Marketing Technology: Too Many Tools, Too Little Strategy?

A version of this post originally appeared on the V3*Broadsuite blog.

CMOs and their teams are spending more than ever on marketing tools. Gartner has predicted that “CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs” in 2017, while IDC projects “CMOs will drive marketing technology spending to $32.3B by 2018.”

The number and variety of tools they have to choose from has been rapidly expanding as well. Scott Brinker, widely known as @chiefmartec on Twitter, began cataloging this universe in 2011. His initial Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic listed 150 tools. The 2015 version showed 2,000. The 2016 version cataloged more than 3,800, and Brinker’s newest version of the supergraphic includes nearly 5,400 tools!

But while buying is increasing, the purchasing isn’t always strategic. In companies of all sizes, but most notably in companies with specific characteristics—such as those with multiple product lines, divisions, or geographic locations; those that have grown by acquisition; those that have sharp divisions between marketing functions (e.g. social media marketing, PR, and events); and those that rely heavily on outside agencies—technology selection is often “siloed,” without a high-level view of what is purchased and how all the tools work together.

The Costs of Tactical Buying

Ad hoc, as opposed to strategic, technology selection can lead to three types of problems:

Gaps and overlaps: Gaps occur when the selection of tools leads to missing functionality. For example, the company may invest in influencer marketing tools to find and engage with the most prominent voices in their industry, and a keyword research tool to nail down topics. But it may not have any tool for backlink analysis to track the value of backlinks generated by writing targeted content and sharing it with the top influencers.

Overlaps are, of course, the opposite—they occur when a company has two (or more) tools that perform the same function. One example is website analytics: if a marketing team has two analytics tools, each of which report a different number of website visits in a certain period—or worse, different numbers of visits from a specific campaign in that timeframe—how do team members know which “version of the truth” is really true?

Suboptimal tool selection: Again, there are two types of risks here. The first is taking the wrong approach to tool selection. For example, is it better to purchase best-of-breed SEO tools for different functions (link research, keyword research, rank tracking, etc.) or to purchase an “all in one” suite-type tool? Best-of-breed tools tend to offer deeper functionality, but all-in-one tools simplify management. It depends on your environment and needs.

The second risk is in purchasing the wrong specific tools. If purchasing is siloed, it’s entirely possible for an organization to end up with a collection tools that individually meet functional needs, but don’t work well together. Taking a big-picture view of technology selection helps optimize the entire marketing process rather than just individual steps within it.

Insufficient or improper services: Tools don’t solve problems by themselves. Improving marketing operations and maximizing the value of technology investments requires properly and fully utilizing those tools. That in turn requires investing in the right mix of services.

First, tools must be implemented and configured properly for the organization’s needs. Second, they need to be integrated, so that information is reliably passed in real time from one platform to the next to keep marketing operations in sync. Finally, employees need to be trained not just on how to use the tools, but on the strategy for their use (marketing automation systems are a great example).

A Strategic Model for Marketing Technology Selection

Modeling your organization’s marketing process provides a framework for strategic tool selection. Here’s one model that works well for content-centric B2B marketing functions. It extends the time-tested web presence optimization (WPO) model into prospect/customer marketing as well as adding supporting business technology tools (e.g., scheduling, file sharing, time management, and project collaboration).

The website visibility and engagement model for marketing technology selection

Using a model like this, marketing executives can map out what types of tools they need in each area. For example, content strategy and development may include tools for topic ideation, planning, research, and content curation. Website design and optimization may require form and landing page builders, design elements, and SEO tools. Social media marketing relies on tools for monitoring and management as well as platform-specific apps for optimizing use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and other networks.

Marketing Technology in Harmony

The result of tactical, poorly coordinated, siloed technology selection is like a disorganized benchtop covered with tools: there’s a hammer (or two or three), a few screwdrivers, some wrenches (though never the size you need), and some odd special-purpose gadgets that are hard to identify, thrown together.

A strategic approach to marketing technology, however, creates an environment more like the work area of a professional craftsman: a tool for everything, and every tool in its place. There are no missing wrenches. Each tool has a clear purpose, is easy to find, and has been chosen to complement all the other tools in the neatly organized box.

Finally, a strategic approach assures the tools are integrated to work together to automate marketing processes and provide accurate metrics for decision making, and that your team is trained to get the most of out of every application.

What does your marketing “workshop” look like?

Advanced Marketing Technologies – More Hype Than Help?

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Advanced marketing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) have the potential to revolutionize brand messaging. Customers and prospective buyers can be served ever more personalized, relevant, and compelling content, at the ideal points in their decision process.

However, recent research suggests this future may be a way off yet. Most marketers, particularly in small to midsized businesses, aren’t ready to capitalize on these cutting-edge technologies. They have more immediate priorities. Many are still struggling to effectively implement more basic marketing technology (martech) tools.

The Case for Optimism…

Recent studies from the Economist Intelligence Unit and other sources indicate a significant share of business leaders expect AI to help their companies improve decision making, customer service, operating efficiency, and sales revenue.

Further, the positive impacts of AI are expected to be felt soon. Per the Economist, “75% of…business executives surveyed said AI will be actively implemented in their companies within the next three years…(and) 79%…believe artificial Intelligence will make their job easier and more efficient.”

Separate research summarized by Carla Johnson shows marketers expect AI will help them “deliver highly personalized and relevant messages” and eliminate waste in marketing operations.

…Meets the Reality of Advanced Marketing Technology Adoption

In practice, however, organizations of all sizes are struggling to maximize the value of their existing investments, much less adopt cutting-edge applications. Issues like the difficulty in integrating different tools and finding or developing the talent to fully utilize the technology in place remain obstacles to moving forward quickly.

Gartner research director Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, interviewed by CMO.com, revealed some stunning findings:

“Things like web analytics, web content management, and e-mail marketing, which you’d assume are pretty widely adapted and would be considered table stakes, (are) still not being used by 20% of large enterprises. These are things that we consider to be the bare minimum for a fully functioning marketing team today…

“Marketers aren’t getting all the value they should from their existing marketing technology. In some cases, clients come to us asking what is the best new personalization technology, yet they haven’t even tried the standard personalization that comes with their web content management system. They’re out there chasing new, shiny objects, without really knowing what they are already capable of doing

“If they’re not currently using technology that everyone else considers table stakes, are they able to move and scale as fast as they need to be, or should they question their strategy?”

When the largest enterprises struggle to optimize their use of fairly standard marketing technology, it’s likely smaller firms will be even less inclined to tackle more advanced marketing technologies in the near term.

Boost social media engagement with Post PlannerAccording to a broader study reported by ClickZ, nearly two-thirds (65%) of marketers “have no plans to invest in new technologies like 360-degree video, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), chatbots and beacons in 2017.” Even the simplest applications of AI are likely to be adopted only gradually: just 9% of marketers said they would invest in chatbots in 2017.

The research cited by Carla Johnson further notes that both marketers and customers have mixed feelings about AI (when does it cross the line from personalized to creepy?), and that CMOs face challenges in adopting AI: “60 percent of marketers said they worry about integrating AI into their existing tech stack.”

Instead, most plan to invest in more established marketing technologies this year, such as marketing analytics, social media monitoring, content management systems, and marketing automation tools.

Walk Before Running

There’s no question advanced marketing technologies like AI, AR, and VR have the potential to significantly enhance the customer experience, or that they will be widely adopted (eventually).

Marketers do need to keep an eye on these technologies and look for ways to experiment with small projects. Standing still means falling behind.

But most midmarket CMOs and marketing professionals recognize the practical imperative to optimize their use of current technologies rather than chase shiny objects.

Create a marketing technology strategy based on your marketing process model. Start with tools to develop compelling content, share and amplify that content, and measure results. Establish basic contact list segmentation before moving on to AI-driven personalization.

Advanced marketing technologies will move from “hype-full” to helpful when they are able to combine measurable improvement in operational efficiency and customer experience with pragmatically simple implementation and use.

Marketing Technology Framework – Think Outside the Stack

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Has your marketing technology framework enabled your department and processes to run like a well-oiled machine? Or are you more like the 50% of marketers, as reported in recent research from Signal, whose “stacks are not helping them to coordinate marketing across channels”? For those in the latter group, part of the problem may be in looking at marketing technology (martech) as a “stack.”

Lenati and Chiefmartec.com have produced an infographic, Making the Right MarTech Bets, with guidance for leaders and professionals selecting and implementing marketing tools. Here are the recommendations from that infographic combined with the research findings from Signal detailing martech challenges.

1) Martech success starts with strategy. More specifically, marketers should invest in long-term core platforms while experimenting with flexible point solutions, for functions like social media management. Absolutely! That is exactly the framework the B2B marketing technology strategy model on home page here helps marketers develop.

Yet 39% of marketers, according to Signal, identify “lack of effective strategy” as one of their top five obstacles to marketing technology success.

2) Overall, marketers say only 9% of their stack is “fully utilized.” Training and planning are key: how does each tool fit into your marketing process flow, and what training and integration is needed to maximize the use and value of it?

Two of the top five obstacles to success (“integration complexities” and “inconsistent data across technologies”) relate specifically to integration issues.

Most cloud apps provide APIs to simplify integration. Many also provide pre-built integrations with popular platforms, such as the huge array of tools that integrate with Salesforce. And tools like Zapier simplify the process of connecting cloud apps to automate workflows.

3) Talent – invest in the right people. Effective marketing requires strategy, processes, and tools. But these components are worthless without the people to make them work. Digital marketing and marketing strategy are the top skills sought.

38% of marketers say “inadequate budget/resources” is one of the top obstacles to success. Certainly, budget dollars can be spent many ways: on technology, services, advertising, outsourced functions, travel, and other items. But given that author, blogger and former Googler Avinash Kaushik has been quoted saying “for every $10 spent on your…tool(s), $90 should be spent on people,” budget shortfalls are highly likely to impact the quantity of talent on the team.

4) Be innovative; stay in front of what’s next. This presents a catch-22 for marketers in small to midsize companies. Most are already hard-pressed even to invest in relatively proven marketing tools. Devoting time and budget to experimental technology is an even tougher sell.

But failure to anticipate technology developments puts the company at risk. Consequently, SME marketers need to at least be aware of AI tools for customer service, analytics, and other applications—and to try to carve out modest allocations of budget and time to explore.

Scratch the Stack

Part of the answer to overcoming these obstacles may be to discard the notion of marketing technology as a stack. As Asad Haroon notes in his summary of the Signal research, “a concept we like to call the ‘anti-stack’ can in many cases work better than the typical individual marketing stack.”

And as pointed out on the V3B blog, marketing technology isn’t so much a “stack” as it is a matrix. The stack model comes from the software world, where it identifies “an operating system, database, web server, and programming language designed to work together to provide a development environment.”

Marketing technology doesn’t work that way—it’s a mix of interconnecting (or not) applications that support a marketing strategy and set of processes unique to each company.

Three Approaches to Martech Strategy

As the Lenati infographic and the Signal research both conclude, marketing technology success starts with strategy. Three common bases for developing such a strategy are:

Data-centric: Strategy is based on the ultimate metrics or KPIs most important to a company or its marketing team, and the tools and platforms used to report those measures. Metrics, however, are more useful as indicators of relative success and guidance for modifying specific tactics rather than driving strategy.

Contact-centric: Some firms choose to make their CRM platform the base for martech strategy, selecting other tools (for social media monitoring, analytics, etc.) based on their integration with the CRM system. While this can be effective for “post-CRM” marketing (communications with customers and known prospects), it’s not helpful for managing the pre-CRM stage (e.g. SEO, online advertising, and top-of-the-funnel content planning).

Content-centric: This approach, reflected in the website visibility and engagement model for martech, puts content planning, targeting, and development at the base of strategy. It’s effective at addressing both the pre- and post-CRM phases of martech strategy.

The MarTech Bets Infographic

Here’s the infographic from Lenati and Chiefmartec.com.

Making The Right Martech Bets #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan

Walking in the Shadow of Martech Giants

Does the world need yet another website dedicated to marketing technology? Clearly, this site is based on a belief the answer is “yes,” particularly to address the concerns of small to midsized (SMB) B2B businesses.

While there are a number of established and varied marketing technology-focused sites around, most seem to fall broadly into two categories.

Expert (Enterprise Martech) Sites

These are the sites and blogs maintained by the industry analyst groups (Gartner, IDC, etc.) as well as experts like Scott Brinker of ChiefMartec, David Raab at Customer Experience Matrix, and Douglas Karr at the Marketing Technology Blog.

These brilliant writers and thinkers are among the top influencers in marketing technology, along with Lana K. Moore, Mike Quindazzi, Stewart Rogers, Joe Rizzo, Steve Woods, Matt Heinz, and others on this martech experts Twitter list.

They cover topics like big data analytics, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented/virtual reality, and predictive analytics, which resonate with enterprise marketers—but aren’t often part of everyday life for SMB marketers.

Marketing Technology Review Sites

At the tactical end of the spectrum are the  marketing technology review and ratings sites. These well-known and highly regarded sites list thousands of products, enabling visitors to compare tools, check overall ratings, and read user reviews. These include:

  • Capterra
  • Cloudswave
  • DiscoverCloud
  • G2 Crowd
  • GetApp
  • Serchen
  • Siftery
  • Software Advice
  • SoftwareInsider
  • TrustRadius

These sites play a vital role in the research and evaluation phase for specific tools. But their coverage is very broad and the focus is generally more on product features and functions rather than marketing processes and technology strategy.

B2BMarketing.Technology: The B2B SMB Martech Strategy Site

Where B2B Marketing Technology fits in the martech infosphereThis site is designed to fill a gap between review sites and enterprise blogs. It’s designed to be a resource to help marketing leaders in small to midmarket B2B companies make more strategic marketing technology purchase decisions.

Visually, it’s positioned as show at right: more strategic than the review sites, more mid-market focused than most analysts.

It’s a bit like Growthverse, but with more of a strategic guidance / less directory-like focus.

Curious: what are the biggest martech challenges your organization is facing? Where do you turn for answers?

Top B2B Martech Challenges – What Do You Think?

This website, as noted on the home page, “is designed to help marketing professionals—particularly in small-to-midsized B2B companies—make more strategic decisions about acquiring marketing technology (martech) tools.”

It’s based on experience and anecdotal knowledge about the technology challenges faced by SMB marketers. There’s no question some B2B companies struggle to:

  • Develop an overall strategy for building their marketing technology stack (or more accurately, their martech matrix).
  • Select tools based on their fit with the organization’s overall martech environment and strategy—rather than just the “best” tool within a specific functional silo.
  • Integrate their tools and get the proper training, on a business level rather than just a “how to” for tool use, to maximize value from their martech investments.

There is at least some research to support these points as well. MarTech Today has reported that integrating different martech tools is among the top challenges marketers face, and advises CMOs and directors to “Consider your full marketing technology stack when making software decisions, and avoid inefficiencies and sunken resources resulting from too many solutions providing similar functionality and value.”

But in general, while there are numerous studies done each year on the challenges faced by B2B marketers generally, there’s a dearth of research specifically focused on marketing technology.

And what is produced is often targeted at the enterprise level, such as the prediction from Forbes that “B2B marketing technology choices will simplify in 2017 because…the predictive marketing automation market will consolidate.” That’s a real possibility, but not something SMB marketers are thinking about. Even the “all-in-one marketing cloud solutions” touted by MarTech Today as potential solutions to integration issues are primarily targeted at large companies.

One other challenge noted at the SMB level is underinvestment in technology. Marketers often have difficulty getting budget allocated for technology purchases because of their inability to prove ROI from the tools.

But that creates a chicken-and-egg situation: it’s extremely difficult to prove the value of investing in marketing technology without first investing in analytical tools that can track the metrics required to prove the ROI.

Anyway—what are your thoughts? Are the challenges noted above familiar? If not, what are the biggest martech challenges your business faces this year?

The Website Visibility and Engagement Model for MarTech Explained

Revised July 14, 2017

The interactive graphic on our home page extends the established web presence optimization framework into “post-CRM” marketing (communication with known prospects, leads, and customers) to provide a useful model for planning a marketing technology (martech) strategy.

The objective wasn’t simply to produce yet another list of martech tool categories. There are plenty of those out there, like this one and this one.

Rather, it’s to provide a framework for marketers, particularly in small to midsized businesses (SMBs)—who aren’t particularly concerned about enterprise martech concepts like predictive analytics or real-time interaction management (RTIM) —to visualize how different types of tools fit together within their marketing processes.

This model helps SMB B2B marketers minimize gaps (missing functionality) and overlaps (duplicate functions in two or more different tools); select tools that work well together; and identify integration and training needs.

The model starts with content strategy and production, then moves to distribution channels, and then to metrics which feed back into the strategy level—all sitting atop a layer of tools that help optimize business operations, individual productivity, and other specific functional needs.

Level One: Content Strategy and Development

At this level are tools that help marketers develop and document their content strategy, using approaches like the ACKTT framework or thinking like a reporter.

This area is too often overlooked, but there are a wide array of helpful apps at this level, including tools for:

Effective content marketing starts with great content, so it’s important to start with the tools that can help plan and develop compelling content assets.

Level Two: Content Distribution and Promotion

At this level are the tools that help get your content noticed, through the five main online channels:

Website Design and Optimization: This includes tools for all aspects of SEO (keyword research, rank tracking, link building) as well as website design resources and WordPress plugins.

Social Media Marketing: In this channel are tools for social media monitoring and management along with platform-specific tools (for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).

Influencer Relations: These are tools for content amplification as well as influencer identification and outreach.

Online Advertising: This channel includes tools for building social media campaigns and monitoring online advertising.

Prospect Marketing: These tools for reaching known (“post-CRM”) prospects include customer engagement, customer service management, email, marketing automation, and screencasting applications.

Level Three: Metrics and Analytics

At the highest level are tools for web analytics, competitive intelligence, and marketing performance management.

Analyzing the results of content marketing production and distribution efforts—both in terms of trends and benchmarked against competitors—enables CMOs and marketing directors to make informed decisions about budget allocation as well as tactical adjustments (what to more of, less of, differently, or not at all).

This model is designed to help marketing leaders view the tools in the context of marketing workflows. Taking that strategic view should in turn help marketing teams buy all of but only the tools they need, and integrate those tools to simplify workflows and support both business-level and operational analysis and reporting.