Scott Brinker on stage at the 2017 MarTech Conference in Boston.
Scott Brinker on stage at the 2017 MarTech Conference in Boston. PHOTO: Hill Media Group

Marketing technology (martech) platform ecosystems are growing. Software and services are blending. Citizen developer platforms are rising. This creates a new galaxy of marketing technology apps, something Scott Brinker calls the “Second Golden Age of Martech” in his annual industry report on the state of martech.

“Every company is becoming a software company to some degree,” Brinker, author of the Chief Marketing Technologist Blog and founder of the Martech Conference, told CMSWire in an interview this week. “It’s not just software vendors, but service providers in the space are building software, and ultimately the consumers of these martech platforms are building digital businesses themselves, incorporating digital capabilities as part of their digital transformation efforts.”

Taming the Martech Chaos

Brinker's martech "Golden Age" comparison includes:

First Golden Age of Martech Second Golden Age of Martech
Ecosystems: suite vs. best-of-breed Ecosystems: platform ecosystems
Experts: software vs. services Experts: blended model of software & services
Engineers: build vs. buy Engineers: custom apps & ops on a common core

OK. So now what? What do I do as a marketer as I sort through my own martech ecosystem? How do I process the more than 7,000 martech apps (and many more plug-ins as Brinker notes) and somehow artfully and skillfully integrate software I’ve bought with what my team, my developers and my service providers have built? Can I trust that the major marketing suites, as Brinker reports, have really “embraced becoming true marketing platforms, with ever more open APIs and official marketplaces for third-party apps”?

They say marketing's part art and part science, right? Brinker, after all, put the state of martech app development quite eloquently: “That’s where the magic happens, where the energy and intelligence of engineering teams within platform companies is multiplied by all the energy and intelligence of hundreds or thousands of imaginative, third-party app developers. That massively distributed engine of innovation serves the myriad of needs and desires across different customers.”

Art? Sure. On the ground marketing floor, though, managing martech can be more like triple-advanced calculus. After all, Brinker told CMSWire most marketers lately have told him managing mountains of customer data remains their number 1 challenge. “The question becomes: How do you keep that from turning into total chaos?” Brinker said of managing the evolution of martech software development from vendors, third-party developers and engineers and in-house citizen software creators. “How do you how do you get some sort of cohesion with all this distributed engineering that's happening?”

Related Article: MarTech Conference Attendees Discuss Top Customer Experience Priorities

Martech Ecosystems Not Built in a Day

Brinker recognizes this doesn’t magically happen. “Hey, marketers, you know all that software innovation around your marketing stack between vendors, service providers, third-party app builders and your own developers? Put it all together into a single framework, manage your data exceptionally and deliver great customer experiences.” It’s a tall task. No doubt. Even if the major martech suites like Adobe and Salesforce are becoming more open and offering more and more solutions with buzzword-worthy branding, it's still not easy.

And guess what? It’s going to cost you implementing and integrating these martech apps. In its second Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms (fee required) released in February, Gartner found that through 2021, 85% of effort and cost in a DXP program will be spent on integrations with internal and external systems, including the DXP’s own, built-in capabilities. Further, 90% of global organizations will rely on system integrators (SIs), agencies and channel partners to design, build and implement their digital experience strategies.

Related Article: 12 Things Marketers Should Know About Martech's New Categories

When Buying or Building Martech Works Best

What’s the takeaway here from martech’s evolution for some marketers? Recognize that when deciding on a martech investment, marketers should weigh decisions such as “suite vs. best-of-breed,” “software vs. services” and “build vs. buy,” according to Amede Hungerford, CMO at Reflektion.

“When ease-of-use is of greater importance, I would recommend marketers pursue a suite,” Hungerford said. “If performance is their main objective, then that would be a good time to pursue the best-of-breed option. I always remind fellow marketers that any martech selection comes along with the requisite consideration of people, process and technology. Martech is only one component of the three. You will still need the people to manage the process, which usually pulls with it a need for services.”

Hungerford said he always prefers buying over building, unless there are no available options in the market. “However,” he added, “this is not likely considering the 7,000-plus marketing technology vendors in the latest supergraphic.” And there are certainly others who prefer the homegrown marketing stack.

Constant Evaluation of Your Martech Stack

As a marketing practitioner, Hungerford said he’s regularly investing time in evaluating new technologies for his team’s martech stack. He encourages all marketers to devote at least 25 percent of their time in doing the same. “At Reflektion, our retail customers are in a hyper competitive market," Hungerford said, "so it’s imperative they, as marketers, continually A-B test various strategies, pursue a best-of-breed strategy, and also invest time in the evaluation of new marketing technologies."

Related Article: What Traits and Skills Do Martech Leaders Need to Succeed?

Just More Money and Noise in Martech?

For marketers like Jenn Steele, CMO at Madison Logic, the martech evolution Brinker has discovered just means that there’s “a lot more money and noise in martech.” “At this point,” she added, “it’s easier to sit and wait until my peers take the risk on shaky MVP tools and let me know what the star apps and platforms are. However, with a larger marketing team and budget I could easily be one of those testers.” 

What’s most important for her to know about martech? “Which themes and companies to watch,” Steele said, “so that when I have the budget and need I can move as quickly as possible.”

Openness: Martech's 'Competitive Dimension'

Are the major martech software providers perhaps making it a little easier for marketers to move quickly by becoming more open to third-party development? Yes, according to Brinker. “In some ways, openness,” he said, “is becoming a competitive dimension.” Brinker, who in his day job is the vice president of platform ecosystem at martech provider HubSpot, noted in his blog some martech ecosystem marketplaces, each with hundreds of apps:

“People want to be able to connect their specialized tools, and they want to be able to extend these platforms for specific applications for their particular business," Brinker said. "You really do see the major clouds competing with each other for who has the larger developer ecosystem?” This marks, he added, a shift in attitude from the major software vendors from “we have everything you need” to “we have the foundation more developers than anyone want to build upon because it’s so open,” Brinker said. “It’s a 180 degree shift. They’re competing on ecosystems.”

Platforms done right become an enabler that eliminate the need for marketers to “reinvent the wheel” with their marketing technology. “No one,” Brinker noted, “wants to create an email deliverability engine at this point.”

Related Article: Why the New York Times Merged Martech With Engineering

Same Old Tune

The martech evolution Brinker has captured is “actually just an ongoing continuum,” according to Hungerford. The platform ecosystem, he noted, is a continuation of the “suite” paradigm in the “best of breed vs. suite” conversation. “The only real difference is now that ‘suite’ is slanted with everything transitioning to being cloud based, allowing for easier development, delivery and support,” Hungerford said.

Further, there will always be both a need for a blend of software and services as well as a need for separation of software and services, he added. And in terms of the build vs. buy and the movement to citizen developers, the low-code, no-code movement will be appealing for a small segment of the business user market but will not be needed if software developers continue to do a good job of innovating and building applications that perform the same function, Hungerford said. 

“There will always be a suite vs. best-of-breed dynamic,” he said. “There will always be a need for software and services. There will always be a question of build vs. buy for business and IT leaders.”