Navigating Martech Amid the Land of Shiny Solutions

The marketing technology landscape has seen explosive growth the last couple of decades, but even when the field was a bit smaller, it was a challenge for marketers to clearly understand what all the solutions did.

The martech landscape has seen explosive growth the last couple of decades, but even when the field was a bit smaller, it was a challenge for marketers to clearly understand what all the solutions did.

Firms like CabinetM and others, as well as Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, have tracked the growth of marketing technology solutions, with CabinetM cataloging more than 8,000 products across over 300 categories. And the growth doesn’t show signs of slowing or stopping.

This proposes a major problem, as marketers must decide where to expend their limited time and energy. Even after categorizing martech solutions by function, the job can feel impossible — because there are several hundred solutions per category.

The pressure to keep up with competitors and fear of missing out are strong impediments to developing a successful martech strategy. But rest assured, there is a method to getting through the madness. Let’s first review two steps any marketer needs to take when considering their marketing technology needs, and then dive into some key categories that marketers should be considering first when it comes to martech investments.

Step 1: Square Away Customer Strategy

The first step is to develop a technology-agnostic, but technology-aware customer strategy.

Knowing what technology to invest in really begins by thinking about what your customer strategy is and what it aspires to be. With thousands of solutions in the market, martech is the land of shiny objects. There are really cool innovations, such as augmented reality, geo beacons, IOT, AI, etc.

It’s natural to be attracted to these innovative solutions. However, investing in solutions based primarily on their cool factor generally results in a confusing customer strategy and poor ROI.

The world of retailer apps is a good example: There are countless innovative and helpful branded mobile apps available for download. According to Statista, however, only a handful of apps are used with any real frequency, and most are deleted within 30 days. This is not to say that brands can’t have success with apps. However, solutions also need to be compelling and well-thought-out components of a larger winning customer strategy.

Target’s app, for example, helps drive a better physical in-store experience by helping you find what you need and informing you of relevant sales. Target could have added VR games or other gimmicks, but it chose to stay focused on improving the shopping experience.

By thinking about the brand, customer strategy, and customer pain points first, the martech universe becomes significantly easier to navigate.

Step 2: Decide on Investment vs. Outsource

The next step is to decide what tech solutions you want to invest in and which ones you will outsource. There are three questions to ask:

  • Is the solution essential to my customer strategy? In other words, would your brand be fundamentally
    impacted by the solution? Customer experience solutions would be prime examples, because customer experience has a straight-line relationship to how your brand is perceived today.
  • Does the solution require intense domain expertise? Some capabilities are constantly in flux. SEO, for example, is always a moving target. Staying ahead of search engine algorithms and how digital assistants — such as Alexa and Google Assistant — find information for their users takes some focused dedication.
  • Do I have or can I hire the appropriate talent? This can sometimes be the ultimate arbiter when deciding to invest time and energy on a solution. For example, while analytics and measurement solutions would qualify as essential to customer strategy, the ability to hire, retain, and manage an analytics capability can be very difficult. As a result, brands frequently outsource at least some of their analytical solutions.

Martech Categories Marketers Must Consider

While working through those steps can help to guide martech investments, there are four (plus one) solution categories that merit near-universal attention from marketers.

These solutions not only dominate tech-driven marketing, but also are constantly integrating more specialized solutions under their umbrella to provide end-to-end capabilities. (That said, even these dominant categories do not play in distinct sandboxes, and often overlap.)

Investing time and energy on these larger solutions is a great way to begin forming the foundation of a good marketing technology stack.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
This should be the central repository of important customer information and behavioral data. Most CRM
solutions also integrate modules that help make customer decisions based on the data. Some CRM solutions, such as Salesforce, have so many modules that it’s nearly impossible for one person to understand the full ecosystem. Nevertheless, understanding how to manage and utilize CRM systems will continue to be the foundation of managing brands well.

Customer Experience (CX)
These solutions help connect, measure, and improve the customer journey. Today, most brands are defined by their customer experience and less by what they advertise. Most CX solutions enable highly personalized interactions with customers and increase loyalty, making CX tech a critical investment for marketers. What’s more, each interaction increases knowledge of customer preferences and behaviors to be applied in future experiences.

Sales Automation
These solutions are focused on helping marketers complete time-consuming and repetitive tasks, such as sending communications or selecting the next offer based on customer behavior. Today, sales automation solutions make intelligent decisions on millions of marketing interactions at the individual customer level. This is also the technology segment most likely to make certain marketing jobs obsolete. For marketers worried about job security, developing skills in managing and executing automation software will be valuable insurance.

Analytics and Reporting
Data-driven marketing decisions are now the norm, along with measurement and ROI. Most martech solutions have a strong data foundation and generate appropriate reports automatically. That said, there is still a need to understand the larger analytical story and solutions, such as web and social analytics, data visualization, and BI tools, provide a critical view into marketing success. All marketers do not need a degree in data science. However, all marketers should understand the role of analytical solutions in driving marketing decisions from content to budget allocations.

Adtech (the Plus-One)
This category is purposefully separated from the other four. It contains ad buying solutions for programmatic display, search, social, mobile, and digital video advertising. Some large internal marketing departments may choose to invest in building this capability and there are real cost benefits involved. However, the digital ad industry is complex, in constant flux and highly algorithmic. While in-house marketers should be familiar with adtech trends, they should consider adtech investments carefully. In many cases, adtech is probably best left to digital ad agencies.

Navigating the Martech Landscape

By focusing on the dominant martech categories, there are many valuable solutions left on the table: such as content and asset management, SEO, geo and proximity-based marketing, social management, and chatbots. They all have an important role to play but are more likely to be integrated into larger solutions, over time. Unless these solutions are mission-critical to your customer strategy, it is better to outsource solution expertise.

Billions of venture capital dollars have been invested in martech this decade, and most industry insiders agree that there are too many solutions. The expectation is that the landscape will eventually shrink as winners separate from losers, but there is no sign of this happening soon.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming landscape can’t be a deterrent to jumping in and getting comfortable with marketing technology. It is being used by most marketers today and will only grow in influence.
What is important is to keep focused and not let the land of shiny objects distract you from executing your customer strategy.

Our Digital Selves: Living Without the ‘Big 5’ — And 7,000 Others

There, once again, is the age-old privacy paradox, which predates our digital selves. Do we — individually, as a society, as a matter of policy — understand the data-for-value exchange that is inherent not just on the commercial Internet, but in practically every business arrangement we have?

our digital selves
Chet Dalzell snapped this photo with his smartphone’s camera. (Curses!) | Credit: Chet Dalzell

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been enjoying a thorough attempt by one Gizmodo editor, Kashmir Hill, to live life one week at a time without the titled “Big 5” — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — and then to do so all at once.

“It was hell,” she reported.

Well, that statement alone could be interpreted as “unpleasant” or “impossible” or “really inconvenient” or “unenjoyable, or maybe all of the above. Hill’s attempts to quit cold turkey appeared to be very earnest and objectively pursued, though her editorial approach is not without a point of view: “The tech giants, while troubling in their accumulation of data, power and societal control, do offer services that make our lives a hell of a lot easier.”

Do I feel powerless with no control? I do not, but that’s a personal choice.

There, once again, is the age-old privacy paradox, which predates our digital selves. Do we — individually, as a society, as a matter of policy — understand the data-for-value exchange that is inherent not just on the commercial Internet, but in practically every business arrangement we have?

To shut off all data flows might be thought of as an exercise of a Luddite. Every individual can choose to live life this way, at least in some measure. Or perhaps it’s an exercise of being jaded: Among us, there are those who believe social media’s popular “10-year challenge” is a not-so-secret plot to update everyone’s likeness for facial recognition software.

Take a Regular Digital Break, Please

I, too, pursue and relish a weekend where I put my devices away, and go off the digital grid for hours or even one day at a time. A walk in the woods, or park, or beach, with no device in reach — and with just my thoughts – is an empowering and recharging experience (for me). It can drive my friends and family nuts, wondering where I am — but they’re used to it by this time.

Mom:

“You didn’t play ‘Words with Friends’ with me yesterday. Is everything OK?”

On the other hand, every day, I observe fellow citizens who seem unable to navigate a sidewalk, or ride an elevator, or even sit at a bar or restaurant, without having their heads down in smartphones. Kudos to them for processing digital information constantly … I think. I certainly can’t do that.

Yet to have a bias — either in practice or in policy — that blocks responsible data flows, truly is an exercise in masochism. As participants in the marketing data supply chain, we have ethical and some legal obligations to be capable stewards of data. We have associations, self-regulatory codes, and regulators that teach and tell us what to do.

Beyond the Big 5, we also have thousands of companies in the adtech/martech ecosystem — at last count, nearly 7,000. Any could be the next “big thing,” as investment flows seem to indicate.

Image of Ad Tech - Mar Tech Breadth

Slide Source: “Outlook For Data Driven Marketing: First Look 2019,” The Winterberry Group, 2019.

On top of these, we have brands and agencies using information, responsibly, to attract (discover), create (convert) and retain (serve) customers. This is not evil. This is innovation — and we shouldn’t fault a data-flow framework that facilitates commerce, consumer choice and diversity of content. We should scrutinize it for harmful data usage — and regulate the harm.

In short, every information use should be vetted. Wisdom, rather than fear, must be our starting point in such examination, with a healthy dose of data reverence. In advertising, we can (and must) have both consumer privacy protection and digital innovation. Achieving such dual, laudable outcomes, however, cannot be achieved if we are required to just shut down.

 

 

Marketing Technology vs. Marketing Strategy

Coming into the second annual All About Marketing Tech virtual conference, one question has come up again and again: Are you just buying marketing technology, or are you empowering a marketing strategy?

Coming into the second annual All About Marketing Tech virtual conference, one question has come up again and again: Are you just buying marketing technology, or are you empowering a marketing strategy?

We are in an age when marketing technology can let us do amazing things, as you’ve seen me and all the editors and writers here on Target Marketing discuss many times. But they’re all tools, and even the best tool is only useful when you have a plan to use it.

Kids at Santa’s Workshop

It’s like when you were a little kid, and “Santa’s Workshop” came to school. Did you have these? The school would bring in a vendor to sell Christmas presents for the kids to buy for their families? (Come to think of it, it does seem a bit exploitative now that I type it out …)

Anyway, I remember one time seeing a tool that I thought looked so cool, so I bought it for my dad. It was this handheld thingy with slim little nails and a plastic tube with a magnet. The nails would go in the tube, and you’d push the top down to drive them. It looked so cool! But I had no idea what it did.

So I bought it for my dad anyway.

He smiled and accepted it, and I don’t think he used it once. In retrospect, it was probably for hanging wall paneling, which we never had.

How to Empower a Marketing Strategy

One of the things I’ve heard from multiple speakers heading into this show is that marketers sometimes buy technology a lot like I bought that nail thingamajig for my dad. They wind up with a cool looking tool, even when they don’t have a plan for how to use it.

And beyond the plan for how you’re going to use it, you need to have plans for how to integrate it into your marketing processes, train personnel to use it and plug it into your existing tech stack.

Tomorrow, All About Marketing Tech will introduce you to new marketing technologies — six of them, in fact — but also help you put together the marketing strategies that really determine what technology you should be investing in to begin with.

Andy Markowitz will talk about why marketers win or lose in the age of AdTech and MarTech convergence.

Jerry Bernhart will show you how to find the best marketing tech talent.

Peter Gillett will lead an international panel of experts on how the EU’s GDPR regulations will impact your tech stack.

Beerud Sheth will show you how to build an AI chatbot that doesn’t suck.

PLUS: Mitch Joel of Mirum, Rob Pinkerton of Morningstar, Samuel Monnie of Campbell’s Soup Company, Jonathan Levey of Flexjet and more!

So, if you want to know more about cutting edge marketing technologies, how companies are building strategies to be empowered by technology, how to find the people who have the skill and vision to use those tools, how to avoid one of the biggest fines your company would ever see and more, be sure to register for All About Marketing Tech, happening live from 10 AM to 3 PM EST tomorrow.

If marketing technology or strategy is a part of your job, or part of the job you want to have, you can’t afford to miss it.

Jobs for Everyone — Riding the Data Train to Washington

Positions in digital media and data analysis abound, and we’re still not training them fast enough to meet the demand — domestically. That means support for all aspects of data curricula at colleges and universities, and perhaps secondary education too, as well as retraining programs for displaced workers — something that did not receive nearly enough attention in the general election.

President-elect Donald J. Trump didn’t take long to take credit for an arrangement to keep a Carrier Corporation plant in the U.S. — even if there was some question over just how many jobs were in the balance.

Hanging onto good-paying manufacturing jobs certainly is a well-intended public policy goal, as long as we understand the incurred corporate welfare cost that was just shifted to the taxpayer. Still, a saved private-sector job is better than a lost private-sector job. However, it’s only a bridge or a bandage.

There are plenty of jobs — well paid and in America — that are dear to fill. Perhaps public policy, public and private education, research and development, and maybe even some philanthropy might do a better job preparing (all of) America for the 21st Century. We love STEM majors, but also critical thinking from liberal arts that give strategy to data analysis. AdTech and advertising are booming — we all need better and faster algorithms to help sell things efficiently, and data-informed creative skills to create more engaging and relevant content.

Let’s face it. America needs to re-orient itself for the “Data Train.”marketing dataPositions in digital media and data analysis abound, and we’re still not training them fast enough to meet the demand — domestically. That means support for all aspects of data curricula at colleges and universities, and perhaps secondary education too, as well as retraining programs for displaced workers — something that did not receive nearly enough attention in the general election.

Let the private sector do its work and let innovation grow the marketplace for jobs. Perhaps government can best help by researching and reporting what skills and training are desperately needed. This is not a call for central government planning, but if we can fund corporate incentives to “stay home,” we can certainly fund training and retraining programs for an Information Economy, based on the commercial availability and responsible use of data, that is providing financial well-being for millions of households, with millions more to come.

Hey, I’m all for “shovel-ready” jobs to rebuild American infrastructure — that well could be a bipartisan love affair that helps bolster global standing for “U.S. Open for Business.” But, also, in that same refrain, let’s demand a “jobs” plan that puts an emphasis on education and retraining for the Information Economy. The U.S. leads in this category — are we going to squander it?

Happy Holidays, and as you make your end-of-year giving, please consider our own livelihoods and future talent development in our field. Consider sponsoring a student and donate to Marketing EDGE. Philanthropy, yes, and an investment in a data-driven marketing career, one student at a time.

A Data Quality Strategy: On Everyone’s Wish List

There’s a granddaddy in AdTech that all too often gets lost in our fascination with what’s new — to everyone’s peril: data quality (DQ).

Data DrivenThere’s a granddaddy in AdTech that all too often gets lost in our fascination with what’s new — to everyone’s peril: data quality (DQ).

One would think when Big Data comes together with contact data; when offline and online data are integrated; when algorithm performance and CMO dashboards and marketing automation triggers all become vitally important; when unstructured meets structured information in the customer file; when customer centricity, preference and engagement become priority; and when we hold up the marketing databases as the center of customer truth, that DQ would demand its rightful place atop enterprise and brand investment.

Well, finally, perhaps it has.

Data Quality StrategyI appreciate eMarketer — and Experian, Loudhouse Research, and Ascend2 — giving this topic necessary attention.

Veterans of customer relationship management, database marketing, segmentation and attribution models, and the like have well understood that a data-driven marketing strategy is useless without a data quality strategy as its lead component. Everything hinges on clean, accurate, timely data.

We all may know the shibboleths and variations: garbage-in, garbage-out; what you don’t know can hurt you; collect what you need and nothing more. It’s incumbent on all of us to recognize that as we crave the right data of our prospects and customers, we need to be able to stage, parse, score and correct it — before we analyze, apply and move it into the customer file.

Is your current data quality strategy keeping up? Take some time to read up on data quality software solutions in the marketplace. Gartner offers this periodic report (just announced 2016 report for sale here – its 2015 report freely available here); Forrester’s version (December 2015) is freely available through Oracle here. These reports offer expert observations on marketplace application and trends.

And I wish for everyone clean data this holiday season — and a data quality strategy every day of the year.

Nightmares, Ghosts and Terror in Data Land

When you come fresh from a large industry conference — such as DMA’s &Then16 — where you have lots of conversations and learn about lots of pain points, you’re highly motivated to put those winning ideas to work on solutions. Most of these solutions require access to data and handling it responsibly to make smarter marketing decisions — for the ultimate service to customers.

marketing Data graphicWhen you come fresh from a large industry conference — such as DMA’s &Then16 — where you have lots of conversations and learn about lots of pain points, you’re highly motivated to put those winning ideas to work on solutions. Most of these solutions require access to data and handling it responsibly to make smarter marketing decisions – for the ultimate service to customers.

Today, it’s Halloween, so here’s my own nightmare.

I wake up one morning and the entire world collectively lost its mind and governments have mandated a marketplace that’s totally (and only) opt-in for all types of marketing uses that are only helpful to consumers. There’s no more algorithms and no more “discovery.” All commerce must wait and wait and wait until a consumer asks for it. Particularly egregious online.

Marketing collectively goes dumb. Oh, I love pure branding, pure creative — but take data out of the equation, we’re truly back before the dawn of direct marketing. Not 20 years back. Not 50 years back. But 100 years back.

Entrepreneurship is destroyed. There’s no way to tap a niche market. Data is off limits. Everything is opt-in. Opt-in request here, opt-in request there. Think Europe and cookies — ask, ask, ask. Before long, we’re numb. And, except for big business, there’s no budget for blanketing the world with awareness advertising. (And why would even a big brand want to waste so much of its money?)

Websites get clunkier. You can’t even get past the home page without having to click on a permission (again, read Europe). All because some nanny-types who control policy decided consumers are stupid and have to be protected from being tempted to make purchases that generate sales, jobs, tax revenue — and, by the way, happy customers.

Everything becomes more expensive and, without the commercial availability of data, there’s a lot less of “everything.” Why? Because advertising and smart advertising (read, data), finances content, services and conveniences — gone, gone and gone. Nobody in regulatory land bothered to ask who was paying for the Internet. No one ever bothered to understand the economics of the Information Economy. No one ever understood that AdTech, MarTech and data-driven marketing had become one of the greatest of U.S. assets and exports, and Silicon Valley’s (Silicon Beach, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Alley, etc.) highest rewards.

The range and diversity of consumer marketplace choices disappear. Constantly asking for permission becomes deafening. Thus, data eventually wanes and is off limits. There’s no way to derive insights to build better products, no way to devise better services and no way to compete in a healthy, competitive marketplace with a better idea.

The Information Economy is maimed — only a concentrated few, behind huge walled gardens, get to “own” and use the data. We just inflicted upon ourselves the greatest harm. We gave up the golden chalice, handled with care, for a tin cup. Beggars all of us.

Less choice. Less informed. More expensive. And, the consumer is left poorest of all.

It’s Halloween morning. Somebody woke me up.

Now Underway: The Reinvention of Direct Marketing

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate as a “Round 3” judge in the 2016 International ECHO Awards competition — and while we’ll find out the results of this effort on October 16 in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but be impressed with what’s going on across the world of data-driven marketing.

Direct MarketingI had the opportunity last month to participate as a Round 3 judge in the 2016 International ECHO Awards competition — and while we’ll find out the results of this effort on Oct. 16 in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but be impressed with what’s going on across the world of data-driven marketing.

Direct marketing currently is being reinvented:

1. Customer relationship management is morphing toward customer-managed relationships
2. Branded direct is enriched by storytelling across the customer journey with rich experiential content — some of it provided by consumers
3. Analytics are moving beyond targeting and segmentation — toward attribution and media optimization
4. Online marketing is getting smarter (kind of) by offline marketing: there’s an R bias in some digital RFM [recency-frequency-monetary] models that marketers are trying to correct

Most transactions are still offline, so as much as marketers can map the entire customer journey, we’re still handicapped when we don’t get the full prospect and customer picture — both offline and online. This is a commonly reported problem shared by marketers.

With privacy regimens, there may never be a day when personally identifiable information is rented and exchanged with online data as it is offline — and I, for one, lament this built-in block of useful intelligence that would otherwise be applied in service to the consumer. There certainly are work arounds by getting opt-ins inside digital “walled gardens,” by using anonymized data for probabilistic prospect and customer identification, and by applying more powerful computing and analyses — all within responsible data collection frameworks. Still, how quickly can we modify existing data flows — or freshly build new ones — that bring all the data points together in ways that replicate the robust models and data appends that exist in the offline world? Let’s say this nirvana is still under construction with AdTech and MarTech improving all the time — in privacy respectful ways.

Come Oct. 16, I’m sure we’ll see a fantastic array of data-driven marketing being celebrated as the reinvention continues.

It’s OK to Hate Data

There’s a disconnect between our readers who see marketing in the strategy, creative, etc., and our readers who see marketing in the numbers. If you’re the former, let me say one thing: It’s OK to hate data.

A little secret about Target Marketing: Our data content gets less traffic than just about any other topic we regularly cover.

Clearly, that doesn’t stop us from covering the data-driven side of marketing. In fact, I think some of our best contributors write about data. But there’s a disconnect between our readers who see marketing in the strategy, creative, etc., and our readers who see marketing in the numbers.

If you’re the former, let me say one thing: It’s OK to hate data.

Good Good ... Let the Data flow through you.Big data, small data, first-party data, third-party data … it can take the people element out of marketing.

I was at Ad:Tech New York last week and caught the session “Your Data Might Be Crap, But Is It Fertilizer?” Mark Donatelli from Ogilvy moderated a conversation with data-driven marketing experts from the NFL, Gap Inc., Domo and Beckon.

Aidan Lyons, VP of fan experience for the NFL, had a great line: “They’re not users, they’re fans.”

What he meant was, they’re not just users, they’re not just data. Every one of those records is a real, breathing person. A fan of the NFL. Sift and sort what you know about them, and you begin to spot groups with things in common. These are niches in your market who you can target with messaging and experiences.

Most of our readers can get into that. Once you have people to talk to, you’re back in the game most marketers signed up to play.

But not everyone can see those people in the numbers, the data, even at a persona level.

And that’s OK, because not everyone has to. There are a multitude of tools, agencies, consultants and data scientists who can help boil the data down to something marketers can work with.