tech roadmap should be aligned with data flow, marketing capabilities and customer experience to avoid placing any department in a silo.

Marketing and IT should develop a playbook for joint communications so that they are on same page to business executives. Gumbert also mentioned that it doesn't just stop at the company and that companies should work closely with their tech vendors and partners to better identify and evaluate vendor/partner value.

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