Marketing Stack From Hell

The Role and Implications of AI and Machine Learning within the Marketing Tech Stack

Steve Jobs thrived at balancing the complexity that drives powerful computational systems with the simplicity required for utility. “Simple can be harder than complex,” Jobs said. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

For retailers, mountains are marketing stacks. Even in small organizations, a stack’s silos of specialization can’t help but make tactical advances at the expense of strategic insight. As retail organizations scale and spread across channels, atomization scales too. Each retailer is unique, so I want to be careful not to overstate, or understate, the degree to which retailers complicate their worlds. But how can retailers make technology investments while balancing the long-term view of the total cost of ownership in the age of cloud technologies with no capital expenditure benefits? Moreover, how do retailers balance risk and change management in an already frantic innovation environment?

The big marketing clouds own the mainstream messaging for the space across much of the industry, but there has been a dramatic shift in recent years toward point solutions. Many brands opt for short-term investments in emerging companies to augment their larger investments in CRM, data management, advertising and personalization. Here, there’s good and bad news.

First, the good news. Embracing quick changes without heavy investment or long-term payoffs empowers retailers to solve niche challenges with agility. Indeed, many challenges can be met by specific vendor solutions that can be quickly deployed inside today’s marketing stacks. Of course, the real key is the retailer’s ability to make sense of what they need so they can source a solution from the 4,000-plus vendors in the Martech LUMAscape.

Now, the bad news. It’s very hard to create sustainable competitive advantages when your vantage point is dominated by the challenges of the moment. Meeting the immediate needs of today’s marketing stacks limits our visibility into the total stack and its holistic capabilities. Managing a sprawling ecosystem of vendor arbitrage often has greater opportunity costs than you realize. And while I’ve always believed that “the big don’t eat the small, the fast eat the slow,” there are times when slowing down pays off.

According to a survey by CMO Council and RedPoint Global, only 3 percent of respondents felt all of their automation, engagement and deployment tools were fully connected, with data, metrics and insights traveling freely between different technologies. Put another way, 97 percent of those surveyed face marketing stacks from hell because they’re planning technology investments for systems that aren’t nearly as functional as advertised.

Kobie Fuller, the former chief marketing officer of Revolve Clothing and partner at Upfront Ventures, laid out his view of the future marketing stack. Fuller’s advice is worth circulating widely. The moral of the story is that you can’t ignore short-term thinking, but at the same time you have to be realistic about strategic outcomes and your organization’s ability to sustain those outcomes.

If you’re like most retailers, you talk about personalization as the differentiator for your business. But in reality, the scale challenges of personalization are all about a marketing stack that’s bookended by data and insights. The first step is slowing to a pace where you can distinguish between the short term, where agility is everything, and the long term, where strategy is a matter of placing scale bets. But even if you’re moving at the right speed, the best friend of a marketer in growth mode is an ecosystem that offers continued optionality. Building that ecosystem means first doing the hard work of making things simple.

Author: David Baker

With more than 25 years of experience in digital marketing and marketing technology, Baker is an award-winning industry thought leader, columnist and speaker. He has held executive roles at publicly traded, leading agencies and marketing services providers including Razorfish, Targetbase, and Acxiom.  Direct Marketing roles at American Airlines and Franklin Covey as well as startups including Cordial, TwelveHorses, MindArrow/RadicalMail — a first generation rich media messaging company — and DigitalThink, the first eLearning Platform that went public in 1999. He has served as strategic advisor to various media and technology companies. 

Baker is one of only three individuals to be awarded the MediaPost Lifetime Achievement award (in 2012) for his contributions to the digital marketing industry, and he was also the recipient of the DMA-EEC Thought Leader of the Year award in 2016 for his positive impact on digital marketing.  He is a MediaPost “Email Insider” columnist and former “Email Insider” Summit Chairman and program director.  His works have also been published in iMedia Connection, Internet Retailer, Adweek, Direct Marketing News, ClickZ, The Drum and Chief Marketer.

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