8 ways to avoid fads, gimmicks and shiny martech toys

For today’s digital marketer, being tempted by the latest marketing technology tool or platform could have dangerous repercussions, both to customer engagement and the company bottom line.

The pressure to remain digitally agile and competitive has left CMOs vulnerable to embracing the latest fad or gimmick without asking whether it really will contribute to long-term marketing or customer results.

“With between 2000 and 4000 marketing technology options on the market, it can be tempting to chase the shiny new toy,” CMO and co-founder of digital design agency, The Web Showroom, James Lawrence, tells CMO.

So much buzz around martech means CMOs must focus on their strategy and avoid the latest fad or gimmick, he says.

“We advise marketers to be judicious. Dig deeper than the 90-second explainer video and basic product demonstration and don’t be wowed by extra features,” Lawrence says. “It’s easy to be wowed by the latest marketing technology or marketing product, without really considering your own business goals and KPIs.”

Here, other CMOs and industry experts share their advice on how to avoid falling into the trap of a shiny new tech tool.

There’s a time and place for social

CMO of CRM software provider SugarCRM, Jennifer Stagnaro, has seen plenty of marketers make investments and wondered what on earth are they thinking. She highlights social media marketing as a big example.

“We can get distracted by all sorts of interesting fads,” she admits. “I actually think some of the biggest violators are the fads on social media. In fact, I saw some customer journey mapping ideas on Pinterest and I thought why on earth are they here? Because the customer isn’t really using that tool for that purpose.”

When it comes to any digital engagement platform, Stagnaro stresses the need to first understand where your customer is, what frame of mind they’re in and when they want to interact with your brand.

“You also need to look at the different demographics to see who is using different channels,” she says. “When I was at the Meth Project, Instagram was a very powerful tool for us to communicate with teams – we had to keep up with the latest trends and where the teams were going.

“But when we first started the project, it was all about Myspace. That went out of fashion very quickly. The lesson to learn is that every marketer needs to understand who they’re trying to communicate with and how to engage with those individuals. That’ll help them remain focused on the right technologies to interact with the customer.”

Beware of the promise of a 360-degree customer view

Forrester marketing analyst, Clement Teo, warns marketers to avoid anything that promises to deliver a 360-degree view of the customer without first seeking proof.

“It’s tough to get a full 360-degree view – you can get close to it, and some vendors are closer to achieving that for you than others,” he explains. “But anyone that says they can give you a full picture of your customer should be dealt with caution.”

MD of customer experience software company MaritzCX, David Blakers, agrees. He recommends scrutinising new vendors on a number of factors including customer successes, ROI, and real proof points.

“It may seem obvious, but you should also seek third-party validation from colleagues, analysts and references,” he said. “You also don't need to chase ‘horizon’ or ‘ bleeding-edge’ technology, but should stick with tried and trusted technology that meets your core needs and delivers the essential outcomes: Better performance, improved insights, and exceptional customer experiences.”

Principal of US-based marketing technology consultant, Raab Associates, David M. Raab, suggests aligning specific new projects with your long-term customer lifecycle strategy is the best way to avoid chasing fads and gimmicks.

“You should have a formal model of the customer lifecycle or funnel showing how customer actions at each stage translate to long-term value,” he said. “That lets you estimate the changes a particular project must produce to yield enough value to justify the investment. This will help to screen out ideas that seem interesting but are too small to have a meaningful result.

“Bear in mind the biggest limitation innovation at most firms is the amount of time that marketers have to try new things. They need to be sure the potential return on time invested is high.”

Teo adds the marketer’s focus should be on personalising and contextualising customer interaction points using a more holistic and streamlined approach. A robust CRM system therefore is key.

“This needs to be married to your marketing automation tools in order to give you a better understanding of what the customer is doing,” he says. “Look at customer moments as opposed to just campaign KPIs. Campaigns bring people to you, but the context keeps them there.”

Avoid narrow, siloed applications

Technology firm MapR’s CMO, Jack Norris, believes we’re going through a huge technology transition thanks to data that’s not just impacting marketers, but enterprises in general.

“We’re moving away from the application and dictated data silo,” he said. “There are a lot of promises based on a single application or single data source, and increasingly what companies are faced with is trying to understand the customer’s perspective and try to get a more complete view of the customer. This requires input from various sources and data points.

“Instead of falling into the trap of buying very narrow applications that have their own data formats and requirements, what we’re seeing is that marketers need to focus on the data first and a unified platform – and doing your analytics across that.”

Norris claims companies really making a difference are those injecting analytics into the production flows and making small adjustments, one step at a time.

“So you’re seeing things like recommendations and dynamic pricing, and retargeting ads,” he continues. “It’s about making small adjustments that impact the business and over time, have a big impact on the top line.”

Data in motion versus data at rest

Norris also points to the difference between data in motion and data at rest as a consideration. As companies move more towards being able to react quickly to customer moments, they need to handle data in motion and be able to inform decisions based on larger trends and insight.

“Understanding what the data-to-action cycle is and what is implied is one way to avoid falling into the fads,” he says.

To get there, Norris recommends focusing on the foundations first, then understanding all the implications of the technology and point solutions.

“The key is having the right foundation and the right architecture that enables agility to react quickly and to better understand what the changes are in customer preferences and in competitive dynamics,” he says. “It’s those organisations that will be able to gain market share and jump ahead. Because it’s not the company who has the most applications, or the most data that is going to win, it is the company that is the most agile.”

Avoid stunts and showmanship

Try to remember that without data and strategic insights, technology solutions are simply stunts, says managing director of creative communications agency Imagination Australia, Antony Gowthorp.

“Within any brand ecosystem, stunts and showmanship will always have a role to play,” he explains. “But if you want to see enduring upside from your technology strategy, you may have to take the plunge and trust someone with your data.

“Trust is essential to creative collaboration between brands and agencies, and with proprietary data representing a highly valuable commodity, security is paramount when you hand it over to an external party.”

Head of digital at the Nest agency, Martin Hoegh-Guldberg, says the greater expectations and pressure on marketers in the new digital age to be innovators is only exacerbating this quest for shiny new toy.

“Unfortunately, fads and gimmicks are a staple diet of the digital industry,” he comments. “We are famous for it and thrive on being instant experts of obscure technologies and techniques. Additionally, we are not beyond creating vapourware - talking up technologies that don’t exist and most probably never will.”

Hoegh-Guldberg points out many organisations are now creating ‘Innovation Centres’ within their businesses to test and explore new technologies such as virtual reality, which he sees as the current noisy trend.

“There are three ways to see through fads,” he says. “Try the technology and see whether it stacks up and whether it fits your brand. Then talk to someone who has deployed it in their business to understand how it really works. Finally, use data and user tracking to make decisions rather than getting carried away with the hype.”

Up next: 3 more ways to ensure you're not buying a martech lemon

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