Marketers still don’t use the full breadth of capabilities in their marketing technology stack.

Gartner reported last year — and again in the same, updated report this year — that marketers only use 58% of their martech stack’s full breadth of capabilities because they have trouble with cross-functional collaboration, deal with a “sprawling array” of martech solutions and lack a solid customer data foundation. The research firm reported in these findings in last month’s 2020 Marketing Technology Survey. We also covered last year's report.

Ben Bloom, one of the Gartner analysts who authored the report, said he thought marketing teams over the year would get their minds around their technology investments and try to improved their work processes around these advanced marketing tools. “And we're starting to see that even outside of the largest martech vendors, a lot of the tools are getting AI and machine learning capabilities," Bloom said. "A lot of these tools are improving. And there's so there's plenty of innovation.”

Time for a Different Martech Approach?

How can marketers keep up with the technology innovations? The 58% martech utilization number may suggest, Bloom added, that marketing technology teams responsible for shepherding processes around these tools may need some organizational change — perhaps defaulting to a more agile process where they invest on short martech wins in an unpredictable environment. Marketers face more budget cuts (60% expect moderate to severe cuts to their martech budgets, according to Gartner) and must contend with the disruptive economic and government-level policy changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Making big bets on martech and trying to anticipate gains over a long period of time may not be the best from a martech utilization approach.

“From a marketing technology standpoint,” Bloom said, “if you can take more of an agile approach that says, ‘Hey, let's do a proof of concept and figure out if it works for this use case, and if it does, let’s expand to another one. Let's learn from those cycles over time.’ And then those kinds of process-driven improvements actually can create a lot more insight that you can use right now, as opposed to thinking, ‘I've got to wait forever to see what this test is gonna pay off.’”

Related Article: Why Marketers Can't Realize the Full Potential of Their Martech Stack?

Does Martech Stack Utilization Even Matter?

Does it even matter that marketers are not utilizing their full martech stack? Maybe not. Maybe this is a sign that marketers are actually doing well with their martech stacks. Maybe this means they are focusing only on what matters to them and their organization’s true business needs — and not the hype of the bells and whistles some martech vendors tout.

Remember what marketers want out of their martech stacks, according to a February Ascend2 study

  • Ease of use (52%)
  • Integration with other technologies in the stack (38%)
  • Ability to customize technology to specific needs (37%)
  • Ability to improve the customer experience (36%)
  • Handling of data (use of data) (33%)
  • Ability to automate a process (32%)
  • Use of AI and machine learning (16%)

None of those answers included “tons of capabilities and features.” The message to martech vendors is “make it easy, make it integrate well and make it work for me.”

“My opinion is that utilization is the wrong metric,” said Scott Brinker, author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog and creator of the Martech Supergraphic. “There are a ton of capabilities in martech products these days. Which percentage of them you use doesn't seem like it should matter as much as: (a) are you getting value from the features you are using? And (b) are there features that you are pretty sure would be valuable to your business, but you haven't yet developed the skills/processes to take advantage of them?”

Learning Opportunities

A graphic from Scott Brinker that talks about marketing technologies and discusses features, value and skills.
Chief Marketing Technologist blog.

Lack of Tool Expertise & Results Play Into the Problem

Martech that goes “unused” may also be a case of internal problems: time, effort and skills being some of them, according to Darrell Rosenstein, managing partner of The Rosenstein Group.

“There are a lot of solutions out there that have the  'tons of bells and whistles',” Rosenstein said. “Let's look at Adobe. Adobe is one of the biggest out there in terms of digital marketing and very few organizations, even if they have most of the digital marketing offerings of the Adobe Experience stack, will utilize all of the capabilities because it requires an inordinate amount of planning and expertise in utilizing the solution. Not to mention, they may not have the data quality that they need to launch the campaign that the tool can utilize effectively.”

Furthermore, if a campaign from a certain martech tool isn’t getting the lift, it’s likely getting the boot from a marketing team, he added. “Whenever you're going to do a campaign at scale, you're going to do some AB testing and you're going to be looking at results and then you're going to be developing and rolling that out into a larger campaign,” Rosenstein said. “And you're going to be looking at those results, and if the lift isn't there at the outset, you don't continue on. You’re not going to use that feature set because you started using it, and for the amount of time you burned trying it out, you didn't see the lift. So, it could can be a flash in the pan.”

Related Article: What Should Be in a Good Martech Stack?

Audits, Better Collaboration Means Better Utilization

While the jury’s still out whether or not you have to improve your martech utilization, Gartner’s four ways for improving utilization of the martech stack are:

  • Implement regular audits of the martech stack: Look for opportunities to eliminate fringe tools or accelerate adoption of new solutions.
  • Determine your best vendor approach: Require even the largest of martech vendors to compete for the business on a best-of-breed basis.
  • Collaborate to overcome integration and utilization challenges: Work better with IT, and recruit the help of external agency partners or martech integrators.
  • Adopt an agile approach: Activities such as “sprints” (short time-limited periods of work) and proofs of concept (POCs) enable greater martech agility.

“It’s somewhat fascinating that (martech utilization) stayed flat year over year, even in the presence of disruptions,” Bloom said. He added that marketers may need to be in contract renegotiations with their martech vendor considering the fluidity of the economy and health crisis.

“A lot of the buyers might be asking their larger vendors for concessions,” Bloom said. “Maybe to draw down the number of seats, or changing payment terms until they can figure out when demand for their product is going to come back. Some vendors might be able to accommodate that, but maybe not all of them.”