We may be reaching a point where technology vendors are marketing to other marketers almost as often, if not more than brands have been marketing to everyday consumers.
In April, for example, the annual Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic was released — an overwhelming eye chart of the more than 7,000 possible products and services brands could use to raise awareness, drive demand and achieve conversions. To put it in perspective, this same graphic listed 150 marketing technology products and services when the series began in 2011.
While everyone likes to have choices, marketers can be understandably daunted by the technology options available to them, even as they feel an increased urgency to make sure they’re successfully adopting digital tools. According to a report from research firm Gartner Inc., for example, CMOs are focusing on innovation as a way to deliver the right strategy. They’re also not afraid to make the necessary investments: eMarketer forecasts an increase in martech spending of 27% between now and 2022, or $122 billion.
Of course, putting money into new platforms is no guarantee you’ll see a return on investment (ROI) or other goals achieved. In fact, a survey last year showed that 45% of all brands say they lack the internal skills necessary to make the most of their tech stack. This was followed by challenges with legacy systems and processes they have had in place for years.
Unfortunately, in many cases, these problems don’t become apparent until marketers have already sunk a sizable portion of their budget, as well as considerable time and other resources, into trying to deploy new technology. The fallout can range from poor customer experiences to lack of quality data, missed targets and, ultimately, a hit on the marketing department’s reputation among the rest of the organization.
All this can be avoided when marketers consider both the technological and organizational impacts early on, align their investments with business outcomes and develop a continuous improvement approach to how such tools and platforms are selected, used and upgraded. This breaks down into three major steps:
1. Assess the tech stack you already have
Long before we referred to the IT products and services we use as a “tech stack,” companies had been assembling (and even developing their own pieces of) a portfolio of tools. This could include everything from basic databases and spreadsheets to track customer records and spending, to front-end tools for marketing campaigns and analytics.
Chances are your tech stack is already more complex than that, which means the best way to avoid buying something that doesn’t integrate (or duplicates features and functions) is to confirm what you already have. Don’t just itemize, however, but consider how old some of your tools are, the degree of interoperability they have (or lack) with other products and what might need to be phased out as new platforms are brought in, and define integration points that blend well with your existing stack.
2. Map out your change management journey
No two companies are exactly alike. That means marketers need not only to invest the best tech platforms, but to think carefully about the environment in which they will be introduced.
Much in the way you took stock of your existing marketing technology, map out everything you know about the key processes, workflows and other variables that will have an impact on how you adopt new products and services. What are the biggest organizational barriers, whether it’s transitioning employees from tasks they do today to cultural roadblocks based on a resistance to change?
Next, consider how you’ll train all those affected by onboarding the new platform or tool, no matter how much vendors talk about “ease of use.” Just as you want a new hire to get up and running quickly in their new job, the “onboarding” process for new technology with existing employees needs special attention.
3. Master the art of implementation planning
Brands often talk about those “moments of truth” when consumers not only understand the message behind an ad but when they grasp the “reasons to believe” that might have been outlined in the initial RFP to their agency. There are moments of truth when deploying new technology too, and they cannot be ignored.
What kind of communication, documentation and training needs to happen from the moment of platform integration, for example? Who will be the key contacts for service and support, and what’s the escalation process or the best way to prioritize issues? Who owns the implementation process and the outcome, and who is primed to assist or enable?
Recognize that most tech implementations will include elements of surprise, but that you can be in a better position to deal with the unexpected when you have clear goals, a set of what-if scenarios thought through and a consistent way to measure progress against the original business case.
It was once par for the course that major technology projects could span months or even years. Within marketing departments at least, that timeline is no longer tenable.
As experts at McKinsey and elsewhere have noted, being a laggard in areas like martech may also be related to larger issues around lack of business agility. And technology change is by no means slowing down. Companies that were slow to adopt cloud computing or mobile tools are now having to contend with artificial intelligence, blockchain and more. In most cases, there are marketing-specific use cases for emerging technologies that will need to be constantly evaluated and acted upon, as well as changes to the talent a CMO will need.
That said, marketers who take the time to explore tech opportunities in a strategic way have the potential to redefine excellence in customer experiences, setting a new bar for the rest of the organization and elevating technology from a mere tool to a source of true competitive advantage.
In a professional journey that has taken her from user experience design to CMO and now CEO, Julia Amorim blends the agility of a startup founder with the professional expertise that comes with helping some of the world’s largest brands navigate the journey of digital transformation. As the leader of MediaNet, Julia stands at the intersection of strategic thinking, technological capability, business intelligence and user experience. Follow @MediaNet on twitter.