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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?