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The leading companies of the 21st century have a few things in common: 1) Data is a currency and a discipline; 2) Everything starts with the customer and their experience with the brand; and 3) Transactions are second to a mutual and ongoing value exchange between customer and brand.

Brands like Disney, Nike and Apple own the relationship with their customers (and often effectively disintermediate the relationships their competitors try to have with the same consumers) and therefore are the ones that win. Owning the relationship means having the ability to not only recognize the customer at every point in her journey, but also orchestrate individualized/bespoke experiences that benefit both the customer and the business in every stage of the customer lifecycle. It is this mutually beneficial experience that fosters loyalty and lasting value among customers.

To level the playing field with these transformative giants, CMOs are shelling out between 20% and 30% of their budgets on new marketing technology to help drive their own digital transformation, customer obsession and/or single customer view. (The industry’s dirty little secret is often,  leadership doesn’t know which of these objectives to focus on, or why).

But marketing technology as a category swarms with as many logos as it does with promises of delivery on those ambitions. Look no further than the annual edition of ChiefMarTec’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic to see just how many martech companies exist today — and the practically endless combinations that can be created with those solutions.

Amid this complexity, marketers end up spending months (often years) auditing their current tech stack, evaluating new tools and vendors, comparing feature sets and core differentiators, and maybe even kicking the tires with a free trial or proof-of-concept to see if it’s a good fit.

Assessing how various marketing technologies differ as part of a vendor selection or tech stack evaluation is as important as it is nuanced. Case in point, I’m often asked how the customer data platform (CDP) differs from the data management platform (DMP), the campaign management platform (MCCM), the customer relationship management system (CRM), and the master data management platform (MDM) that preceded it. But in a world where customer experience is the ultimate competitive differentiator, the better question to ask is:

In what way will this technology fundamentally transform how my marketing — and therefore how my business — understands and interacts with customers?

In other words, martech decisions should be grounded in the operational efficiency and strategic value a technology will provide to both the marketing organization and the business at large, not with checkboxes to compare features.

Related Article: What Every CMO Needs to Know About the Marketing Technology Stack

Assessing Martech's Efficiency and Value

Assessing the efficiency and value of marketing technology means understanding how it will fundamentally change the nature of a marketer’s job, and in turn, help them transform customer relationships. Here are four critical, yet often overlooked areas to consider:

1. The Proximity of Data to Customer-Facing Engagement

As the business group closest to customers as they engage with the brand, marketers need tools that provide them with direct and immediate access to unified and actionable first-party data. In other words, they need their own 'single customer view' deliberately designed for marketing purposes.

Unlike CRM, MDM or data lakes that typically optimize for non-marketing priorities, there are unique architecture requirements for a marketing database that can not only handle data unification and activation with equal power and ease, but also decrease reliance on third-party data in favor of transparent, consented first-party data collection.

2. Ability to Eliminate Inefficiencies and Dependencies to Increase Time-to-Market

Marketing’s dependency on others — agencies, internal IT resources, data science specialists, or even over-burdened marketing operations teams —creates structural and unnecessary barriers to data access in the form of time delays, inflexibility and/or cost. For instance, marketers can spend hours and even days manually uploading lists for segmentation, waiting on IT or the analytics team to query data for segmentation, or waiting for the modeling outputs of a separate analytics or data science team to inform customer scoring. Access to real-time, comprehensive and always-accurate customer data, when granted, unquestionably improves marketing performance.

Related Article: Decisioning: The Only Way to Accelerate Analytics to Value

3. The Time and Effort to Get From Insight to Action

Marketing has always been a mix of both art and science, a pendulum which tends to always favor one side over the other for an extended period. In the Mad Men era, it was all art; with digital, we went all-in on science. But keeping the two in balance is the hallmark of a legendary brand. Give marketers the data they need in the form and time in which they need it, so they can spend more time on the art and marrying the two together.

4. Increased Business Agility and Resilience

The year 2020 emphatically reminded company leaders everywhere of the unpredictability of the world and the difference it makes to have teams and tools that allow for flexibility and speed in response to market changes. It’s a matter of whether the business hobbles along or increases momentum, survives or thrives. Doubling-down on customer interaction and engagement is a winning strategy —– and marketers are at the forefront.

Related Article: How to Turn Your Remote Marketing Team Into an Agile Marketing Team

A Case Study in Tangible Business Value

Technology that not only puts the customer in the center of a brand’s marketing and data infrastructure, but also gives marketers a broad range of efficiencies and value can have a significant impact on the business.

For instance, once customer data was no longer out of reach behind 'walled gardens,' one leading outdoors wear retailer was able to reduce the cost of sending emails from its ESP by 30% while increasing audience size by almost 20% and revenue generated from the channel by double digits. Moreover, it was able to rapidly create customer segments that not only increased the relevancy of its email campaigns, but also cut time to market down from four weeks and thousands of dollars, to 30 minutes of work and no cost.

Make Sure Your Martech Investments Pay Off

Joining the exalted ranks of customer-obsessed companies like Disney, Nike and Apple means embracing the people, processes and technology that reshape the customer experience. But given the billions spent on marketing technology each year, brands must ensure those investments will pay off. By focusing on the operational efficiency and strategic value of adding a new tool, brands can liberate their data, empower their marketing organizations, transform their customer relationships, and ultimately, drive their business forward.