"Please, make the bad chart go away," I've heard more than one marketer plead.
I've been mapping the marketing technology landscape for the past five years. It's mostly a labor of love. I'm fascinated by how this space is evolving -- both the technologies and the strategies of the firms who build them. And as the co-founder of a marketing technology company, I have a vested interest in understanding our positioning in the larger world of marketing software.
My intention in sharing it was to illustrate just how much marketing has become a technology-powered discipline. I hoped it might impart a sense of awe for all the incredible innovation that's out there.
But the most common emotion it stirs is, well, terror. It's often incorporated into presentations with the intention of frightening people. "Look at how scary the marketing technology landscape is!" That's a shame, because it's really not as scary as it looks.
Now, I don't want to trivialize it. Marketing is in a challenging period of time, as it navigates the transformation of itself and the broader organizations in which it exists in the digital world. A lot is changing all at once, and it can be difficult. But it is also exciting and full of opportunity. My marketing technology chart is simply a visible artifact of the enormous scale of change underway in marketing overall.
But here are five reasons why the technology part of marketing's transformation is actually manageable.
While there are 1,876 different marketing technology vendors included on my latest landscape, a marketer should never have to consider evaluating anywhere close to all of them. For any given situation that a marketer is looking for software, there's almost always a relatively small number of candidates that would be appropriate for them.
Because the scope of marketing has increased so much over the past 10 years, there are many different kinds of activities that marketing engages in now -- and each has a different set of marketing software designed to help. When you consider software for managing your search advertising, software for hosting webinars, software for running your team's agile marketing process with Scrum or Kanban, or software for building interactive content (such as quizzes, calculators, configurators and assessment tools), you're looking at entirely different groups of vendors for each.
Many marketing software categories -- such as marketing automation, web content management and CRM -- are segmented into different products depending on the size and nature of your business. The solutions aimed at small businesses are usually a separate set than those built for large enterprises. Some are oriented for B2B, others for B2C. To be sure, you'll still have plenty of products to choose among -- but not so many as to be unmanageable.
One of the most interesting -- and helpful -- developments in marketing technology over the past year has been the increasing "platformization" of major CRM, marketing automation and web experience management systems.
Leading vendors such as Act-On, Adobe, HubSpot, Marketo, Oracle, Salesforce, SDL and Sitecore, have opened up their APIs, created official ISV ecosystems and become true platforms. This makes it easier to plug in other marketing software without a bunch of integration headaches. The platforms serve as a common backbone for customer data and coordinated campaign management. The ISV products enhance their capabilities for dozens of more specialized marketing applications.
The shakeout of a relatively small number of major platform players significantly simplifies technology management for marketers. If you choose a good platform that fits your business, you don't need it to do everything or keep up with all of the latest innovations. You can add and remove specialized ISV products as you need them, without having to reconsider your entire marketing technology stack's architecture with each one.
A good platform as the foundation for your marketing technology gives you a lot of flexibility.
3. Consumerization of IT
In surveying the breadth of the marketing technology landscape, it's important to remember that not all of the software products represented there are "big" decisions for marketing management. Most aren't.
You want to choose your primary marketing technology platforms carefully -- your CRM, your marketing automation, your web content management system. Those choices tend to affect many people throughout marketing and IT, and they will hopefully serve as the backbone of your marketing technology stack. They should be evaluated thoroughly, and there should be more governance around their operation.
But much of the rest of the software available to marketers today can be used by either individuals or small teams without requiring enterprise-wide coordination. For instance, your content marketing team may choose software that they prefer for curating content from the web, managing their workflow, and producing infographics, without affecting anyone else in the company.
This is the consumerization of IT, where a large number of web and mobile app tools are readily available to help people with their jobs. Only a subset benefit from technical integration with the rest of your marketing technology stack, and often only for specific pieces of data. And for those that do, many of them can now plug directly into your backbone platform as third-party products.
Four out of five times, what holds back marketers from digital marketing success is not so much their tools, but what they do with them. It sounds cliché. But buying tools is the easy part. Figuring out how to use them well, how to create content and experiences that engage and enthrall your audience, and how to grow your brand in the world -- that's the difficult part.
Put another way: having the right tools is important, but it's rarely the decisive factor in a triumphant marketing strategy. (And that comes from a fellow who passionately loves marketing technology.)
Given that, pursuing a quest for the "perfect" marketing technology stack is a quixotic endeavor. Don't spend too much time hunting for the theoretically perfect tool. Invest a reasonable amount of time in exploring your alternatives, and then pick one that does what you need that you like best.
When it comes to technology in a rapidly changing environment, it pays to be a satisficer.
5. Marketing Technologists
Finally, marketing is steadily developing more technical expertise within its ranks. There's a growing profession of hybrid marketing technologists -- people working in marketing who are skilled at designing, developing and operating software systems -- who are able to help marketers manage all these new tech-powered capabilities.
Not everyone in marketing needs to be a technologist. Just as, quite frankly, not everyone in marketing needs to be a "creative." But by incorporating native technical talent into your overall marketing organization, you can help alleviate some of the mystery and confusion from this massive field of marketing technologies.
To keep things in perspective, while there are a tremendous number of marketing technology vendors out there, this is mostly a good thing for marketing. All of these companies are competing to better innovate the future of marketing. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. But it's an embarrassment of riches, not a house of terrors.
Note: If you're interested in learning how other marketing teams have incorporated marketing technologists into their organizations, you may be interested in attending this year's MarTech Conference in San Francisco. (Disclosure: I'm the program chair for the event.)