Gartner predicts that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, with marketing technology purchases consuming about a third of most marketing budgets. Why? What’s fueling this explosion in martech spending? Well, not to be too simplistic, but one major reason is because they can. Martech tools are burgeoning at an explosive rate—with an 87 percent increase in available solutions from 2015 to 2016 alone. Marketing budgets are also growing, showing an average 10 percent increase year over year.
The sheer volume of new entrants across the martech spectrum, combined with available budget to buy them, tends to give marketers “shiny object syndrome.” Of course, marketers want to innovate to stay competitive. Like anyone else, marketers are loathe to miss out on the latest and greatest new toys that can give them an edge and make marketing more efficient and effective across the board. (Plus, some of these martech tools are just crazy-fun to play with for marketing nerds like me.)
Creating Chaos by Trying to Tame Other Kinds of Chaos
Ironically, though, while marketers typically justify martech purchases by reasoning that each nifty new tool will make marketing easier, faster and better, the rapid proliferation of applications within organizations is fueling chaos instead. This is because applications are often adopted by different groups in the organization without understanding how they’ll connect with the broader digital experience delivery strategy or IT infrastructure. Consequently, applications and platforms commonly don’t share data, content and workflows very well, particularly in the context of omnichannel customer engagement.
So while marketers may be surrounded by tons of buyer data, much of it is siloed in disconnected systems. It’s flooding in from an ever-growing number of channels and scattered among an average of 17 or more marketing technology tools. This martech sprawl, generally difficult to interconnect application to application to platform to platform, makes it pretty challenging to perform advanced customer analytics, which marketers need to identify the most valuable prospects and personalize their interactions with them.
Cutting Down the Number of Tools May Not Be the Answer
What can B2B marketers do to bring clarity to the current martech confusion and avoid feeding chaos in the future? We asked Scott Brinker, CTO of ion interactive and editor of chiefmartec.com, for his perspective. As the creator of the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic—the 2016 version of which captures and categorizes a whopping 3,874 marketing technology solutions on a single slide (up from around 150 martech solutions on his first slide in 2011)—you’d think Brinker’s take would be all about reducing the number of martech solutions you have in your marketing stack. But he says that worrying about the number of tools is a bit of a red herring.
“The complexity is not in the number of tools; it’s in the scope of what marketing is dealing with these days—the sheer volume of touchpoints and incoming data, rising customer expectations for personalization and real-time responsiveness, and so on,” says Brinker. “If you packed all of that into one application, it would be without a doubt the most complicated application you’ve ever seen. The Tower of Babel. You really wouldn’t want that,” he explains.
Addressing the complex demands of omnichannel marketing may actually require a lot of highly specialized tools. It’s a familiar scenario and, quite often, legitimate. This is why marketers shouldn’t worry solely about their number of apps.
Brinker’s advice is to eliminate redundancies but “make your marketing stack as simple as it can be to be effective, but no simpler than that.” What does that mean? Well, it’s going to look different for every company. How you structure your stack depends on the maturity of your company, whether it’s B2C or B2B, your business model and the competitive forces in your industry. Marketing stacks evolve over time. Case in point: Today, some B2B marketers have moved away from conceptualizing their marketing stacks as linear, one-direction constructs. Instead, they’re working toward more multi-directional models organized around marketing capabilities and business priorities.
Ultimately, the most important thing to get clarity on is strategy. What are your primary business goals? Where is your market headed? What marketing capabilities do you need to meet customers’ expectations for engaging with them?
It’s very difficult to come up with a prioritized tech strategy if you don’t know what target you’re trying to hit. That said, Brinker cautions, “There’s no five-year plan for anyone anymore. If you’re trying to design the perfect martech stack, you’re woefully delusional. The only thing you can count on is change.”
Strategy First: Prepare To Be Prepared
In other words, the curve of expectations for marketers is ridiculous at this point, and the only way to cope is to build your martech infrastructure strategically. Maybe start with one of the big marketing cloud platforms—the one(s) you already have or that best fits your top values and priorities, and then fill in gaps with best-of-breed individual solutions selected with an eye toward deployment flexibility and future-friendly vendors that support data- and content-sharing across platforms and applications.
“Take a deep breath,” advises Brinker. “Even I didn’t expect this explosion in the martech landscape.” He has taken his own advice and has given up on predicting the future. There are just too many channels, touchpoints, and devices coming onto the scene virtually every day now.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, so all you can do is prepare to be prepared when change happens,” he says.
Make the Business Case for Every Martech Purchase
Michael Krigsman, industry analyst and host of the CXOTALK video series, agrees with Brinker’s approach. He says you have to spend a lot of time up front analyzing your business needs, evaluating your existing tech, getting stakeholders’ input and buy-in and setting up your roadmap.
“Get your strategy worked out long before you break out the checkbook to make a single new tech purchase. I can’t emphasize that enough,” says Krigsman. “Don’t buy one more martech solution without making the business case for it, knowing what goals it helps to achieve and being assured that it will play nicely with other solutions in your stack.”
When building out your martech infrastructure, Krigsman explains, there are always going to be trade-offs. There’s no perfect end-to-end solution. No single platform does it all well. Each of the big marketing platforms has its own strengths and weaknesses, and they still have gaps that need filling and integration issues, even within their own suites. And building out your own digital experience platform with an array of individual solutions presents its own problems. Tools all perform their particular functions, and because they come from different vendors, they don’t necessarily talk to each other. Data doesn’t necessarily flow from one tool or platform to another.
Customer-Centricity is the Key to Taming the Chaos
If you’re dealing with martech chaos now and your marketing stack is already well out of hand, Krigsman advises beginning your streamlining and strategic planning efforts by weighing your business priorities and the cost of migration (in both dollars and organizational disruption) when changing out solutions, as well as the expected results. If a solution doesn’t ladder up to your business priorities with a measurable ROI, out it goes.
“Taking on long-term planning for enterprise martech management is absolutely not for the faint of heart,” Krigsman says. It’s an ongoing process that is self-complicating as the martech landscape continues to grow at a furious pace and customer expectations continue to evolve. He advises getting a champion on board—a decision-maker with the authority to cross silos who can create interconnections across departments and functions to achieve an organization-wide vision for technology acquisition and adoption that puts the customer at the center of every decision.
If your business goals are customer-centric (which they should be), then your martech (and data management strategies) should reflect that. You’ll be able to choose what tools to add, keep, and eliminate based on which applications deliver the best customer experience and help to build valuable, interconnected relationships at the human level.
In short, it’s all about having clear, customer-focused business goals and designing a martech stack that directly serves those goals while being flexible enough to adapt to changing customer expectations and market forces. That’s how you overcome shiny object syndrome and the temptation to buy new martech just because it’s there and/or you have end-of-quarter funds burning a hole in your marketing budget. Yes, it might feel like being on a diet during the holidays, but you’ll know that every bite you eventually take is really, really worth it.