A few years ago, there was lots of chatter about the elusive UX unicorn; a mythical person capable of delivering everything from research to design to development. It became an obsession for the industry, sparking debate about whether this was the metaphor for how unreasonable our expectations of designers had become, while some felt it was what all designers should be aspiring to.
As seen through the lens of a “supergraphic” created and popularized by Scott Brinker on his blog ChiefMartec.com, which covers marketing as a technology-powered discipline, today’s marketing technology landscape of vendors, platforms and solutions is depicted as a chaotic rainbow of cleverly designed, colorful corporate logos.
It is, says Brinker, a list that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years: Today, there are several thousand martech companies at various stages, in dozens of categories from mobile, email and content marketing to data analytics, performance attribution, CRM, marketing automation and video advertising.
“I’m working on the 2016 update now and the list has not shrunk at all,” says Brinker. “In fact, there are more companies than I can even squeeze in using the smallest possible fonts.”
Marketers struggling to keep up with a bevy of solutions
As a result of the sheer volume of technologies, marketers are struggling mightily to keep up with what they all actually do and whether they actually work. “The amount of change and concepts related to new technologies that marketers are being asked to incorporate into their work is nearly impossible to keep up with,” says Brinker. “I think everyone feels the visceral pressure of trying to keep pace with this accelerating rate of technological innovation.”
Ironically, martech has flowered because of the incredible opportunities that have opened up for marketers in terms of new touchpoints and activities — from social and mobile to predictive and personalized — while the nature of creating software has changed dramatically thanks to open source and Infrastructure as a Service. “The barrier to entry is much lower,” says Brinker.
But it’s all too much for most marketers to tackle, says Kevin Joyce, vice president of strategy services with The Pedowitz Group: “How can an average marketer possibly hope to keep up with hundreds and thousands of tools and how it fits in with their current architecture?” Marketers, he insists, clearly need help. “They need IT to come in and participate,” he explains, “to help narrow down the choices and identify what will actually work with the business and boost performance.”
The challenge of martech freedom
One challenge of selecting and maintaining marketing technologies is that they often must integrate with the rest of the company’s systems — even if they are SaaS apps marketers can buy on their own, without actually having IT step in. “It’s good for marketers to have that freedom with their toolset, but even those tools that don’t require integration still end up representing potential business risk, data risk and issues around business continuity,” says Joyce, adding that there are also consequences when the technological landscape around the choices marketers have made changes within a year or two.
But, in general, the IT department should not act as a roadblock to marketing when it comes to building the marketing technology stack. “You want IT to enable marketing productivity,” says Joyce. “The best thing a CIO can do is bring to the CMO’s attention the technologies that can improve the overall effectiveness of marketing.”
Demystifying the martech hype
For marketers, getting past the martech hype with any vendor is a must. “I think any vendor worth its salt should be able to concretely say that by using their platform you will be able to accomplish XYZ,” says Anita J. Brearton, founder and CEO at CabinetM, a discovery platform for the marketing industry.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily a financial metric, she explains, but a click-through or conversion metric. It should, however, be a concrete benchmark to aim for: “Otherwise, you install a tool you know everyone is experimenting with and three months later it cost you more to implement it than you achieved by using it,” she says.
Most importantly, she adds, marketers should focus on their business objectives rather than get distracted by the latest new and shiny tech tool. “It can be hell for marketers to try and put all this stuff in perspective,” Brearton says. “But while testing and trying new tools to extend reach and drive down the cost of customer acquisition is important, you need to test the premise of the solution against your marketing strategy and buyer personas. Ask the question — is this tool going to help me reach or connect with my specific buyers?”
Brinker also points out that vendors should be assessed with the possibility in mind that in a couple of years a company’s needs will change or the technology will advance. “Keep in mind when you build your marketing stack that you’ll have to swap out some of those components or add new ones two or three years from now.”
No marketing nirvana with martech
There is no sign of consolidation in the martech space, so for now, marketers need to figure out how to navigate the massive, competitive landscape of platforms and solutions. The most important thing for marketers to keep in mind, says Brinker, is that there is really no “there” there.
“I don’t think there’s a marketing nirvana when it comes to martech,” says Brinker. Instead, he says, there is a typical, cyclical process where a new way of connecting with one’s audiences is invented that didn’t exist before. “The speed is accelerating from the point of early adopters who get an outsized return from that new technology due to its novelty, to the noise explosion in the space that leads to an efficacy drop. And then, everyone just starts hunting for the next breakthrough innovation.”