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, 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.

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 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

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