Marketing leaders are struggling to keep track of all of the tools in use across their organization.

A marketing stack helps CMOs gain an understanding of the marketing technology being used, tested and retired throughout their company. Most marketers start by creating defined layers of key product categories (e.g. email, analytics, social media), which provides the added bonus of generating a tool inventory.   

Analytics, social, CRM, email, marketing automation, lead generation and advertising are the most common stack layers. If you haven’t built your stack yet, start with those categories (I’d also add branding/design, research and perhaps site development/optimization as layers) and start cataloging the tools you use — both free and paid for. 

I predict you will be shocked at how many tools you are actually using. I also predict you will have an “oh s**t” moment when you realize you should have cancelled some tools long ago.    

If all you need is the ability to manage your tools inventory, you can stop here. But chances are, you also need to think about how you can optimize your tool suite and what you need to add to the mix to enhance your marketing program's productivity. 

Defining the Right Approach: Tactical or Strategic

With a little extra effort, you can leverage your marketing stack as a strategic tool to identify technology gaps, redundancies, drill down into functional problem areas and most importantly, serve as a framework to support a well thought-out marketing technology roadmap.  

Thinking about your stack in the context of your company’s business and marketing objectives, and aligning the structure of your stack with those objectives will quickly reveal if you have an adequate arsenal of tools to achieve your performance goals against each objective.   

Every company is different so sadly there’s no one size fits all solution, but there are, however, three high level ways to approach this, all slight variations of one another:

1. The nuts and bolts approach 

Some companies are laser-focused on core metrics, such as revenue growth, customer retention, demographic expansion and product mix revenue, so they structure and direct all marketing efforts at those. You can go two ways here: 1) Align the stack with each objective representing a layer or 2) Create a stack for each objective and define layers that relate to the activities needed to achieve those objectives.

2. The buyer journey/experience

Companies that focus on the customer journey work to ensure a cohesive experience across all devices and channels. Stacks architected to support this effort might include the following layers: persona/customer intelligence, awareness, consideration, conversion, engagement, advocacy and measurement. They might also include a customer experience layer or several experience layers related to device optimization: online, mobile etc.

3. The sales funnel

The sales funnel shares many of the same characteristics as the buyer journey in that it maps to the steps that transform a prospect into a customer, and ultimately an advocate. The difference comes down to mindset: whether a company orients more towards customer experience or sales process.  

Constructing sales funnel-oriented stacks can take a simple approach: demand generation, conversion, relationship management and propagation, or a much more detailed approach: awareness, knowledge, interest, purchase, activation, preference, loyalty, advocacy. 

Oh and it's worth pointing out that today’s sales funnel is really the sales and marketing funnel. And when we say funnel, it really looks more like an hourglass now that companies have recognized that engaging and nurturing customers post-sale is essential to maximizing customer lifetime value. 

How Many Stacks Do You Need?

It's easy to get overwhelmed trying to fit everything into one logical step. 

Guess what. Nowhere is it written that everything has to go into one stack — or that every stack has to be structured the same way. We've seen:

  • Organizations building three stacks: approved products, products in test, retired products
  • Organizations building core stacks and then specialized satellite stacks for particular projects or business objectives
  • A hierarchy of stacks: enterprise, team or business unit, individual

Personally, I like to maintain a “For Future Consideration”  stack to keep track of all the great tools that come my way that I don’t have the budget or resources to use now but would like to consider in the future. 

Do what makes sense for your organization and is helpful to you: that's the only best practice. It would be a shame to invest hours in building a comprehensive beautiful stack to only use it once in a PowerPoint presentation to demonstrate how many tools you are using. Your stack needs to assist you in thinking about and managing your technology resources. 

So go forth and build some stacks! And if you have other thoughts about how to structure stacks, I’d love to hear them.

Title image "" (CC BY 2.0) by  jfiess