How would you characterize the state of marketing technology discovery, qualification, implementation and use in global enterprises today?
We are in a period of transition. In the last 10 years, marketing’s role has expanded to encompass the full customer journey from cradle to grave, with marketing being on the front lines of revenue generation in many organizations. Marketing is also being tasked with driving or contributing to corporate digital transformation initiatives. A tremendous amount of technology is required to support all of marketing’s responsibilities, and the marketing industry has responded by introducing thousands of new products for marketers to use. Today it’s not unusual to see companies using 100 technology products at any given time. Marketing tech stacks are growing in both size and complexity, and because optimum performance is derived by integrating many pieces of the stack, they more closely resemble a jigsaw puzzle than a discrete set of building blocks. In many enterprise organizations, marketing technology acquisition has been a distributed function with very little centralized oversight. With the number of products in use and costs increasing, it is becoming increasingly important to manage technology holistically to ensure return on investment. In response to all of these dynamics, CMOs are building marketing operations teams to map the organization’s technology strategy, find and qualify new products, integrate key systems and manage the technology in place. Unlike in the past, where marketing and IT did not work well together, there is an increasingly strong bond between the two organizations as they work together to drive implementation of the complex systems required to achieve digital transformation objectives.
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?
Every company would probably answer this differently. I once did an exercise where I asked a table of CMOs what product they couldn’t live without and received vastly different answers, from Excel spreadsheets to Salesforce. Having said that, there are some product categories that stand out.
1. Personalization tools: In an increasingly noisy market, it’s getting harder and harder to reach potential prospects. Generic messages and campaigns are no longer effective. In order to rise above the noise, messages and programs need to be customized to each individual prospect. At CabinetM, we see a lot of interest in personalization, targeting and segmentation, and AI-driven chatbot tools that support a more personalized brand experience.
2. Customer journey platforms: With marketing responsible for the cost of customer acquisition (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLTV), marketing teams are investigating tools to improve outcomes and streamline the customer journey in order to reduce CACs and increase CLTV.
3. Customer experience platforms: With marketing’s reach extending beyond purchase to the post-purchase experience, marketing teams are looking for new tools to drive repeat engagement, loyalty and advocacy.
4. Data management/orchestration and CDP platforms: Having accurate and complete customer data is imperative to all marketing platforms working effectively.
What are some of the contributors to escalating marketing technology delivery costs, failure rates, risks and unmet expectations?
Lack of technology oversight can lead to escalating costs due to duplicate contracts for the same product, redundant products and zombie products (products that are no longer being used but the company is still paying for).
Lack of oversight also creates data and security risks. SaaS-based products make it far too easy to swipe a credit card for a new product without engaging IT in a security and data review. The result is a potential risk of customer data being exposed.
Beyond poor product selection, the failure of a platform to produce results will occur if the platform is not properly integrated in the rest of the marketing tech stack, if its features are not utilized or if the platform’s users are not fully trained.
What is needed to improve the full marketing technology lifecycle management process when it comes to accountability, visibility, compliance, value creation and spend management?
1. Ongoing technology audits: It is essential that all technology is tracked and managed across
the enterprise. Without a comprehensive view of the technology you’re using, testing or retiring, you are flying blindly and increasing the risk of data and security exposure and escalating costs, not to mention your ability to connect overall technology implementation to marketing performance.
2. Performance management: It is important to establish performance metrics for any
technology that is acquired, even if it is qualitative and not quantitative. With metrics defined, it is easy to conduct a quarterly review to see what is working and what isn’t and to eliminate or create a transition plan for products that are underperforming.
3. Process: Creating a process and methodology to define how technology is acquired, measured and managed will ensure that products are properly vetted for security and data risk potential, regulatory compliance and their ability to integrate within the current tech stack. It will also ensure that diligence is done to assess functional overlap with other systems in place, evaluate whether there is an opportunity to retire less functional platforms, and provide a framework to monitor platform utilization.
What do you see as the primary challenges and obstacles to improving go-to-market processes through greater automation, data utilization and AI adoption?
The single biggest challenge is data integrity. It’s the old adage: “garbage in, garbage out;” if your data is not clean, complete and accurate across your marketing systems, any data utilization, automation or AI efforts are doomed to fail. Companies are taking one of two approaches to data strategy: centralized or distributed. In a centralized environment, data resides in a single platform to create a single source of truth for the organization. All data sources feed the platform, and the platform, in turn, cleanses and appends the data to create a comprehensive record of each customer or prospect. The platform then interacts with all of the marketing systems providing data on request to support campaigns and initiatives. In a distributed environment, the data continues to reside in the marketing systems but is managed by a data management/orchestration platform that cleanses, appends, de-dupes and synchronizes data across all platforms.
The challenge with AI is understanding where in the technology stack it might deliver value and then ensuring that the data that an AI-enabled platform will be acting upon has been structured appropriately so that it can be leveraged to support the needs of the system. As an industry, we are currently coming out of the “buzz” phase of AI and are starting to see some meaningful applications in marketing. Unfortunately, as often happens with a new technology in the buzz phase of the technology lifecycle, vendors co-opted the terminology without the technology to support it. The vast majority of vendors claiming AI capabilities aren’t leveraging AI or are (at best) leveraging machine learning. Machine learning helps you do things better, faster and more efficiently. AI does new things (e.g., recommends a new demographic based on an analysis of all customer activity). Some of the early marketing applications for AI will be in personalization, targeting, refining sales process and customer communications.
One of the key stumbling blocks in driving automation is the internal skill proficiency of the organization. Many of the automated systems are complex and require integration with other systems. Organizations are notoriously bad at making sure that their teams are being continually trained on how to fully leverage the systems in place. Studies show that companies generally utilize only a small percentage of any platform’s features.
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 core triumvirate for creating a high-performance technology stack is the CMO, who establishes marketing goals and defines the functions that technology needs to deliver; the head of marketing operations, who leads the technology discovery, evaluation, implementation, measurement and management effort; and the CIO, who works with the marketing team to ensure data and security compliance and can assist with large platform installations. With marketing technology being purchased across the enterprise to support digital transformation efforts, it is also important to include any stakeholders in sales, service and other departments that will benefit from a holistic approach to technology strategy, implementation and management.
How can chief marketers play a more defining role in digital transformation across the enterprise?
One of the key goals of digital transformation is to deliver a consistent customer experience for prospects and customers in every interaction they have with the brand, regardless of the device they connect with and the department that they connect to. As the owner of the brand experience, the CMO should be leading the strategy, planning for this digital transformation initiative and driving collaboration and buy-in across the enterprise to ensure that any technology or programs implemented reflect customer experience goals.
Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a technology discovery and management platform to help marketing teams manage the technology they have, map their digital transformation strategy, and find the best digital tools for any marketing campaign, program or engagement effort. Prior to CabinetM, Brearton served as the Executive Chair of FashionPlaytes, an online fashion and style destination for tween girls. She serves on the board of MassVentures as Vice Chair and is a member of the Golden Seeds angel group. She has also worked with many startups as a marketing and strategy consultant, helping shape go-to-market strategies that enabled her clients to achieve their marketing and business goals. She has participated as a judge in the MassChallenge and MIT 100K business plan competitions, served as board director for the Angel Capital Association and The Sunflower Initiative, and was an executive in residence at Simmons College. Brearton speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.