While you might need a magnifying glass, you don’t need to be a data scientist to see the exponential growth in the marketing technology landscape — both in the breadth of marketing technology categories, as well as the number of marketing technology vendors. 

Instead of inspiring fear, the landscape offers marketers an opportunity, provided they can surmount two broad challenges:

  1. How do you navigate this chaotic and ever-changing landscape? How do you prioritize, budget and scale these capabilities effectively and efficiently? 
  2. And how do you apply these capabilities to ultimately drive business growth and change human behavior?

I spoke with David Raab, CEO of Raab Associates and the author of Customer Experience Matrix Blog about these challenges. His leadership and vision around marketing and ad technologies has inspired many, including me. 

David Raab: I’ve recently been pondering how marketers can build a long-term technology roadmap in a world where technologies continue to change so rapidly.  

The traditional approach to building a roadmap is:

  • start with business and marketing strategy
  • define the marketing programs needed to support those strategies 
  • identify the functional requirements needed to support those programs and
  • design an architecture to meet those requirements.   

That’s great, but doesn’t account for future unknown requirements. You could certainly add “flexibility” as another requirement. But if that’s all you do, it doesn’t change anything.  

The real test is: what functional requirements are you willing to sacrifice in the name of flexibility? If there aren’t any, then you’re not taking it seriously. 

So one question facing marketing technologists is: do you face a trade-off between known current requirements and future flexibility, and how do you deal with it? (OK, that’s two questions.)

Mayur Gupta: The difference between the traditional way of building information technologies and the new world of marketing technologies is that there are no set of given requirements (functional or technical) from a business owner. 

You are always working to figure out what’s next, and may never get a functional definition or technology requirements. And that’s where the role of a marketing technologist is critical: someone who understands the needs of the consumer and the challenges of desired consumer experience and is able to manifest that vision in a technology roadmap that may evolve every few months, if not few weeks. 

This is a far cry from the traditional mindset of implementing an SAP or ERP system, one that you activated and reassessed maybe once in 10-15 years. 

A few things could provide the “flexibility” in this ever-changing marketing technology landscape:

  • A shift from everything on-premises to cloud-based platforms 
  • An adaptive, loosely-coupled service oriented architecture, based on a foundation of open APIs and interfaces, gives you the flexibility to plug and play 
  • The lack of a pre-connected marketing operating system from one of the big 4 (IBM, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle) has forced marketers to think about a connected ecosystem tied together using APIs and data integration 

The way I have balanced flexibility with the trade off of new experience capabilities and features is by ensuring we were investing in an open API and services framework. This allowed us to leverage scalability, extensibility to newer systems that may integrate in the future and apply the data or the decisioning across the system. 

Marketers must adopt the mindset that there is no end state to your “system context” any more — it will continue to expand. A foundation that has plugs across the board will provide the much needed, but not yet defined, extensibility as the needs and capabilities evolve.  

Another shift in mindset is required — from thinking about isolated technologies and tools to systems thinking. We are starting to see that more and more, evident from the number of “stackies” for instance, but it’s still not commonplace when it comes to execution. 

We are still technology focused as opposed to consumer obsessed or ROI focused. Changing your focus to the latter organically provides flexibility, planning and fluidity into your plans and roadmap. 

It’s akin to how the world of marketing campaigns is evolving from time-bound push thinking to an always-on state of consumer engagement, where you continuously engage and converse with the consumer. 

The marketing technology roadmap is a very similar journey. 

DR: I think of a “roadmap” as something that describes a destination and how to get there. So I wonder whether a roadmap that evolves every few months or weeks is really a roadmap at all.  

Maybe we need to replace that term with something like the set of the flexibility principles you’ve outlined. But I don’t think we can stop there.  

For one thing, the flexibility principles themselves raise many questions. For example, there’s the assumption that cloud-based is really more flexible. I’d say that users have less control with cloud-based systems than on-premises, so it’s not self-evident why they would be more flexible.  

MG: Fair point, but I often question the imaginary notion of “control” or its benefit in lieu of the lack of speed, agility and cost. 

I would classify the on-premises category more closely with internally “developed” solutions. So the point I made earlier was more about cloud-based SaaS Solutions as opposed to on-premises, internally built. 

While the on-premises built solutions do provide more control and ownership, its painfully slow to develop these — especially within marketing technology — and lacks innovation. Flexibility in SaaS would come from a few areas:

  • Much lower cost of adoption and ownership — allowing to fail fast, fail cheap if you had to. The cost of evolution and replacement is often the roadblock for technology to evolve 
  • Faster speed to market — Again the higher efficiency and faster turn around time provides flexibility as you start to scale. Faster to go in, faster to come out or faster to evolve and expand 
  • Global deployments are easier 
  • Benefit from someone else’s innovation and product roadmap, as a marketer you can leverage faster enhancements, product evolution from the vendor 

DR: Another issue: how can marketing technologists evaluate the relative flexibility of different service-oriented architectures and different APIs? This requires a deep level of technical analysis which I suspect many don’t have the time or skills to perform. 

MG: This is where Marketing, Marketing Technologists and IT come together. Without the understanding and skills to think through service-oriented architecture, APIs and data integration, you put massive limitations on your marketing technology ecosystem. In fact, I would question if it is an ecosystem at all in the absence of these. 

I see marketing technologists hashing this out in close partnership with their IT teams. While a marketing technologist may lead the vision, strategy, the IT team can go deep into architectural design and execution. 

This proves that marketing and IT will never be successful in isolation, even if their DNA continues to converge. 

As the big players (IBM, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, SAP and perhaps some new ones) go to market with more integrated offerings, along with the current a  la carte approach, they will meet another aspect of this need.

A lot of them, especially Adobe, have successfully integrated the core pieces. Now they are exposing a services layer to allow more flexible integration. 

Everyone is adjusting to suit a market where every brand has some existing pieces. The challenge Marketing Technology vendors face now is how do you embed yourself within that half-baked machinery? 

DR: I think we have to be careful here. 

It’s true that the big platform vendors are opening up their systems. But different vendors expose different capabilities and use different structures, so choosing one “open” system as a core platform probably limits the other systems you can connect with it.  

MG: True. However, look at how successfully the iOS and Android platforms have exploded. Marketing needs the same thinking, that allows creativity and applications to be built on top of a core. 

With a whole new breed of API Platforms like Apigee, Mulesoft and others, a lot of the hard work has been done to become the adaptive layer between different endpoints. And this layer will in many ways provide the PVC Piping to the overall ecosystem that can allow the data to flow through. 

Editor's Note: You can read part two of this conversation between Mayur and David here

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