MarTech stacks and where to start
Before we talk about ‘MarTech stacks’ let’s review the concept of MarTech first. Scott Brinker, one of the leading voices in the Marketing Technology (MarTech) space, explains the MarTech as follows:
“MarTech applies to major initiatives, efforts, and tools that harness technology to achieve marketing goals and objectives.” - Scott Brinker.
We particularly like the way it’s positioned here as the quote expands the scope way beyond the ‘tools’ themselves. Yes, tools are a core aspect of MarTech but only part of the whole story. How people and teams engage with and are empowered by this technology to achieve marketing and business objectives can not be overlooked. The team, the process and methodology behind the tools tie everything together. Technology is a means to an end, not an end by itself.
Zooming in on the technology aspect, the notion of ‘MarTech stacks’ gets thrown around a lot. A MarTech stack can be seen as the collection of tools marketers leverage to drive and optimise marketing operations. Every company has a ‘MarTech stack’, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Within this article we’ll explore the notion of ‘stacks’ and more precisely how the growth and evolution of the MarTech field creates new challenges for marketers to deal with. Finally, we’ll provide a few pointers on how to drive the reflection around the right MarTech stack for your organisation.
A growing industry with growing challenges
The MarTech field has seen incredible growth over the last 10 years. The number of tools, apps or solutions grew by a staggering 5.233%. You’ll be hard pressed to find another industry that grew at the same pace (bar the cryptocurrency market).
While this growth is definitely a thing to behold, it does come with its challenges:
Tool selection - as a marketeer, product owner or data analyst, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the right solutions for your business and it’s objectives. Every solution has a number of alternatives that practically do the same thing albeit with a slightly different approach or features. Where do you start and end?
The human challenge - organizations struggle with hiring the right people and developing teams to make the most out of their MarTech opportunity.
Signal vs. noise - the sprawl of tools means organisations have more ways than ever to collect data. But what should you measure? Are you getting insights that provide you with answers that help you reach your business objectives?
Finding the right solution(s)
The ever growing and fragmented industry shows us that marketeers, product owners and the like, don’t just default to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach anymore - a.k.a. the ‘monolith’ approach. Examples of monolith stacks are: Adobe Marketing Cloud and the Salesforce marketing cloud. Instead, more and more look for the best-of-breed point solutions available to address a specific marketing and business challenge. And where there is demand, there will be supply.
This trend is supported by a recent Gartner study done at the end of of 2019:
This begs the question: are best-of-breed, thus more granular, MarTech stacks more effective at reaching your objectives and driving business growth? Is keeping it simple something of the past? If we have to believe the above, the answer would be yes. This is backed up by yet another piece of research done by Gartner which states that brands with strong digital track records leverage more specific end-point solutions than their, less-mature, competitors (Few “Genius” Brands Successfully Integrate Best-of-Breed Solutions Into a Cohesive Martech Roadmap - Gartner). There’s obvious logic in that, but it shows that if you’re able to combine many different point solutions and also operate them effectively, you can create a competitive advantage.
We believe the answer is somewhere in the middle. Organisations should not over complexify. We’re big believers of the best-of-breed approach, but a simple yet effective stack is desirable. But not simpler. Or as Chiefmartec states:
“Advantageous complexity, well-managed, can be a source of competitive strength.”
Marketing Technology landscape 2020 - chiefmartec.com
It’s exactly here the first challenge lies: there are more tools than ever before. On top, it’s likely that best-of-breed stacks, stacks with more specific tools, are more effective and could provide a competitive advantage when correctly operated. Knowing this you could be somehow incentivised to look beyond that ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Yet, this approach also comes with it’s own challenges. Where do you start and where do you end? How do you integrate? We’ll provide a few directions to these questions in the next sections.
The human challenge
The second challenge immediately stems from the first one: best-of-breed stacks, thus with more tools and arguably more complex, seem to set up organisations for a competitive advantage. The crux is that this only works IF you’re able to operate them effectively. In other words: organisations need to infuse skill and capability development, resource growth, and organisational design into their MarTech vision.
Give your teams time to learn and master the technologies in the stack, invest in training that can add new perspectives, and reflect on how your marketing, IT, product (and other teams) should be organised around a common objective.
The reality is that all of this is still lacking in a lot of cases. Too often we encounter organisations claiming to be ‘data-driven’, while in reality most decisions are still based on gut feeling. People ask for specific data points to support the idea they’ve already had, rather than investigating the data first to inform a decision. Teams simply aren’t trained to operate their MarTech stack effectively, which in turn often isn’t even tailored to address the business challenges.
Signal vs. Noise
More tools, more ways to collect data, more data at your disposal. Beware that simply having more data isn’t always better. What matters is the quality and its relevance for your organisation and objectives. The challenge lies in figuring this out and taking the necessary steps to identify the data that matters. What should you measure? Are you getting insights providing you with answers that help you reach your business objectives? Without the right vision and data strategy, you risk getting distracted by irrelevant ‘noisy data’ and these questions will remain difficult to answer.
Developing an overarching ‘data strategy’ where you define the role data plays in your organisation, and how you can leverage the right tools and processes to address your business challenges will set you up for success.
Where do I start?
Now that we’ve covered the core challenges stemming from the growth in MarTech, let’s look at what you, as an organisation, should look for. At Human37 we believe in a couple of best practices when building your very own MarTech stack:
Develop a data strategy - it’s imperative to periodically take a step back and define what role data is playing in your organisation today, the type of data you're collecting, how it’s being used by your different teams, and how you are leveraging it to address specific business challenges. Turn this reflection into a strategy and plan of action. Typically, it’ll become clear which solutions fit the narrative and which don’t.
It should be business-first - when evaluating solutions, you should always have the overarching business objective in mind. How does this tool help my overall business? How is this solution enabling me to reach my objectives more efficiently? We still see so many companies diving head-first into engaging new licenses on top of their existing ones, but in the end rarely use them. Buying tools for the sake of buying tools is a recipe for failure, or at the very least, wasted (marketing) budget.
Integrate & activate - it’s imperative that the different solutions integrate together. It’s no use to have your different solutions siloed next to each other. The value comes from integration and consistent data flows between them, enabling you to build superior insights or synergies at activation level. When deciding on the procurement of a new tool, evaluate closely how it integrates with your current stack. Are there usage and activation synergies? Usually, the more there are, the better.
Enhance the customer experience - similar to the business-first mindset, you should consider how your solutions are helping you to enhance your customer experience. We should never forget that your MarTech stack is a means to an end. Ultimately, we believe that that end should be to enhance your overall customer experience. In this day and age, organisations that get this right, win.
Usage - lastly, sporting a best-in-class MarTech stack that is overly complex and doesn’t get used is, well, useless. Consider the knowhow of your teams, the resources at their disposal, your organisational structure, and how you plan to onboard and train teams on operations. Elements like user friendliness, complexity and stack maintenance should be considered.
At Human37 we believe that the end goal should be to improve your customer experience. Be it through solutions that personalise your customers’ experience, or solutions that help you understand how customers engage with your products or services. In the end, every solution should serve that higher purpose. They are a means to an end, not an end in itself.
The market keeps changing, but more importantly the customer and its expectations keep changing. Ultimately this means that your MarTech stack should not be a static entity. It should also evolve over time so that you, as a business, can keep delivering the best customer experience for your users.
At Human37 we can help you. Interested ? Reach out!