Our executive team recently met for lunch in Cambridge, Mass. As I drove there, I realized I hadn’t been in Cambridge in two years. That surprised me. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that we are heading into year three of the pandemic. The last two years have become one long blur — the mental equivalent of my Zoom background. I regularly find myself trying to remember whether something happened in 2020 or 2021.
The reality is these were two very different years. After the upheaval of 2020, 2021 was very much about trying to get back on track. In late 2020, martech experts published a number of predictions for 2021. As we start 2022, I thought it would be a good idea to review the most popular to see what we might take away for the year ahead.
First and foremost, bravo to anyone brave enough to make predictions, particularly going into 2021 when we knew enough about the pandemic to be unsure of anything. So how on point were they?
Spot-on Martech Predictions
Martech Stack Evolution
Across the board, there was general agreement about the need to improve stack utilization, performance and ROI. Some writers also predicted companies would overhaul their stacks in response to a changed marketing environment. And inevitably, there were also predictions about stack consolidation and the reduction in number of tools used. Stack consolidation seems to make an appearance every year and I’ve yet to see it happen in a meaningful way.
In 2021 we finally saw an acknowledgement and internalization that technology is critical to business success. Marketing is now a key driver of revenue and customer lifetime value and an enabler of the customer experience — all critical contributors to business success. Every single thing that marketing does is enabled by technology. Without technology marketing cannot perform.
With the realization that marketing technology is critical to success came a new focus on a) understanding the elements of the technology stack (you’d be amazed at how many companies still don’t know what’s being used or how it’s performing), b) ensuring that the underlying data architecture of the stack was correct, and c) whether the right products were in the stack and being properly utilized. You can see this focus reflected in the number of open marketing operations positions and employee churn — marketing operations professionals are in high demand.
A number of predictions said we would focus on using data rather than collecting data in 2021. And while that’s happening, we are also still working through challenges in data collection.
GDPR and other privacy regulations, along with the pending elimination of third party cookies and the introduction of Apple’s limitations on data collection have necessitated a rethinking of data sources and an emphasis on acquiring first party data.
Marketing teams are collecting an incredible volume of data from a variety of sources and tools. In 2021, as predicted, companies focused on putting that data to use across the entire customer lifecycle.
Related Article: Does Size Matter With Martech Stacks?
Advancing personalization once again made an appearance in 2021 predictions. I wasn’t sure whether to categorize personalization as “spot-on” or “in progress” because we still have a long way to go to where we each become a target audience of one, but we made significant advancements in 2021.
If my credit card statement is any indication, we’ve come a long way in personalized product recommendations which checks a box for B2C. I don’t see as many random recommendations as I once did, though after hosting an Elvis-themed holiday party my friends noted I would likely see a lot of Elvis related recommendations in 2022.
The B2B environment has also made progress with personalization. The work that companies have been doing with regard to creating an adaptive customer journey appears to be resulting in better, more relevant content.
Executional Efficiency, Collaboration, Workflow, Automation
This category of recommendations was an obvious reaction to the impact of the pandemic and our changing work environments. 2021 was indeed a big year for anything related to workflow, collaboration, communication etc. Anecdotally, at CabinetM we see Monday workflow management software appearing frequently in stacks.
Video and Podcasting
Both of these predictions were spot-on: 1) Video will become essential to sales and marketing and 2) 2021 would be the year of the podcast.
With regard to video, we’ve been creating demo videos for a long time and are of course now dependent on video conferencing to communicate with colleagues and clients. That’s a given and was firmly established in 2020. What’s new is we are starting to use video more casually in the sales and customer journey to serve as a personal introduction, quickly communicate key concepts and address product questions. Over the last year we’ve gotten comfortable pointing the camera at ourselves and shooting our own videos.
2021 was definitely the year of the podcast, for marketers there are so many great podcasts to listen to. A few of my faves: Making Sense of MarTech, Ops Cast by MO PROs, (CMSWire's own) CX Decoded and Forward:Thinking by CS2.
Related Article: So You Think You Have a Go-to-Market Strategy?
Martech Predictions: Progress Made
The Merger of Sales and Marketing Automation
The lines between sales and marketing are blurring as marketing has taken on revenue-related responsibilities, so it stands to reason the lines between sales and marketing automation would blur. You can see this reflected in how some of the big players are repositioning themselves:
- HubSpot is now positioned as a CRM company after years of being a marketing automation company.
- Salesforce and Adobe are reframing their products by function rather than department.
Some companies have a combined marketing and sales technology stack, others have two stacks, and some companies have introduced a RevOps function to sit above marketing and Sales ops. It’s too soon to predict how this will all fall out organizationally, but the need for a seamless integration between marketing and sales technology is clear. Such an integration ensures that everyone is working from the same and accurate dataset and that collectively the customer journey is crafted to provide the customer with the optimal experience throughout their lifecycle.
Machine learning and AI have transitioned from buzzwords to practical deployment (for the most part). ML and AI are being used to deliver new insights and to automate repetitive data tasks. Companies like Vizit and Cortex that recommend images that will perform best in campaigns could not exist without ML/AI technology. But remember, to be of value ML/AI need a really big data set to work with so if a vendor touts “their AI solution” but can’t point to a large data set that leverages this technology, it isn't AI. ML/AI are not intrinsically valuable themselves — it’s what they can enable that’s valuable.
Preparation for a Cookie-less Future
So that didn’t happen. Google put off blocking third party cookies until 2023. Companies instead grappled with the impact of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency that shut off app tracking.
Related Article: Now You See Me, Now You Don't: Navigating the Cookie-Less World
Business events could be put into wishful thinking since many predicted a return to in person events which for the most part didn’t happen. What did happen in 2021 was an improvement in virtual events. After the mad scramble of 2020, virtual conferences in 2021 were more professionally executed and made better use of tools to deliver more compelling and interactive experiences. It’s clear that even if we do go back to in-person events, virtual events will continue to be part of the mix and will continue to evolve over time. Watch for new technology innovation in this area.
Martech Predictions: Wishful Thinking
AR, VR, XR
While Mark Zuckerberg did introduce us to the Metaverse, apart from that and my daughter’s obsession with her Oculus (last year’s holiday present) we don’t seem to have made any real progress with AR, VR and XR. There’s huge potential here for training and developing immersive experiences but this is still very much in the sometime in the future category from my perspective.
Virtually every martech prediction for 2021 had some commentary on the importance and implementation of low-code/no-code technology. The promise of LC/NC technology is that citizen coders can leverage an off-the-shelf platform to create custom applications to serve their own specific needs. That seems pretty straightforward, but over the last year or so the definition has been corrupted to mean deploying any tool that doesn’t require you to write your own code. The most common example used in this context is Airtable. If Airtable fits this category, wouldn’t Excel? And, if we are talking about Excel as low-code/no-code then we are not talking about anything new or special, just a characteristic of the tools that we deploy.
However, if you go back to the citizen developer vision of LC/NC, I do see innovation. I’ve seen some really interesting tool kits for creating conversational, AI-driven bots this year. Having said that, I don’t see LC/NC platforms taking over the world as many have predicted. First, not everything is suitable for LC/NC applications, and second, companies are already struggling to manage the off-the-shelf technology they are deploying. Imagine trying to manage a million custom variants of a piece of technology without proper documentation and control? LC/NC has a place, but it's as part of a bigger mix of technologies.
Onwards and Upwards in 2022!
Making predictions is tough. Thanks to all those that do — you keep us looking ahead. I’d like to thank the following in particular: Gartner, David Raab, MarTech Alliance, WARC, Marketingguys, Rosalyn Page, Singular and Michael Georgiou.
And finally, I leave you with some predictions for 2022 written by my colleagues at CMSWire:
- Lisa Loftus: TRUE: Marketers Should Have Seen This Coming
- Pierre DeBois: What Social Media Trends Will Emerge for 2022
- Jonathan Moran: 3 Metrics Will Drive Marketing Outcomes in 2022
And with that, onwards and upwards for 2022!