Marketing Stack From Hell

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.

Your Ultimate Marketing Stack

In a little less than two weeks, we’re kicking off our first ever All About Marketing Tech virtual event, and Travis Wright will open with an address called “Building Your Ultimate Tech Stack.” Which forces us to consider the question: Exactly what do you need in your marketing stack? Are you even sure what a marketing tech “stack” is?

In a little less than two weeks, we’re teaming with CabinetM and kicking off our first ever All About Marketing Tech virtual event (#AAMT17), and Travis Wright, the infamous @teedubya on Twitter and author of Digital Sense, will open with an address called “Building Your Ultimate Tech Stack.”

Which forces us to consider the question: Exactly what do you need in your marketing stack?

Are you even sure what a marketing tech “stack” is?

Stack of coins
In a way, that’s not wrong.

If you’re not familiar with the term, your marketing tech stack is all of the tools you use to do marketing and how they fit together and interact. Often it starts with the CRM and marketing automation system/cloud, how they connect to your main database (or sometimes one of them plays the role of your main database) and all of the tools that connect with them to allow you to understand what your customers want and reach them across all channels.

That can be a lot of stuff. Here’s what happened when I tried explaining it to Taylor last year when she joined the team with no marketing background.

Thorin's Marketing Stack Doodle
Fortunately, she suffered no serious long-term psychological effects … aside from that recurring twitch.

So, what belongs in the perfect marketing stack?

I’m going to let Travis answer that in detail on March 1. But here are seven levels I think you have to consider:

  1. Where do you keep the customer and prospect data? How is it secured and accessed, and exactly what part of that is your job?
  2. How do you manipulate that data, both to deploy campaigns and power pesonalization?
  3. What lets you analyze and draw actionable insights from that data and other data you access? (RFM, likely buyers, behavioral triggers, look-alike analysis, etc.)
  4. What tech do you use to build your creative? To what extent do you need that to be flexible and data-driven (either so it can be personalized, or segments can be adapted to the analytics in 3)?
  5. What channels do you deploy that creative to, and how do you get it there? (I feel like the stack can develop a lot of columns here.)
  6. How do you monitor and converse with customers and prospects on those channels? (Even more columns.)
  7. For customers specifically, how do you handle their relationship and issues? (This part may well be in another department, but it certainly impacts how they respond to your marketing in the future.)

So that is seven layers deep of hard, meaningful decisions. And I bet I missed a few. What layers and tools do you feel you need to have in your marketing stack?

And if you want to hear from someone who really knows what their talking about on this — someone who’s helped companies across many verticals build their own stacks — don’t miss Travis Wright on March 1, kicking off All About Marketing Tech!