We’ve all read how complex the marketing technology space has become. Many of us have experienced it first hand. Modern marketing is just plain challenging.

But despite all of the innovation and all of the new vendors selling all that cool new technology, many are still missing the basics.

Everyone’s strategy is different. I get that. Different business models need to use digital marketing tactics in different ways. 

But there are some universal requirements that these technologies must meet — things I challenge anyone to suggest are not universally necessary.

And, many vendors still fail to fulfill these fundamental requirements.

This is my open letter to the makers of marketing technology, from the behemoth marketing cloud empires to the up-and-coming MarTech startups. Consider these the universal requirements for your customers.

Channel Attribution

Every technology should be able to serve the marketer’s needs to break down visits and events by the basic marketing channels: organic search, paid search, social media, email, link referrals, advertisements and campaigns. This is fundamental when it comes to defining marketing channels.

Marketers need to know which digital channel generates a lead or makes a sale or solicits a donation — or whatever success metric is in place. At the absolute minimum, we need to be able to decide which of those channels deserves our attention and budget.

If the technology is a “hub,” like a marketing automation platform, it should be flexible enough to accept channel attribution from connected point technologies. Those point systems — a live chat platform, an email marketing platform, an ad management system — should be capable of passing channel information to a hub system.

This is not complicated. This is not uncharted territory. Yet many marketing technology systems are unable to clearly assign channel attribution and/or pass it to connected technologies.

Open API

No vendor is going to be able to write software that deals with everyone’s individual needs. It just isn’t possible. 

Marketing technology has to be open so that marketers can figure out how to make it serve their specific needs.

MarTech vendors need to accept that their technology will be plugged into a frankenstein of systems — even the marketing cloud vendors. A thoughtfully developed, open API is an absolute requirement.

By providing a flexible interface into your technology, you give marketers the opportunity to effectively use your product. Marketers want to spend time innovating with what you sell, not banging their heads against their desks, trying to plug in your technology.

Your lack of API will slide, if you’re a $30 a month, small-ish solution. But if you call your product “enterprise level”, then you had better provide this layer of enablement via integration.

Campaign Flexibility

The campaign is no longer a marketer’s only unit of work. A great deal of what marketers do is ongoing and indefinite. Don’t force us into bucketing everything into something called a “campaign.”

Executing a content marketing strategy is a perfect example. Content marketing is not a campaign. (If you listen to Joe Pulizzi’s and Robert Rose’s podcast, This Old Marketing, you’ll hear this constantly.) 

Content marketing is a flywheel. You start slow, with minimal gains, but you keep trucking, until you build the momentum — the audience — that you can leverage for revenue.

With content marketing, there is no end. There is only persistent audience building.

When you try to force marketers to think in terms of a finite time (e.g. “we will execute this thing during this month”) it makes us have to work against your technology. Even worse, it confuses managers who already struggle with breaking away from campaign-first thinking.

Yes, sometimes marketers will execute campaigns on top of my ongoing tactics. The concept will not and should not go away. But vendors need to understand that the campaign is not my primary unit of marketing anymore.

The New Context for Marketing Technology

Channel attribution, open APIs and campaign flexibility are important on their own. But they are requirements within the context of a larger shift toward the need for customization.

Every single marketing technology must be built assuming that its users will have to integrate it with other systems. The business processes that it facilitates must be flexible enough to combine with other processes. The value it provides must not live in a silo.

There is no such thing as a stand-alone marketing technology.

Marketing technology vendors need to put more focus on partnerships with customers, agencies, integrators and other MarTech vendors. They need to build a broader perspective of the audience they serve. They must adapt to the way marketers are forced to work today.

The industry is still too focused on its own individual value propositions. Vendors are not producing building blocks that the upcoming generation of marketers is prepared to assemble. They are not serving the market.

Marketers need Legos, not model airplanes.

Don’t Make Me Hunt

Marketers shouldn’t have to go on a treasure hunt to find technologies that accommodate for these requirements. 

These shouldn’t be something that we have to evaluate. They should be automatic.

I empathize with how difficult it is to see your product through your customer’s eyes (I too work for a technology vendor). That’s why I’m telling you exactly what we marketers need. 

These aren’t my requirements. These aren’t my crazy ideas. These are what modern marketing demands of my peers.

Some vendors may read this and blow it off. Others will take it to heart and will maybe even make some changes.

I’m betting on the vendors who fall in the latter. And I may even become a customer.

Title image by Azrul Aziz.