demonstrating knot theory
PHOTO: Mathematical Association of America

Yes, the title of this article is a bit of an oxymoron. It's also an apt description of what today’s technology marketers are challenged to do.  

On the one hand, marketers are tasked with simplifying their stacks to reduce costs and improve productivity. 

On the other, they are asked to innovate and embrace the latest technology, to drive revenue, reduce the cost of customer acquisition, and extend and optimize the value of every customer. 

Marketing stacks are growing in size and complexity. Integrating the many disparate pieces of the stack to achieve these desired results is becoming an increasingly difficult task to efficiently and cost-effectively manage. The pressure to make the right decisions is exhausting and can be nerve wracking — make the wrong choice and you risk creating technology dead ends where critical pieces of the puzzle don’t evolve or don’t integrate.

I recently met a marketing team that is not only trying to accomplish all of the above, but is also in the midst of rationalizing multiple marketing stacks as a result of several corporate acquisitions. We can all learn a lot from their pragmatism and approach.

Related Article: Building the Perfect Marketing Organization

First Step: Stripping Down the Marketing Technology Stack

They first established their goal: to get to the best technology stack to support the entire organization. They decided it didn’t matter where the technology recommendation came from: they were approaching this project with no bias toward their own installed technology.

Second, they pulled together an all-star team from across the newly acquired companies and the existing organization to collaborate on strategy and implementation.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  

Instead of building a comprehensive stack framework to visualize all the technology in place, they chose to create different stacks for every functional category (e.g. email marketing, social media marketing) and then had everyone contribute the products they were using, testing, had rejected and retired, and were thinking about for each of those stacks. 

With this bottoms-up approach, they were able to quickly identify product and testing overlaps and reduce costs by eliminating products the group had already decided weren’t performing or had retired. In each case, by the time they were through with their exercise, they had trimmed each mini-stack down to one to three viable product options in each category; identified product gaps at the functional level; and prioritized a list of new products the group was interested in evaluating to address the gaps.

Armed with a good sense of where they were in each functional category, they returned to their high-level mission of defining how the technology plan could support their marketing goals related to lead generation, customer acquisition, engagement and retention. They looked holistically across the functional stacks and identified where pieces of the stack needed to integrate, which made it easy to narrow down and select the best product options for each category. Finally, they were able to build a comprehensive marketing stack covering all current functions and could prioritize the integration work needed to achieve their performance goals.

Related Article: Making Sense of Your MarTech Stack

Second Step: Adding Complexity

Having rationalized and simplified their current tech stack, the team was ready to “add complexity” by looking at new functional areas. They adopted a very pragmatic review process to ensure that complexity wouldn’t be introduced unnecessarily. Instead of automatically looking for new products when a new requirement surfaced, they first assessed how many of their functional requirements could be met with the products already in place and would only embark on new product procurement when absolutely necessary.

All of this sounds obvious, I know, but all of the studies show most technology users only utilize approximately 15 percent of any platform’s capabilities and you and I both know how easy it is to believe we need the next shiny thing ... or in the MarTech world, the next purpose-built platform.  

By taking this approach they’ve not only kept costs under control and improved productivity by eliminating time spent evaluating unnecessary products, but they also forced themselves to really understand and use the capabilities they already have within their systems.

The takeaway here? It is possible to simplify your stack and at the same time introduce additional complexity in a thoughtful, cost-effective and pragmatic manner — the two actions are not necessarily incompatible. If you’ve successfully achieved this balancing act, or want to discuss this more, I’d love to hear from you!