making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
PHOTO: Hector Alejandro

Life’s toughest decisions all have one thing in common: sandwiches.

Yes, sandwiches can model just about any conundrum — including the choices inherent to mapping and integrating marketing technology stacks. Too often, our conversations about martech are bland, like freezer bag chicken strips on an aging hamburger bun. And too frequently, marketing teams think of integrations as ends unto themselves rather than as a means of achieving worthwhile goals.

Integrations should give marketers an advantage by linking disparate software platforms. The good news: Integrations have accomplished those goals. The bad news: Integrations fix interpersonal and cultural problems no better than Wisconsin cheddar fixes slimy turkey. I’d like to add some flavor — and strategy — to the integration conversation. Let’s unwrap the sandwich model of martech mapping and approach integrations with a refined palate.

Your MarTech Ingredient List

Consider that a sandwich, like your marketing technology, is a stack. Both types of stacks define relationships between layers, aiming to satisfy users.

The common ingredients of a sandwich tend to be two slices of bread, cheese, meat, lettuce, tomato and something spreadable. The ingredients of a martech stack usually include a content library, marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM) functionality, data analytics, a collaboration or project management platform, and an artificial intelligence (AI) tool.

When we want to liven up a sandwich or bond layers, we add special ingredients: chips, fries, bacon, egg, pesto, plantains, Thanksgiving leftovers and so forth. These layers change the nature of the sandwich — just as integrations change the nature of a martech stack.

Connecting, say, a digital asset management (DAM) solution to the Adobe Creative Cloud changes how designers will participate in the marketing process. Whether an integration transforms a martech sandwich for better or worse brings us to the question of strategy.

Related Article: How to Simplify and Increase the Complexity of Your MarTech Stack at the Same Time

Marketing Technology: Better Stacked or Better Alone?

Potato chips, most of us would agree, are delicious (sea salt Kettle chips are my jam). Potato chips in a sandwich may or may not be delicious. The value of integrating potato chips depends on the sandwich and the person eating it.

The iconic grilled cheese with potato chips is a delicious twist on the original form, which is a pretty “basic bun.” However, no one with a shred of good taste would allow potato chips on PB&J! You would eat the chips on the side.

When it comes to marketing technology, similar decisions — about what does or does not belong in a stack — cause marketing departments to waste thousands of dollars. Sometimes apps work better alone. Sometimes they’re better integrated. So how do we determine when an integration is worth it?

Related Article: Making Sense of Your MarTech Stack

Not Everything Belongs in Your MarTech Sandwich

Integrations go wrong when companies start mapping their stacks without defining the problems they wish to solve. It’s as if they removed all the sandwich ingredients from the fridge, placed them on a cutting board, and combined everything — just because.

An integration solves problems that stem from two systems not talking to each other. To figure out whether you have that problem or whether you just want to put chips in a PB&J, follow this process:

  1. Map your current workflow and user experience. Diagram how information moves through your marketing process. For example, look at how content progresses from ideation to creation to publishing to reuse. Which systems are in play? How does your content workflow connect to related workflows, like product launches? What steps must users take?
  2. Find the weak points. Where are the bottlenecks and pain points? Bottlenecks are parts of the process that sap the most time and resources. A pain point is a step that causes stress, confusion or another morale-sapping problem. A bottleneck and a pain point could be one in the same (e.g., long email chains for proofing) but need not be.
  3. Map your ideal workflow. Based on the weaknesses you’ve identified, map your dream workflow. Could integrations alleviate the bottlenecks or pain points you identified? Reconsider what ingredients belong in the stack and in what ways they should be combined.
  4. Are you sure it’s a solution? Clients often ask about an integration between DAM and CRM, which is neat but not necessarily a solution. For example, if the goal is to give salespeople marketing collateral, it can be overkill and create a complex integration. Don’t overlook easier options, like offering microsites that curate content for sellers. Before integrating anything, consider how it will affect your end users.

Related Article: Building Your MarTech Stack: Selection Strategies for Success

Get Rowdy

Sometimes, you should examine all the ingredients in the fridge before choosing which ones belong together. Other times, it’s 1 a.m., you’re hungry and look! There’s Nutella. It’s going on the PB&J. Who knows what greatness can arise if you try out a new ingredient.

The takeaway is not to pursue integrations just because it’s possible to do so. They must help your team become more efficient, solve a problem or improve the user experience.

The point of the sandwich analogy is to remind you that not all tasty things should be eaten together. When you map a martech stack, don’t put chips on PB&J.