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.

3 Trends Impacting Marketing and Marketing Technology

This is the year that more becomes less; marketers beware. I’ve put on my marketing and marketing technology prediction hat to share three trends with you.

This is the year that more becomes less; marketers beware. I’ve put on my marketing and marketing technology prediction hat to share three trends with you.

I would like to wish all my readers a happy 2019. At the beginning of this new year, I would like to test my powers and lay out some predictions. I believe (maybe hope?) this is the year that three long-overdue trends will impact marketers and marketing technology. In any case, I am going on the record; let’s see if I have egg on my face in December.

1. There Is Too Much Content Out There

In 2019, I hope we finally challenge the adage that “content is king.” Maybe a few years back it was king, but now there are too many claimants to the throne and too many smaller and smaller kingdoms. For example, just exploring all the great content on Netflix can take up several months of full-time viewing. Then there is HBO, Hulu, YouTube, etc. Maybe saying that content is a commodity would be taking things too far, but content is no longer king.

Having a better understanding of context and timing will be much more important. Delivering the right content at the right time, to the right person is the next king.

2. Marketers Will Finally Agree That Martech Is a Tool, Not a Strategy

Too many marketers have been confusing the latest marketing technology with customer strategy. Many times this misconception is fed by the solution providers themselves.

I believe that the right martech build can provide great dividends and represents an agile, data-driven platform to better engage with your customers. However, it will not make your customer engage with you. Customers have to like you and feel attachment to your brand for them to engage.

Before investing in additional martech, there are fundamental questions that must be addressed. Such as:

  • Why do customers want to engage with us?
  • What is the level of engagement that is reasonable to expect?

Too many times, I see marketers simply push for higher and higher engagement numbers, with no thought as to what is reasonable or sensible. If I gave each relevant brand in my life 15 minutes per week, I would not have time for anything else, In some cases, limited engagement is probably a good thing. For example, my local utility is very relevant in my life, but If I must engage with them, it is probably a bad sign.

3. A Major Shift in Consumerism — From More to Less

With so much content and so many products and services available, literally at the push of a button, many consumers will look to actively filter out products and services that have little or no meaning to them. For example, I recently took a hiatus from my Netflix subscription because I was no longer able to engage with the content. Netflix has really great content, but I am simply overwhelmed and the shows are all blending together. The (anti?) consumer trend of minimalism will be growing. While few consumers are likely to become minimalist, there will be a growing trend to ask the minimalist’s question before every purchase: “Will buying this really make me happier?”

Here’s Your Fortune, Marketers

I believe that 2019 will be the year we have a reckoning between a glut of supply and the inherent limits of our ability to consume. This conflict will not only play out in the B2C markets, but also within B2B markets; especially when it comes to marketing. Most senior marketers I have spoken to readily admit that they are horribly confused and overwhelmed by the marketing tech world. So many choices, so many overlapping solutions and each one claiming to be the “answer.”

In 2019, we need to start asking if we are worthy of the headspace we are asking of our customers and also how we manage our own headspace so that we can become better marketers.