In days of yore — say, the Mad Men days of Don Draper — if we maintained a budget at all, it was for martini lunches. Today, according to Gartner, 79 percent of marketing departments maintain capital budgets, primarily for technology. And while those glory days of Madison Avenue might seem like the distant past, this radical industry shift from being technology-free to technology-laden has happened (and continues to happen) at amazing speed. The truth is, very few of us understand the modern marketing technology landscape. It’s emerging so fast, there’s still no good explanation for how it all fits together. 

And we really need one. Marketing technology (MarTech) commands an increasingly larger portion of our time, attention and, of course, budget — 61 percent of us expect to increase the proportion of our technology spend relative to marketing communications and program spending. Just as we need a go-to-market strategy, a segmentation strategy and channel and campaign strategies, marketing today demands that we also have a marketing technology strategy. This means we have to start thinking like technologists.

Just as a technologist would vet, demo and test-drive the scores of tools, apps and platforms available to us, we have to start thinking about the technology ecosystem we’re building. MarTech is simply innovating too quickly for any single platform to cover it all: email marketing, ad serving, analytics, CRM, social media monitoring…. We can only count on this list getting longer. Most of what we’ll invest in today will be functionally specialized solutions, which means we’ll have to stitch them all together. 

First let’s look at how to gather together the right stack for our particular business. 

Building a Marketing Technology Ecosystem

How to think about the MarTech stack? Scott Brinker over at did an amazing job with his 2015 Marketing Technology Landscape. He categorizes these technologies into four types: 

  1. Backbone Platforms – CRM, marketing automation, Web content/experience management, e-commerce
  2. Marketing Middleware – data management platforms (DMPs), tag management, APIs
  3. Marketing Operations – asset management, BI, CI, data science, Web and mobile analytics, dashboards, data visualizations 
  4. Customer Experience – demand-side platforms (DSPs), email marketing, SEO, content marketing, social media, loyalty, events, creative design

This categorization can be super valuable in getting your head around the types of technologies that are out there and is a great resource for identifying what companies play in those spaces. But it does not really help one understand how all of these work together in a holistic system. 

So, how to think about this problem? Well, since we are talking about technology, let’s examine the concept of multi-layered architecture in application development as a useful model for understanding our marketing technology stack. 

As software applications became more complex, software engineers began to separate out the different functional parts of their applications into different “layers.” Common layers in application development are the Presentation Layer (what the user sees and interacts with), the Application Layer (which contains all of the business logic for how the application functions), and the Data Layer (which stores the data used by the application). 

One can think of these layers as separate modules that can talk to each other but can be changed independently. For example, in a Web application you might want to change the look and feel of your application (the Presentation Layer) but not need to change how the application actually operates (the Application Layer). If you have a multi-level architecture, you can swap out the front end without having to update the other layers of the application. 

By separating out these layers, application developers are able to reduce complexity, increase scalability, make it easier to design and implement, make upgrading and adding additional functionality much easier, and increase maintainability. Hey, these all sound like pretty good benefits!

How can we apply this to our MarTech stack? If we think about the different functions that are necessary to create good marketing, we can begin to see some natural layers in our ecosystem. Here is my take on the different layers of our MarTech stack:

  • Experience Layer – what the prospect sees and experiences
  • Trafficking Layer – how ads and communication are trafficked
  • Measurement Layer – the instrumentation and tagging necessary to track and measure the performance of the ad or activity
  • Marketing Logic Layer – what, when and how we are delivering our content to get the right message to the right person at the right time
  • Content Layer – visual and text assets that communicate the marketing message
  • Reporting and Analytics Layer – performance and spend reporting and analysis
  • Data Layer – customer, cookie, spend, metadata and metric databases
  • Planning Layer – budget allocation and tracking of planned and actual spend 
  • Research Layer – consumer, brand equity or customer satisfaction research 


The diagram above shows how different applications within the ecosystem occupy different layers depending on their functionality. A SEM system like Google Adwords spans various layers: One can research keywords, plan budgets, capture click-and-conversion data, create text ads, generate reports, specify targeting logic, track and traffic ads… and the experience is all controlled within the application. 

A more specialized application like a brand survey is found only within a couple layers of the stack: The survey is in the Research Layer, and the reporting and analysis of the survey is in the Reporting and Analytics Layer. 

How Does This Help?

Now, what does this tell us about our MarTech stack? And why is it useful to look at it in this manner? Well, the whole point of having an ecosystem is to gain efficiencies and leverage the capabilities of the components. In other words, the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts. And to do this requires that there be an understanding about how different layers connect and interact so that duplicate work can be reduced, work can be reused, and information generated from the system can improve the overall performance of the system. 

For example, how many different performance reports do you receive each week from the many different agencies and applications that you use? Probably quite a few, but the data is all presented in different ways so that you cannot easily understand what is happening across your entire spend. But if you think like a technologist and home in on the Reporting and Analytics layer of your stack, it will be easy to see where those points of integration need to be. 

Another good example is at the Content Layer. Where is content being created and stored throughout the ecosystem? Is it “trapped” in an application, or is it easily available to be used by other applications? Looking across the Content Layer one can easily see where content resides and whether there are places where content creation and storage can be centralized. 

As we can see, no matter what sort of marketer we are, we’ll be looking at building and/or managing an ecosystem of several individual technology components. By mapping these components to a multi-layer marketing architecture, you can be fully informed about how your stack needs to interoperate and be smarter about the technologies you choose. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  hedvigs