glass reflection

People spend this time of year in reflection: looking back on where they’ve been and, in turn, figuring out how to get where they’re going next. Marketers — specifically those dealing with a lot of technology — aren’t immune to this inclination. So in this final month of 2015, it’s worthwhile to review the events of this year, see what we can learn, and get ready for what 2016 brings. 

What is absolutely clear is that marketing tech still represents a bit of a paradox. It is a critical staple of the marketing effort and yet under-utilized in terms of its overall potential; a source of major investment with behemoth players as well as a hugely fragmented landscape with constant new arrivals; a visionary force of integration and seamless customer experience but implemented and purchased by silo and channel.

The Marketing Technology Backbone — That Only Helps Marketers Crawl

The dollars keep flowing to the hundreds of marketing tech vendors across functional categories. Marketing departments are expected to spend more than $25 billion in 2016 and more than $32 billion in 2018 on marketing software solutions, according to IDC

And yet, a study published by Ascend2 in August revealed that only 9 percent of marketers have all the tools they need and fully utilize what they have. Nine percent! And 59 percent of those surveyed say they don’t utilize the technology they have at their disposal. So there’s a lot of spending but not necessarily a lot of using going on — or at least, not enough of the latter. That can be due to a number of things: what you bought isn’t what you had hoped, internal barriers to full utilization, or poor interoperability between different systems, among others.

Kick 2016 off with a tech audit to determine how effectively you’ve been leveraging the technology you have and identifying what types of gaps remain. Are they due to integration challenges or an absence of functionality? Do you need partners to fill them or can you keep the fix in-house?

Fragmentation Remains the Confusing Norm

Co-founder and CTO of ion interactive Scott Brinker’s famous landscape of nearly 1,900 vendors (and I expect the 2016 edition to have even more) is a visual reminder of how many options marketers have to solve their tech needs. Meanwhile, mergers and acquisitions continued to be red hot in 2015, particularly in the marketing automation space. On any given day, there are dozens of logos promising a whole slew of not-that-different-sounding capabilities, which makes a marketer’s job that much more difficult to manage. 

There’s no reason to think that this will stop anytime soon, because the fragmentation is driven by underlying market and consumer trends of digital disruption, the ubiquity of information, and copious amounts of venture capital, to name a few. Strap in for the ride and create a technology roadmap for 2016 that aligns business needs with your consumers’ journeys (yes, more than one). Challenge any vendor you evaluate next year to demo their capabilities in your brand’s existing environment and get granular about the ROI they’ve delivered for their existing customers and how they would deliver that for you.

The Present Reality Lags Behind the Promise of the Future

Mayur Gupta, SVP, head of digital at Healthgrades, wrote a piece recently in which he made the case for a more human-focused approach to the marketing tech stack. In principle it’s easy to agree with this view, but inordinately challenging to pull off in practice. 

Why? Because most companies measure performance based on channels and campaigns and don’t write technology RFPs with criteria about consumers’ needs. While the so-called marketing clouds promise end-to-end marketing solutions, the reality is that marketers use dozens of solutions to get their jobs done and will continue to do so well into 2016 and beyond. 

To infuse a more human element into how you use marketing tech, look at how consumer behavioral data collected from one channel is used — if at all — by other channels (one or many) and, more importantly, how that data determines a marketing response. You won’t go to an entirely consumer-driven marketing effort overnight, but decreasing friction between channel data is a start to breaking down the artificial barriers between channels more extensively.

Make 2016 the year of big things for your marketing tech ecosystem — and the brand experiences it powers!

Title image by Kaleb Nimz