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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?

The Website Visibility and Engagement Model for MarTech Explained

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.