MarTech is hard: Focus on your needs, not just the tools

I recently wrote about the false hopes and hidden costs that marketing automation is bringing to many companies. With the best of intentions, leaders often hope that new technologies and capabilities will pull teams together and these newly empowered marketers will drive breakthrough returns. While companies understand the need to give tools to their marketers, the balance of the problems we see are often unrelated to the technology. And the latest research underscores some of the issues: many fewer teams cite budget as the reason for a lack of adoption. As Scott Brinker, president and CTO of ion interactive wrote, “there are all these tools now; what do we actually do with them.” Especially as customers expect a more seamless and always-on experience, the challenge for marketing leaders is finding a more cohesive technology approach that meets those demands. The question is how do you ease the transitions in moving from the first generation of marketing automation to something more integrated and customer-centric?

This job is made even more difficult by the most visible and distracting battlegrounds in MarTech:  the battle between best-in-breed tools and single-vendor suites. The large software vendors push their so-called integrated marketing clouds, collections of acquired tools often only integrated on paper. They also emphasize consistency, simpler purchasing, and a single “throat to choke.” On the other side are specialist tool vendors that drive differential impact quickly – but often minimize technical and functional integration with the rest of a marketing stack. And as you try to balance the tension between generating marketing impact today while building for tomorrow, the battle between vendors – more than 3,800 at last count – doesn’t help. We offer three thoughts to help cut through that noise and focus on getting to an architecture what will support your digital marketing over time:

  • Step back and understand your business and requirements deeply before selecting technologies and architectures – or the technology and vendors will drive you. You must understand how you plan to align your go-to-market processes against customer engagement. Even if you are using consultants to build BRDs and MRDs, your teams must map requirements against both immediate needs and against any expected changes in your market over time. It’s also critical to define how and where analytics and machine learning will drive your decision-making and actions.  And while no company has a completely blank slate, it’s a best practice to map out your marketing challenges over time and work backward to how and where the technology will support those functions.  The art in this process is in balancing what can be done by people, by varying degrees of automation, and by your partners at each stage of your company’s journey.
  • Separate core from context. Determining an architectural construct should be driven by assessing which requirements are core to your business success and competitive differentiation and which are important but ultimately only context. For some businesses, the need for centralized operation and control is paramount; for other businesses, there is more of a balance that give teams more flexibility in determining how they interact and engage customers. In exploring this dichotomy, there are two key questions to explore with stakeholders: a) to what extent will technology and personalization drive the customer experience and b) to what extent will analytics inform your marketing efforts both online and offline?  As these answers get overlaid on a timeline, your teams have a more objective way to evaluate the demands on your go-forward technology approach.
  • Focus on getting identity and profile management right. First, understanding customers and their preferences – or more concretely, having a single view of the customer, their interactions, and the on-going management of that customer profile – is a strategic imperative. Even while the profile may expand and evolve over time, it drives nearly all decisions about engaging and serving that customer, including contact strategies, the degree of personalization, and what to offer them when.  Second, managing data and customer information is a major investment.  Beyond data collection, privacy, permissions, and data enhancement, your teams must define how and where systems and staff can leverage customer data effectively and legally.  Once you lock down your approach to identity and profile management, any number of architectural choices are available to support your digital business and teams.

For us, it’s all about guiding clients toward a more informed architectural decision based on uncovering requirements and emphasizing competitive advantages. The wrong architectural decision – whether instantiated in best-in-breed tools, an integrated suite, or a mix – could set marketing and the company back by years. Before getting to toolsets, we focus on which aspects of the technology stack ought to be implemented as centralized “shared services” and which functions can operate more flexibly while under some centralized governance. Once you have your requirements and priorities in hand, your teams can focus on the technology areas of highest leverage at a given point in time. The tension across multiple dimensions – short-term vs. long-term, best-in-breed vs. single vendor stack, centralized vs. decentralized – will always be there.  Your job is to help cut through the vendor clutter and allow your teams make technology choices most appropriate for your market and organization over time.