3 Tools Every Marketing Leader Should Use

The other day I was asked what tools I think are important for marketing. So I answered. Here are three tools I would encourage every marketing leader to use (and they persist, regardless of what changes in marketing).

Over the years, like many of my peers, I have used quite a few marketing tools. Thinking back over the last 24 years I have been in this space, it is remarkable how much has changed, and equally remarkable how much has not. Over that time, we have seen some interesting tools and applications come and go: Remember when FeedBurner was a necessity? While the modes by which we do marketing change — and so do the tools — the core of what we do as marketers does not. So then, what tools do we use that persist?

Recently a very aggressive marketing firm launched a bot-driven campaign on LinkedIn that targeted marketing leaders. The automated process sent a connection request. Once the connection was accepted, a video was sent in a message explaining how you were found. Although it was obviously automated, I chose to respond to the message, because, why not?

What I found on the other end, was an actual human being who I engaged in a conversation. This is interesting for two reasons: one, it never hurts to be kind to people, and two it created a connection point for me with someone who is new to our our field and seeking to disrupt it (or so they claim).

The interaction lead to a short, but effective conversation resulting in a very thoughtful question posed to me, “What are the most useful 3 software tools for you?”

This random interaction, initiated by an automated process, lead to useful and interesting question. It caused me to think, take the time to explain my thinking, and to make a tough decision about what is actually useful and what tools persists through change.

Here are three marketing tools I encourage every marketing leader to use (and they do persist regardless of what in marketing changes):

Flowcharting & Diagramming as Marketing Tools

The two big stars in this marketing tool set are Omnigraffle for OS X and iOS and Visio for Windows (or LucidChart for a cloud based service) — and despite what either claims, they essentially do the same thing. Both tools allow users to rapidly produce flow charts and visual documents. Regardless of how you do marketing, generally there is a process. As the head of marketing for a financial company, I have to create and communicate specific approval processes for compliance and to maintain consistency. I do that with these tools.

But beyond process documentation, these tools are easy to use tools to do wireframing, a quick mock-up of a marketing piece, or even to create a mind-map. Both tools even offer a quick way to mock-up your office layout (if you like that sort of thing).

The utility to here is speed and ease of use. It is a great marketing tool that has been in my arsenal from the beginning.

Cloud Based File Sharing as Marketing Tools

Since desktop publishing starting dominating the marketing landscape in the late eighties and early nineties, the need to share large digital files to facilitate marketing has always been a need. I remember my days in college where every computer on campus had a Zip Drive to make this easier. With the advent of cheap storage and reliable broadband access, physical drives, FTP servers, and large format email services are no longer necessary. But the need is there.

Whether it is Box, DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud or any other slew of services, it really doesn’t matter which you use. What matters is having the ability to share, in real time, files with a team securely without worrying about complex infrastructures. This has enabled us to work better with staff (both local and remote), vendors, and clients. When sharing a file is as easy as saving a file, that is a tool that everyone should use.

Spreadsheets as Marketing Tools

Not just an accountant’s best friend, spreadsheets are quite possibly the most important software innovation. Ever. And I only wish I was exaggerating. All superlatives aside, if you ponder for a moment all that has been made possible with the use of spreadsheet software, it is pretty remarkable. For all of our advancements in business intelligence (BI), machine learning (ML), and analytics, the one tool that most executives reach for when they want to understand and play with data is Excel (and sometimes Google Sheets).

Ponder this: what do you use to build and massage your marketing budgets? What do you use to manipulate, look at, and explore your analytics? What does your team use to present reports to you ? My guess is that most of you, like me, eventually ask for the data in a spreadsheet. And while we are at it, I do not know a single BI or analytics tool, or data platform (like say a CRM or email system) that does not allow for import or export into structured data.

There is a reason for this. Tabular data is the simplest way to store data for visualization and analysis. If you are good with Excel and have good data, you can do quite a bit.

Why These 3?

When I was answering this question in a LinkedIn message thread, something very simple struck me. We make marketing way too complicated and the tools we use as well. Many of us who run marketing departments and teams spend too much time looking at and evaluating marketing tools, and not enough time doing marketing things. So at the end of the day, what is important to me, not only as a marketer, but as an executive? What stands out is the ability to quickly communicate visually, quickly share files, and to quickly look at and manipulate data.

Wanted: Data-Driven, Digital CMOs

There was a time, not so long ago, that the firm’s CMO basically acted as the chief brand steward, running a marketing department that focused on maintaining brand equity and making sure the company was sending out the right message to the masses. Data and analytics? They were usually scoffed at … That was the purview of the down-and-dirty world of the direct marketer, right? Direct marketers were the ones who obsessed over response rates, cost per order, lifetime value and so on.

There was a time, not so long ago, that the firm’s CMO basically acted as the chief brand steward, running a marketing department that focused on maintaining brand equity and making sure the company was sending out the right message to the masses. Data and analytics? They were usually scoffed at … That was the purview of the down-and-dirty world of the direct marketer, right? Direct marketers were the ones who obsessed over response rates, cost per order, lifetime value and so on.

Well, suffice it to say that those days are over—marketing in today’s multichannel environment is about much more than just cute creatives and killer copy. Today’s marketing is increasingly digital and data-centric. A recent article appearing in Ad Age explained that “real-time data-driven decisions, enabled by technology, have made the marketer’s job much more measureable and accountable.” Interestingly, the same article also points out that the average tenure of a CMO is a meager 28 months. No coincidence.

What it boils down to is that today’s CMO is expected, de rigueur, to be a pro when it comes to all things digital. We have two important trends to thank for this fact. The first one of these trends is the general transition to digital. Look, it’s no secret that over the past few years there’s been an incredible shift of marketing spend from traditional over to digital media. It’s the scale and speed of this transition that’s so breathtaking.

According to a June 2012 survey by RSW/U.S., 44 percent of marketers report that they are now spending at least half of their budgets on social and digital media. This represents a 42 percent increase from 2009 alone! And this is not the end of the process. I think it’s safe to say now that the proverbial tipping point has been reached—this trend will only accelerate in coming years.

Anyone who’s worked in the digital marketing arena knows that success in the space all really boils down to data: Impressions, clicks, conversions, opens—this is the vocabulary of the digital world. Well, guess what? Today’s CMO needs to have a deep understanding of these terms, what they mean and how the underlying technologies work—at least on a high level—and be generally comfortable playing in the digital space. Think about it: without a significant digital background, how on Earth can a CMO possibly be expected to run a marketing machine where at least half of the marketing dollars are being spent in the digital space? Not happening.

The other major trend is the inexorable fragmentation of the IT infrastructure within enterprise firms. Basically, what’s happening is that because technology has evolved radically over the past 10 years, it’s giving different stakeholders at companies the ability to purchase and use technology outside of their organization’s firewall, and often without IT’s involvement. Very often, in fact, IT is even without IT’s knowledge!

This is huge shift. Just a few short years ago, mind you, software was what you ran on your computer or on the company mainframe, and it was pretty much always purchased and managed by IT. Well, those days are most definitely over. What’s happened is that the emergence of the SaaS/Cloud model of software delivery has turned that world on its head.

Today, any marketer with a credit card can sign up for, say, a CRM tool or a marketing automation tool and be off to the races in seconds flat. Ask any marketer and they’ll explain how this has been a huge boon to their departments, liberating them forever from the clutches of IT.

Now, of course, a big reason for this excitement is the oftentimes frosty relationship between marketing and IT. Personality types side, in its essence this rocky relationship actually has a lot to do with conflicting mandates. It’s the IT department’s mandate to act as the stewards of the firm’s information and technology infrastructure. Essentially, it’s their job to keep internal systems running and make sure they’re secure. That’s about it. No, it’s not their job to build you a new landing page, or set up a new email campaign for this fall’s reactivation campaign.

Today’s marketing department, on the other hand, is much more focused on operations than anything else. Today marketing is about creating, testing and launching numerous marketing campaigns across various channels using different tools, and evaluating their performance using real-time analytics. And running an operationally focused marketing team requires the ability to build, dispatch and analyze lots of campaigns in rapid succession. Until recently, this heaped loads of pressure on the IT folks, who groaned under the strain. So you can see why marketers have cheered and embraced the emergence of Web-based SaaS marketing tools.

Okay, I got a little sidetracked there, so I’ll get back to the central point, which is that because marketing is rapidly becoming the de facto owners of their own IT infrastructure, this mean that they now control the technology itself and the data contained therein. It’s a big responsibility, requiring marketers to manage and safeguard this vital corporate infrastructure and information, taking on the dual roles of chief marketing technologist and data steward. But with this responsibility comes great power—to use these awesome tools and information to really, truly understand who customers and prospects are, and send out highly personalized and effective marketing campaigns with demonstrable ROI.

But evaluating performance in this environment means not only using new marketing tools and digging through mountains of data. Just as importantly, it also means understanding what it all means. In other words, just because you’re a CMO does not mean you don’t need to know how many opt-ins you have in your company database, or how many fans on Facebook.

And guess what? It’s hard to be comfortable with digital if you’ve never played in the space. But how many CMOs are also digital pros? Not too many. So not surprisingly, firms are finding that it’s incredibly difficult to find leaders with the hard-to-find combination of senior management leadership and digital marketing experience. Given this reality, it’s not too surprising to discover that many companies are running through CMOs in a conveyor belt-like fashion.

Do you know any data-driven digital pros with senior marketing leadership experience?? If so, bet your bottom dollar these executives will be cashing in big time in coming years.

—Rio