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Editor of chiefmartech.com
Scott Brinker (@chiefmartec) is the editor of the chiefmartec.com blog, program chair of the MarTech conference, author of the popular book “Hacking Marketing,” and VP platform ecosystem at HubSpot. He is the curator of the (in)famous Marketing Technology Landscape supergraphic, which charts over 5,000 marketing technology solutions.
1. How would you characterize the state of marketing technology discovery, qualification, implementation and use in global enterprises today?
In many ways, we’re living in the golden age of marketing technology. There’s a jaw-dropping amount of innovation happen across the entire marketing landscape, and this gives marketers tremendous choice, leverage, and opportunity.
But the volume of choice and the rate of change within the landscape is, frankly, quite challenging for even today’s best marketing leaders. There’s too much out there to carefully examine it all. And the high-level descriptions of many solutions can come across as a basket of buzzwords that are hard to distinguish from one another. You really need to dig below the surface to understand what their capabilities and constraints are.
However, this is a super important facet of modern marketing. You can’t throw your hands up and say, “it’s just too complicated.” Or relinquish your decision-making responsibility to the IT department or a single, most-favored vendor. Technology management has become a strategic part of marketing’s mission.
You need to establish structured programs for discovery, qualification, implementation, and — I’d also add — ongoing maintenance and re-evaluation of marketing technologies across your department. In most organizations, this is the role that a CMO’s head of marketing operations and technology can take on. It’s more important than ever to have someone excellent in that position, with the necessary authority and resources to do the job right.
As with most technology adoption, it’s a bell curve out there. About 25% of enterprises are doing this really well, and another 25% are generally on track. The other half are behind.
2. Which categories, tools, or areas, of marketing technology are gaining the most traction and producing the most value from a marketing performance standpoint? And why?
That’s a hard question to answer. It’s a bit like asking whether artists are having more success with oil painting, sculpture, or photography. The tools are advancing in all categories. It’s really a question of how good different marketing organizations are at applying them in the right context.
Some companies have become masters at wielding content marketing to drive business, from top-ranking organic SEO plays to engaging and influential video programs. Others have built superb social communities. Others have optimized ecommerce experiences, from desktop to mobile to chatbot messaging platforms.
Where a particular marketing team should develop expertise depends on their market too. Most B2B companies should have strong account-based marketing (ABM) capabilities. On the other end of the spectrum, most retailers should have compelling loyalty programs and, if they have physical locations, be pushing the in-store experience forward.
Generally speaking though, almost every marketing organization benefits from getting their data in order. A “single source of truth” for customer data has become increasingly valuable, both to power more personalized customer experiences and have the data governance mechanisms necessary to comply with new privacy regulations. Good data is also necessary to feed good analytics, which are increasingly using machine learning algorithms to bring more predictive firepower to marketing’s arsenal.
3. How well are companies utilizing data and building, deploying, and optimizing marketing technology stacks to better equip and up-skill modern marketing teams?
As mentioned earlier, I’d say about half of the companies in the market are doing a good — or very good — job of building effective marketing technology stacks. This has steadily become a core competency in a lot of enterprise marketing organizations.
However, there still tends to be a disconnect in most companies when it comes to empowering the broader marketing team to leverage these tools. Even if you have a fantastic marketing technology and operations team, who architect and implement a world-class marketing stack, there can still be a struggle with getting deep adoption of these tools across the full marketing organization.
It’s not just about training, although that’s important. It’s about giving teams greater permission to experiment with using these tools for new ideas. That sort of bottom-up experimentation is a new motion for many marketing organizations. It’s one of the reasons why I advocate for agile marketing management methodologies. You need to give people the freedom to try their own ideas with these technologies, to iterate and learn. And then, to follow through, you need to create mechanisms for cross-pollinating those learnings across teams.
Marketing analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik once recommended that companies invest 10% in their tools and 90% in their people. I’d probably nudge the ratio closer to 20/80, but the point is the same: human capital (people) and organizational capital (processes) are where the magic happens in transforming amazing technology into amazing marketing.
4. What are some of the contributors to escalating marketing technology delivery costs, failure rates, risks, and unmet expectations?
The classic enterprise software business model is expensive — both in its licensing costs, which we’ve simply converted into subscription costs in the cloud era, and in its consulting costs with the army of high-priced service providers that are typically required to implement it.
In some cases, those costs are justified. But not always. There are three factors to consider.
First, what are the costs of the software itself? This isn’t just the initial negotiated price, but an understanding of what’s likely to happen at renewal points. What have other customers of that vendor experienced? How much leverage will the vendor have over you with different kinds of lock-in? If it’s a subscription-based business, how does pricing scale per seat? What constitutes a “seat?” Are there overages associated with usage or storage? What level of onboarding and support is included, and what triggers additional charges? You want to map this out pretty thoroughly before you sign.
Second, what kinds of services are going to be required to implement, operate, and maintain the software? A classic example is CMS platforms. The web experience platform itself can be quite pricey, but those costs are usually dwarfed by the fees of agencies and service providers to build a website — or even just port or upgrade an existing site. You should look carefully at comparables here: what’s the range of costs that companies similar to yours have spent? Keep in mind how much of the resources were in-house vs. contracted or out-sourced. And again, it’s not just the initial cost outline in a proposal. It’s the cost over time with likely change orders and other “unforeseen requirements” factored in.
Third, given the above, is it strategically worth it? How have you modeled the return on your investment? Are there alternatives that may provide most of the same value at dramatically lower cost? Which of those alternatives have you really examined? Keep in mind that the upside of technology advancing so quickly is that there are often new entrants and approaches in the market that are designed to disrupt the cost-benefit curves of legacy enterprise software. And with technology’s exponential growth curve, “legacy” isn’t necessarily decades-old anymore — what dominated a market even five years ago might now be eclipsed by something better.
Above all, you want to design for change with your marketing stack. The easier and cheaper you can make it to add or remote components in your stack — or substitute alternatives as better options become available — the greater control you’ll have over your martech costs.
5. What is needed to improve the full marketing technology lifecycle management process when it comes to accountability, visibility, compliance, value creation, and spend management?
You need an excellent marketing technology and operations team as a pillar of your marketing organization.
You can’t delegate this to IT. While your marketing tech and ops team should certainly work with your IT department, to leverage their insights, to interface properly with their systems and services, and to adhere to company-wide technology and data governance practices, the responsibility for understanding how martech is successfully applied in the marketing department, to deliver outcomes towards marketing goals, must rest in marketing’s hands.
Marketing technology management is now a core marketing capability. It’s tied to the ways and means in which you execute and analyze modern marketing campaigns. As a result, you simply can’t outsource such core capabilities without exposing yourself to existential risk. It’s like the old Groucho Marx line, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” The answer is in the question. Who should lead marketing technology? Marketing.
But it can’t be run in an ad hoc fashion either. Just because it’s a marketing-based team, doesn’t mean it can skirt around the best practices of technology lifecycle management. Your marketing tech and ops group needs to have strong technology management chops and approach their mission in a structured and disciplined fashion. It’s a pro-level game.
6. What do you see as the primary challenges and obstacles to improving go-to-market processes through greater automation, data utilization and AI adoption?
Most AI is machine learning, which is a collection of relatively commoditized algorithms for finding patterns in a data set and extrapolating — i.e., predicting — future outcomes from those patterns in the past. Lead scores, churn propensity, next-best actions, etc. It’s actually pretty straightforward, and it’s simply the availability of fast and cheap computing and storage in the cloud that has enabled machine learning to suddenly blossom everywhere. (Thank you, Moore’s Law.)
The challenge with machine learning in marketing is the data. It’s not the lack of data. We’re awash in data. It’s the fact that, in most marketing organizations, that data is relatively low quality.
Marketers have historically not invested much in data quality because you could “make it up in volume” — just target a wider campaign and write off the junk within as an acceptable cost of doing business. You have a ton of data with out-of-date contacts, poorly tagged interactions, disconnected silos of agency or channel-driven campaigns, gaping holes in contacts with sales and service organizations, etc.
While that was acceptable in advertising and email marketing, low quality data has a high cost when it comes to machine learning: it causes these prediction algorithms to spit out the wrong answers. Garbage in, garbage out. And because the internal workings of many of these algorithms are not obvious to the casual observer — you’re not going to peer into a neural network and recognize that the connections between two nodes are obviously incorrect — it’s nearly impossible to know that you got a wrong answer out of the machine. All you know is that, over time, the predictions you were relying on aren’t delivering the outcomes you expected. But by then, it’s usually too late.
When you apply automation to these predictions, without a human in the loop or at least some sort of human auditing and monitoring at regular checkpoints, then those predictions born from bad data can propagate into bad customer experiences.
The number one mission that marketing organizations must embrace to take advantage of AI and automation is to get their data quality up. You need the right technology and the right data governance in place — and the latter is arguably harder to implement in the former.
However, the good news is that compliance with new privacy regulations, such as GDPR, is already pushing most companies to put better data infrastructure and operations in place. Never waste a good crisis. Use this as an opportunity to up-level your data quality capabilities. It will pay big dividends in your AI and automation efforts.
7. Which stakeholders should be enjoined, and how should they be aligned, to better identify, specify, acquire, integrate, deploy, manage and evaluate marketing technology investments and vendor performance?
The obvious stakeholders are the marketing teams that will be leveraging these technologies and the IT teams that set govern the company’s overall data and technology standards and compliance. Just because a marketing tech and ops team should take the lead with martech, doesn’t mean that IT should be out of the loop.
There’s a difference between management, which in martech should generally be marketing’s responsibility, and governance, which should almost always include transparent IT oversight.
You will likely have different marketing teams who are the stakeholders for different kinds of capabilities. The social team should naturally have a large say in the social media marketing and influencer tools that you use. But don’t limit participation in the process to the primary users. Consider the adjacent teams as well. For instance, an ecommerce team would also have a vested interest in your social media marketing technology, since it will drive traffic and play a big role in social feedback loops around online store interactions.
Make sure you look at all such adjacencies across marketing, as they often reveal some of the most important use cases for a particular capability in context.
But one of the most exciting trends in marketing today — well, really, across the entire business organization — is the breaking down of silos between departments that touch different facets of the customer’s experience. Marketing, sales, customer service, and product teams are increasingly collaborating on their intersections to deliver greater continuity to customers.
A big part of making such cross-departmental customer experience collaborations work is aligning departmental systems and data with each other. You don’t necessarily need everyone running the same tools — different departments have different needs — but you want to make sure the right data is being synchronized across them and that digital activities run by one group that will impact the customer experience touchpoints of another department are clearly mapped out for both. They should be enjoined as stakeholders in the relevant marketing technologies.
If you don’t already have a cross-company customer experience committee — or “working group,” if you prefer that label — with leaders from each of these departments, you should get that launched immediately. Cross-departmental customer data and systems should be one of the permanent topics on the agenda.
8. How can chief marketers play a more defining role in digital transformation across the enterprise?
Modern marketing leadership is the most challenging role in business today.
Marketing executives are being asked to tackle technology management, analytics, financial modeling, change management, cross-company collaboration around customer experience, and more — all on top of their existing responsibilities for content and communications, brand stewardship, demand generation, advertising, market research, and so on.
You’ve got to be an Olympic star to manage all of these facets well. It’s a hard climb.
However, there’s no better role you could take to prepare for leading an entire company in the future. Today’s successful CMOs will be tomorrow’s CEOs. If you can master marketing in this environment, there’s nothing you can’t do.
My advice to CMOs who want to play a more defining role in digital transformation across their company: think like a CEO. Look beyond the walls of the marketing department and reimagine marketing as a much more distributed capability.
Everyone in the company is engaged in marketing to some degree. How do you empower them and coordinate their contributions to create a remarkable brand through remarkable customer experiences? Even if — especially if — they aren’t officially a part of the marketing department. That’s the kind of marketing leadership that legends will be made of.