Two comments come up repeatedly when I try to explain the complexity of the marketing technology landscape to prospective investors:

The first: “While I take your point that companies are using more tools than ever, once they have them in place isn’t it really just a maintenance issue? I’m not convinced that marketers are spending much time looking at new tools."

The second: “The complexity of the marketing technology landscape is just a short term problem. Within a few years there will only be three or four vendors who offer a complete solution. (Accompanied by a statement about the latest technology company acquisition as the proof point).”

They have stuck with me as a source of both amusement and frustration. 

These comments reflect a desire to reduce an increasingly complex functional and technology landscape to something simple and straightforward.  

Oh, if only that were true ... what an easy life we would have as marketers.

But that’s not the case. Let’s look at the first comment.

Marketing - and the Market - Doesn't Stand Still

Marketing practitioners today are under constant pressure to improve revenue, customer lifetime value and cost of acquisition metrics.  

The only way to do that is to continually refine the marketing mix, which entails replacing and adding tools, mandating a constant search for new tools. 

I’m sure most of you have dealt with the issue of a tool that has been working well that suddenly stops working or tops out at the results it can deliver, even with increased financial investment. In my previous company, TV was working extremely well for us and then all of a sudden, when the purchasing environment changed, we couldn’t get it to work at all.  

The best protection from this potential exposure is to always have new products and programs in test, with a list of “next things to test” at the ready. This way, you can quickly move to introduce new programs and tech into the mix. 

Vendors that offer free trials, or the ability to easily cancel a subscription, greatly facilitate the testing process. 

Layering, Only for a Marketing Stack

One of the unique things about the marketing environment is that new programs tend to be additive rather than disruptive.  

The advent of social media marketing didn’t make email marketing less important — it was just another program in the mix. As you add new programs to the mix, new technology layers get added to the marketing technology stack. 

Today it’s not unusual for large enterprise organizations to have over 150 marketing in tools in place at any given time with 20 to 50 more in test.  

Even small companies are leveraging a lot of tools. 

One of our marketing resources, in addition to the work she does supporting us, runs her own small consumer business, Gutsey Bars (yummy travel bars). Last week, in preparation for a speaking opportunity, she sat down to document her marketing technology stack and was shocked when she realized that she’s already using well over 20 tools as a sole proprietor of a business. 

In the early days of digital marketing, there was always that one “tech geek” in the marketing department that everyone could look to for information on the latest marketing technology – remember when we used to talk about Marketing Unicorns oh so long ago in 2014?  

Not anymore. Today every marketer bears that responsibility. 

How to Keep Up With MarTech

Staying abreast of new trends and technology can be challenging. In our business, we get to spend time with some of the most accomplished marketing technologists and over the last two years have learned a thing or two from them about keeping on top of the latest and greatest.

They all:

  • Take a disciplined approach to staying at the forefront of technology. Most have a list of trusted publications and bloggers they read regularly and commit a portion of every day to research and reading — as much as 25 percent
  • Leverage their peer networks and reach out often to see what their colleagues are testing and looking at
  • Attend conferences to extend their peer networks and hear the latest from vendors and other marketers about the new tools available.  Note: many of these technologists work to acquire speaking slots at these events as a way of defraying costs. If you speak at a conference most conference organizers will comp you with a free pass
  • Keep diligent records of tools they have discovered, tested and used. One of my close colleagues has a spreadsheet that documents every tool she has used, tested or vendor she’s talked to, for the last 15 years
  • Proactively identify tools to test in the near term, as well as for the next quarter, next year or for a particular project that they anticipate kicking off
  • Gather as much information as they can when they spot a new tool, and look to find any analyst commentary or peer reviews. 

There Is No One Platform to Rule Them All

Let’s move on to the second comment, because if our choices were narrowed to just three or four vendors we wouldn’t have to expend all the effort described above to stay abreast of new technology. In this imaginary world, we’d just pick a single vendor and be done. 

At least once every quarter someone raises the issue of buying best–in-class versus a fully integrated solution (and now that I've brought it up, no one else needs to write an article on this topic for the remainder of the year).  

The fundamental problem with this discussion is that no single integrated solution exists.  

Sure, we have the mega-platforms and companies, but not one delivers on the promise of an end-to-end integrated solution and is unlikely to do so, given that we live in a rapidly evolving environment. And if by some miracle, someone did try to stake a claim that they have everything for everyone, chances are that it would be too complex and too expensive for the majority of businesses.  

So like it or not, we are going to be connecting together a set of tools from a variety of vendors for the foreseeable future.  

How to Develop Your MarTech Strategy

For many marketers, thinking about an overall marketing technology strategy is a daunting task. Here again there are lessons to be learned from some fellow practitioners that are methodical in the way they approach their technology direction:

1. Start with an audit of your current technology. Gather the following information:

  • Name of tool
  • Who owns the tool (name and department)
  • Who uses the tool (one person, one group, the entire organization)
  • Who supports the tool (is IT involved?)
  • Function of the tool
  • What products, if any, is the tool integrated with
  • Spend on the tool
  • Contract renewal date
  • Performance to date
  • Note: if you are a large enterprise chances are you will have some home grown technology in the mix, don’t forget to catalog that as well

2. Group your tools into the following categories:

  • Core ($$$$)
    • Platforms used across the organization (Typically large platforms, large $$ investment and managed by or with, the assistance of IT)
    • Examples: CRM, Marketing Automation, Email, Behavioral Analytics
  • Connected ($ to $$$)
    • Platforms and tools that connect into and enhance the capabilities of the Core Platforms
    • Examples: Landing page optimization, content curation and distribution, tag management
  • Independent ($ to $$$)
    • Tools that operate independently and are not connected to one of the core platforms.

3. Map your tools to your business processes. Customize this part to the way you think about your marketing program and business objectives. For some it’s mapping to a buyer’s journey, for others to the sales funnel, and for others it may be a set of discrete business objectives (e.g. revenue, new market penetration etc).

Tools, particularly the large platforms, may extend across multiple elements. It may be helpful to separate out the BI/Analytics tools into their own map so that you can clearly see how the various analytics tools relate to each other and work together to deliver a comprehensive picture of the health of the organization.

4. Once you have your map in place, dive into the details and identify where there are:

  • Gaps in your technology mix
  • Tools that aren’t performing
  • Opportunities to leverage additional functionality in your existing product suite. Remember, studies have show that we tend to only use a small amount of available features in any given platform
  • An opportunity to improve performance through integration.

5. You can approach assessing the performance of your stack in two ways:

  • Start with the independent products and work your way into the core to quickly eliminate the independent and adjunct products that aren’t adding value, or 
  • Start with the high ticket platforms, get the independent products working properly, and then go after all the smaller ticket items. Doing this focuses the effort on where most of the expenditures are.

You Don't Have to Do This Alone

Don’t feel you have to do this alone: Work as a team or form an internal task force.

Enlist the aid of an agency — many agencies are forming specifically to help companies with this process.

Remember to leverage peer reviews. If you have concerns about a product’s performance and aren’t sure if it is your implementation or a product issue, seek out product reviews and reach out to colleagues at other companies for advice.

Put a system in place to maintain and manage all of the information you gather.  If it’s a living process, your job becomes one of effective evolution and not “start all over again."

Consider putting some rules and processes in place relating to acquiring and communicating about the acquisition and use of tools across the organization.

Our marketing world isn’t going to get any less complicated anytime soon, but that’s okay. With a little discipline, a whole lot of pragmatism and the support of colleagues, it’s possible to stay at the leading edge of technology and to thrive in this crazy environment we live in.

Title image Michael Prewitt