The Marketing Technology Explosion A Blessing or a Curse

My first two reactions to Scott Brinker’s super infographic covering the marketing technology landscape were: WOW and WOW.

The first wow -- Wow, we have come a long way. There’s been a tremendous amount of innovation, evolution and exploration of data and technology across the broad categories of Media, Data, Content and Commerce.

The second wow -- Da&#! How will we manage this evolution? How do these pieces come together? Because that will be the only way to bring value to the consumer and the only way we will come close to delivering a seamless omnichannel consumer experience.

The Hammer - Nail Syndrome

I have been at the intersection of marketing, technology and storytelling for many years now, on both sides of the fence. First at a global digital agency providing marketing technology services to the leading Fortune 500 and now working as the Global Head of Marketing Technology and Innovation at Kimberly Clark.

Throughout this journey, I have driven and utilized millions of dollars across the enterprise in emerging and innovative marketing technology capabilities, all with a hope to drive business growth. Some of the initiatives made sense and yielded tremendous growth and ROI, and some failed.

However, my approach and these landscape views are missing a fundamental element -- an essential component of the entire ecosystem and an entity that is supposedly at the center of today’s marketing universe. 

I am talking about the human, the person, the consumer. Where is she in this marketing technology ecosystem and our methodology? Where are her respective emotions, desires, needs and the ultimate experience?

Most marketing technology strategies and planning occur in response to questions that are driven by channels and/or technology itself. They do not start or end with a consumer need or business challenge. Questions like:

  • We should have a mobile app or even better, make all our sites responsive
  • Why don’t we have a marketing automation platform?
  • We need to be on the marketing cloud, can we adopt one of those platforms?
  • What Big Data solution should we bring into our business to handle all of our data?
  • Let’s buy a social marketing platform, it allows content syndication across all social platforms, offering tremendous reuse, efficiency and scale

Maybe you're the exception and don't approach marketing technology planning in this way. But we all think in these terms, because it's easier to do that than apply these technologies, tools and capabilities to focus on meeting consumer needs while meeting business objectives.

More often than not, our marketing strategies end up being a “hammer looking for a nail.”


An evolved approach starts by asking some basic questions:

  • Have we become increasingly technology and channel focused?
  • What is the ultimate purpose for data and technology? Is it to drive adoption and growth by delivering immersive experiences that simplify and change consumer’s lives? Or is it an attempt to change fundamental consumer behaviors that prevent your business from making money?
  • Are we truly solving business challenges and objectives?
  • Have we allowed channels -- mobile, social, email, search and others -- to drive our technology strategy (a syndrome I call “channel obsession”)?
  • Do we really have the consumer at the center of what we do?

Answering these questions may not solve the problem, but will move you from a state of being unconsciously incompetent to being consciously incompetent, which is a start.

To shed this hammer-nail syndrome, you'll need a radically different methodology, driven by the consumer and consumer need as well as by the business and business challenges. It is difficult, but possible.

Here are three steps to get you on the way:

Realign the Marketing Technology Landscape by Consumer Needs, Desires, Behaviors

Find the human within the Marketing Technology ecosystem. How do we shift this landscape on its axis to create a model and approach that leads with the consumer at the center?

The traditional view aligns the technology capabilities by channels. Could these be realigned against consumer behavior or needs? What technology capabilities would be needed to address behavioral challenges brands face such as trust, perception, awareness, stigma, loyalty and more?


Which technologies need to work together in order to address business challenges like reach, penetration, market share, share of voice, entry to new markets, launch of new products and more?

The technologies needed to address these issues may differ from brand to brand or even market to market. But shifting the focus to address consumer needs and desires along with business challenges provides a unique and powerful way to apply technologies in a more productive way. 

Build a Connected Ecosystem Instead of Isolated Channels

The consumer and business centric approach will organically force you out of a channel mindset and make it possible to deliver channel agnostic experiences. To do this, connect the different technology pieces so data flows from one system to the other, stitching together the consumer journey seamlessly.

Here are some ways that you can translate this into reality:

Data Harmonization and Universal Channel-Agnostic View of the Consumer

Establish a single view of the consumer across the traditional silos of paid, owned and earned media. Connect the data across touchpoints. Eliminate partial, isolated and channel specific insights into the consumer.

This data convergence can include data harmonization and matching between data management platforms, CRM and loyalty databases and other first party data sources with many second and third party data sources.

Data Integration Across Systems

Make it possible to share data seamlessly across internal and external systems, connecting across touch points and channels. For instance, use APIs and data feeds across brand sites, social and mobile platforms and D2C stores to share data. Combine a consumer’s social, behavioral and shopping data to deliver a relevant, personalized and connected experience.

Smart Experience Layer

Your content engines need access to this data to make the experience relevant and connected for the consumer. This may include the ability to apply targeting rules and real time decision making based on data signals captured across channels and touch points.

Finally, use KPIs related to behavioral changes and business impact to measure the ROI from all marketing technology investment. Shift the focus from the number of marketing technologies successfully adopted across markets and brands, to the depth of behavioral changes that have been effected -- changes that lead to selling more products to more people more often or conversely allow the consumer to buy the best product, at the best price, at a time, location and touchpoint of her choice.


I often think about the Albert Einstein quote: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough!”

To tweak it for this discussion: “If I can’t connect it to a consumer need and a business problem, I still don’t know it well enough!”

The bottom line is the explosion of data and marketing technology can be a blessing if we use it to change consumer behavior. But it can be a curse if we remain channel focused and built technologies just for the sake of building great technologies.

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