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Last week, I staked the claim that “martech is marketing.”

Whatever you think of martech and its relationship to marketing at large — or what you believe its relationship should be — it’s hard to deny that it’s not a part of marketing’s domain. Love it or hate it, marketing technology is entangled in the practice of modern marketing.

The question is simply to what degree.

There’s actually quite a range of possibilities for what “martech is marketing” can mean. It’s a part of marketing, but only by using specific point solutions for the occasional assist. It can be embedded as an official service within the marketing org, even if it’s just a center-of-excellence-of-one. It can be absorbed as a capability by the entire marketing team. Or, theoretically, the technology could take over and dominate marketing.

The latter is pretty much fiction at this point. (Whether it’s utopian or dystopian fiction depends on your point of view.) But companies today fall along the rest of that spectrum, which we can view as a kind of martech maturity model:

I expected some debate around this — is this the right model? the right stages? where should a company strive to be? — but I was a bit surprised to receive the comment that “martech is just a tool” and that what matters is marketing strategy.

I was surprised because I didn’t think the model implied that martech was more important than strategy. No argument from me: great martech with a crappy strategy is worthless.

But I will argue that a great strategy with poor martech support can end badly in today’s digital environment. Strategy alone isn’t enough. You’ve got to be able to execute on it. And martech has become integral to marketing execution. That’s what “martech is marketing” really gets at.

And martech isn’t just the tools. It’s also the skills to wield them effectively.

To explain that position, I came up with an analogy: martech is to marketing what fixing things is to home ownership. If you run marketing, you’re going to need to work with martech. If you own a home, you’re going to need to fix things.

Here are the four stages of martech maturity in this (overextended) metaphor:

Martech Assisted: Hit It with a Hammer

For someone with a deep engineering background — if you consider computer science an engineering background, which this example obviously brings into question — I have almost no mechanical intuition or skills whatsoever.

I can fix anything in our house… as long as it can be fixed with a hammer.

Hang a picture with a nail? No problem. Screw something into the wall? Sure, by hitting it with a hammer. (That’s legal, right?) Repair a broken toaster? Bam. Bam. Bah, the flimsy thing was done for anyway.

It’s not that my hammer-assisted point solution is completely useless. But it is limited in its effectiveness. For anything that banging on it won’t solve, I need to hire a professional. Which is expensive and takes forever to schedule. Doesn’t lend itself to “agile” home repair.

This is how a lot of companies used to apply martech. They could blast emails and bang out landing pages, and that hammer seemed versatile enough for most campaigns. For anything more sophisticated, they outsourced it to an agency.

But the days when that was sufficient have passed.

Embedded Martech: Have a Handyman in the Family

(That’s a gender neutral “handyman.”)

My father-in-law, of course, is brilliant with tools. The whole toolbox.

Whereas I would take a guess that a socket wrench is what you use to fix an electrical outlet, he seems to intuitively know the right tool for any job.

More importantly, he knows how to use it to achieve the desired outcome — without the collateral damage that I would inevitably inflict on myself or our property.

Whenever he comes to stay with us, my wife has a list of repair projects for him to consider — things that she quite wisely wouldn’t trust to me. God bless him, he cheerfully tackles them. Afterwards, he enthusiastically describes how he fixed them, with me smiling and nodding my head in agreement. “Ah, that makes sense,” I say to things that make no sense to me at all.

If he needs something to get the job done, he picks it up at Home Depot, and we reimburse him. There’s no requirements review. Honestly, I wouldn’t know what questions to ask.

This is how many companies work with martech today. They have a marketing technologist embedded in their department. Larger firms may have a whole marketing operations and technology team. When something martech-ish needs to be done, the rest of the marketing organization turns to them. They pick out the tools they need to make it happen.

Embedded martech can be an effective structure, with much greater capabilities than the “random acts of martech” tinkering of the hit-it-with-a-hammer approach. But it is limited in bandwidth by the size of that embedded martech team.

And not just technical bandwidth. The rest of marketing still doesn’t think in martech, dreaming in black-and-white instead of vibrant Technicolor. The range of technology-inspired ideas they are willing and able to consider is relatively narrow.

Absorbed Martech: A Whole Family of DIY Fixers

There’s an entire sub-genre of home renovation TV shows out there. Fixer Upper. Flip or Flop. First Time Flippers. Property Brothers. Yard Crashers.

Or, as I think of them, horror mysteries.

They usually feature family teams, turning a dilapidated hovel into a shining work of art, often with the motivation to sell it.

I’m secretly envious of these people. If my whole family and I had those skills and imagination, not only would run-of-the-mill home maintenance be a non-issue, we’d be property czars.

We might even have our own TV series.

While we’d still consult my father-in-law as an expert, few projects would be bottlenecked by his availability. We could all pitch in, significantly widening our bandwidth and accelerating the rate by which things got done. We’d dream of bigger projects to pursue.

We’d share most of the same tools, especially the expensive ones. How many table saws does one family need? But any of us could buy a specialized grouting tool or their own Allen wrench (“But, Dad, my name is Jordan!”) without convening a family committee. We would plan out and coordinate big projects, of course. But a lot of smaller tasks could be tackled independently.

The “yourself” in do-it-yourself. My father-in-law would be pleased.

This is the level of absorption of martech that I believe most marketing teams should strive for today. Yes, there’s likely a centralized marketing operations and technology expert or team who designs and runs the core martech stack, providing enlightened data and technology governance and enablement across the department. But it’s centralization that empowers decentralization.

Does every marketer become an app developer? Kind of. They would certainly embrace the democratization of marketing technology and feel comfortable, if not fluent, using a range of martech capabilities day-to-day. If they needed a small, specialized SaaS tool for something, they’d just get it (within reasonable parameters, of course).

More importantly, marketers who had absorbed martech into their thinking would use it as an ingredient in their creativity. Discover, dream, experiment, learn, grow, repeat.

Martech Dominated: Let Robots Do the Work for You

What if you could buy a robot that would do all your home repairs for you?

I know, that seems like science-fiction today. (Although not nearly as much of a fantasy as me hosting my own home renovation TV show.)

It’s probably an inevitable future, but not on the immediate horizon.

Yet while a general intelligence robot handyman is just a Star Wars character for now, more specialized robots that do individual home maintenance tasks are already here.

Vacuuming. Weeding. Window cleaning. Pool sweeping. Floor scrubbing. It’s pretty impressive. They’re not R2D2, but they’re better than a sponge on a stick.

This is very similar to the dreams (or nightmares) of the future of marketing technology: AI will someday do our marketing for us. Martech will dominate marketing. But that’s not likely any time soon. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something — probably with a too-cute brand name attached to it.

Nonetheless, there’s an amazing landscape of specialized martech tools that leverage machine learning, natural language processing, and other legitimate AI techniques to optimize ad spend and click-through rates, score leads, personalize content, monitor social media sentiment, schedule meetings, predict churn risk, detect website anomalies, and more.

Every year, the frontier of what’s possible in martech advances.

Keep your eyes and mind open to these changes and remember the one thing everybody forgets about Gartner’s hype cycle, even especially in martech.

Strategy: The House You Live In, Projects You Pursue

To bring this overextended metaphor to a close, the analogy with strategy is simple: whatever skills and tools you’re using for fixing things around the house — a hammer without a clue, an embedded handyman, fully distributed and absorbed renovation talent, or even the occasional task-specific robot — strategy is the house you live in. And the home projects you pursue.

With the right tools and talent, the more options you have. The more house you can handle. The better outcomes you can achieve. The more ambitious your vision can be.

It’s true in marketing and martech too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my hammer. Apparently the washing machine is on the fritz.

P.S. Want to move your marketing organization further along the martech maturity curve? Be sure to attend the upcoming MarTech conference in Boston, September 16-18. Our early bird “alpha” ticket prices expire July 13 — don’t let this special rate slip by.

The post Martech is marketing, kind of like fixing things is home ownership appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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“Martech is marketing.”

The MarTech conference recently updated its tagline to that phrase, evolving beyond our original motto, “Marketing. Technology. Management.” It’s not that the conference itself changed. But since we launched the event five years ago, the context in which it operates — the profession of marketing — sure has.

Over that time, the landscape of marketing technology has grown from around 1,000 vendors to over 7,000. But that’s more of an expression of the industry’s transformation than the cause.

Marketing technologists have become a mainstream profession with increasingly well-defined budgets and job responsibilities, managing ever more sophisticated marketing stacks. Patterns of marketing technology & operations leadership have emerged.

This is closer to the real change that marketing has undergone.

It was only a few years ago that Ad Age, arguably the flagship publication of the marketing world, declared martech is boring, ancillary to the real business of senior marketers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a CMO today who would use that adjective to describe it. Complex and challenging, for sure. Exciting and empowering for many. But definitely not boring.

Martech is marketing now.

But even that phrase has a range of interpretations, as illustrated in the graph above:

  • Marketing is ASSISTED by martech. Martech qualifies as a part of the marketing universe, but it’s adjacent to its primary operations.
  • Martech is EMBEDDED in marketing. It’s recognized as an essential component of the marketing organization, and it supports almost all marketing activities around it.
  • Martech is ABSORBED by marketing. Not only is martech a crucial pillar of the marketing organization, its capabilities have been assimilated by the entire marketing team, who use it as an integral part of their jobs.
  • Marketing is DOMINATED by martech. The technology drives nearly everything in the successful practice of marketing.

Where are we in that spectrum today?

It depends on the individual organization. Some are still back at the left side of that scale, treating martech as a point solution for specific tasks. But most major companies are now at least at the EMBEDDED stage, and some — including almost all “digitally native” companies — have progressed into the ABSORBED stage. Martech is deeply entwined in how they operate.

I labeled the scale on this spectrum as “time,” as this progression does seem chronologically linear.

The last stage on the far right, DOMINATED, may strike many marketers as a dystopian future. I expressly included the word “successful” in its description above, as letting technology dictate your marketing before that approach can truly deliver excellent outcomes would be foolish.

Across marketing as a whole, I don’t know if we’ll ever reach that stage. Maybe someday when AI gives us the singularity. Maybe sooner. There are examples of marketing activities today, especially in local optimization, where algorithms tend to outperform more manual methods. But overall, marketing still seems best suited to harness martech today, not the other way around.

Where is your company at along this continuum?

P.S. Because martech is marketing — wherever you believe it sits along that spectrum — you should seriously consider attending the next MarTech conference in Boston, September 16-18. Here’s a snapshot of the agenda and a chance to take advantage of our early bird “alpha” ticket prices before July 13.

The post Martech is marketing: a wide spectrum of possibilities appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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Wow, now that’s an infographic!

I’m excited to share with you the agenda for the MarTech, taking place in Boston, September 16-18. If you want to learn how to leverage technology effectively as a marketing leader, this conference was designed for you.

As an all-access ticket holder, you’ll be able to participate in the full program:

  • all five keynotes
  • 24 educational sessions — in three editorial tracks of Technology & Operations, Data & Analytics, and Marketing & Leadership — led by industry experts and experienced practitioners
  • two additional tracks of Sponsored sessions and MarTech Theater presentations in the Expo Hall
  • sponsored presentations at breakfast and lunch — or choose a “birds of a feather” lunch with peers
  • over 50 exhibitors showing state-of-the-art martech solutions and services
  • and two networking receptions on the evenings of September 16 & 17

If you want to have an even deeper learning experience, you can choose one of eight half-day workshops led by the top leaders in their field:

  • The Right Way to Buy Marketing Technology (Tony Byrne)
  • Agile Marketing Advantage (Andrea Fryrear)
  • Creating Connected Experiences (Jeff Cram)
  • Using CDP to Make the Most of Your Customer Data (David Raab)
  • Building a Badass Marketing Team with Talent Optimization (Erica Seidel)
  • A Marketer’s Guide to Attribution Analysis (Christopher Penn)
  • Optimizing SEO Operations for Marketing Leaders (Jessica Bowman)
  • Your Lifeboat For The Coming Data Privacy Storm (Kristina Podnar) — JUST ADDED

Right now is the best time to reserve your spot for the all-access program and the workshop of your choice. Our early bird “alpha” ticket prices will expire on July 13 — and every year our workshops sell out early due to their limited capacity.

It’s going to be an amazing event. See you in September!

The post Check out the agenda for MarTech and reserve an early bird “alpha” ticket appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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Boy, did I kick a hornet’s nest.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared an article from MIT Sloan Management Review, Implement First, Ask Questions Later (or Not at All) by Stephen J. Andriole. A quick summary:

As a result of easy-to-acquire SaaS tools and pressure to harness the relatively unknown possibilities of emerging technologies before competitors do, companies are increasingly bypassing the heavyweight “requirements gathering” processes of classic enterprise IT and, instead, more quickly trying new software apps to see what works. Some of these adoptions iterate and evolve. Some get tossed on the scrap heap. But speed and a test-and-learn approach are favored.

Crikey, were there polarized comments in reaction to that share!

Some people enthusiastically agreed: those who didn’t do this were dinosaurs, plodding to extinction. Others vociferously disagreed: those who did do this were meteors, hurtling toward disintegration in a fiery crash.

Obviously, there’s a wide swath of middle ground between those two extremes. But I haven’t seen that dramatic of a divided response since suggesting that, hey, maybe marketers should manage their own technology stacks 10 years ago. (“Die, evil shadow IT devil scum!”)

Frankly, I was surprised. In essence, the article simply revealed another case of agile overtaking waterfall. I didn’t think that was considered radical anymore. And empirically, don’t we all see tons of examples these days of people trying out SaaS apps with a fraction of the procurement overhead of decades past?

So I took a pass at illustrating the two models side by side — a draft of the illustration at the top of this post. I figured that by seeing the time-to-adoption advantage and organic proof of utility of the “agile” approach, the naysayers in the earlier thread would concede that the agile approach could be good in many circumstances.

All I succeeded in doing was kicking the hornet’s nest again, on Twitter and LinkedIn.

But the ensuing melee debate surfaced a number of good points. First, even if we consider these two models to be a binary choice — it’s either one or the other, which is clearly not the case — there are different circumstances under which each makes more sense.

In situations where you face higher costs to adopt — especially if cost for even the initial adoption is high — or there are greater risks or dependencies around adoption, then the waterfall model is probably a better fit. The stakes are higher and test-and-learn is less appealing. The autopilot software for a commercial jet, for instance.

But there’s a second axis to consider: certainty. Or, rather, uncertainty.

Agile Was Made for Uncertainty

Waterfall approaches are predicated on the assumption that you actually know what will work. The more certainty you have in that — up to a reasonable time horizon, of course — the better able you are to plan out the right solution in advance and optimize your adoption.

But I would humbly suggest that in today’s environment of continuous disruptions and rapid technological change — the exponential top line of Martec’s Law — we are often operating under much greater uncertainty. This is certainly (ha!) the case in marketing.

Uncertainty pushes projects into the left portion of the above chart, making agile preferable in more circumstances — even those with significant costs and risk to be managed.

After all, risk exists in both agile and waterfall approaches. They’re just different kinds of risk:

You can pick which risk cluster you prefer, but there’s no free lunch.

But the thing about the agile model is that costs and risks for test-and-learn pilots are usally scoped to be relatively small. And the risks associated with scaling only come into play when the pilot has been successful — at which point, you’ve mitigated arguably the greatest risk in any software adoption: will this app actually deliver the outcomes we want?

Freemium Shifts the Cost/Risk Curve Downward

In this age of software-as-a-service (SaaS), the direct cost associated with trying new software apps has also dropped significantly. SaaS go-to-market models such as freemium, free trials, in-app purchases, transparently scalable pricing — even for so-called “enterprise” software — are increasingly common, making it easier for buyers to try apps with smaller scoped trials.

I know there’s still debate around freemium-ish models in enterprise software. But Box, Canva, Dropbox, G-Suite, GitHub, LinkedIn, Slack, Zoom, etc., have proven that it’s certainly not a myth. It may not be right for every app or platform, of course. But buyers are increasingly demanding better alignment between vendor pricing and more agile software adoption.

Big-bang, bet-the-farm software deployments are less and less appealing.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t also costs associated with software adoption other than the direct price of the app itself, such as integration and training.

But even those costs are steadily shifting downward, thanks to better integrations in expanding platform ecosystems — you knew I was going to connect this to platform thinking in some way, right? — and better UX and onboarding flows associated with the consumerization of IT.

An agile approach doesn’t work for everything. But it works in more scenarios than you might have imagined even a few years ago.

In Practice, Waterfall and Agile Are Blended

I’ve found myself ranting against false dichotomies on this blog for a long time, especially when it comes to being agile or being strategic. We have a variation on that theme here.

There are very few “pure” waterfall or agile projects in the wild. Almost everything we do has some degree of planning and goes through some adaptation along the way. All good agile projects start with a need, a hypothesis, a “job-to-be-done” that is connected to business value. It’s just a question of the ratio of planning to doing.

Instead of arguing over the extremes, we should be able to agree that most software projects happen along a continuum between these two poles:

However, I would argue that the set point for technology adoption along this continuum has been steadily shifting to the right. And that in this decade, we’ve witnessed a significant jump toward the agile end of the spectrum.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Andriole’s article in MIT Sloan Management Review:

We heard a consistent theme. As one business process manager at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company put it, “We’ve abandoned the strict ‘requirements-first, technology-second’ adoption process, whatever that really means. Why? Because we want to stay agile and competitive and want to leverage new technologies. Gathering requirements takes forever and hasn’t made our past projects more successful.

Are we cool? Or have I just kicked the hornet’s nest yet again?

P.S. If you’re interested in agile management and software adoption in marketing — and ways the two can be productively entwined — you should really attend the MarTech conference in Boston this fall, September 16-18. Early bird pricing ends July 13.

The post Of dinosaurs and meteors: 2 different (and contentious) models of technology adoption appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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We’re almost ready to publish the full agenda for the next MarTech conference in Boston this fall, September 16-18. But in advance of that, I’ve just got to share with you the four amazing people who will be keynoting the event with me — I’m giddy with excitement:

Cesar Brea, Partner, Bain & Company

You know that scene in The Matrix, when Neo downloads martial arts training straight into his brain, and he says in awe, “I know kung-fu.” That’s kind of how I feel after I sit for an hour with Cesar Brea. He brings some next-level martech kung-fu to the conversation.

I’m thrilled that he’s bringing that to MarTech with a keynote presentation, Orchestration Beats Sophistication in Marketing & Martech.

Cesar will dig into a recent Bain & Company study of US marketers that revealed a surprising set of attributes distinguishing leaders from laggards in revenue and share growth. In short, leaders are 2.5-4x more likely to focus on talent, organization, measurement, data accessibility and integration, and aligning on opportunities to pursue as they are on their martech components and architectures.

In other words, they emphasize orchestration of the various factors surrounding martech stacks over their technical sophistication.

Cesar will present excerpts from this research, examples of firms demonstrating orchestration effectively, and the latest frameworks and immediately-applicable tips you can use to keep your martech efforts on a path to strong results.

Mike Volpe, CEO, Lola.com

Mike Volpe is a pioneer of the martech industry, a veteran CMO, and — most recently — CEO of one of the hottest companies in Boston, agile corporate travel management firm Lola.com.

Mike forged the playbook of modern B2B marketing. Now, having stepped into the CEO role, he’s able to bring an even richer perspective to careers and opportunities in marketing:

  • Is the CMO role the new breeding ground for CEOs?
  • What strengths and weaknesses does a marketing background bring to the CEO role?
  • How should a CMO prepare to be CEO?
  • How does being CEO change the way you think about marketing?

Mike will reveal what he has learned about all these questions and more on his journey from CMO to CEO.

Charlene Li, Senior Fellow, Altimeter

When it comes to shaping the way leaders think and act in an age of digital transformation, Charlene Li is a renown guide to the stars. Her books Groundswell, Open Leadership, and The Engaged Leader have all been best-sellers.

Her latest book, The Disruption Mindset — coming out later this summer — will cut through the noise of “disrupt or die” to share her experience on why some organizations are able to transform while others fail.

She’ll explain how to reframe your strategy, leadership, and culture so that disruptive growth is at the top of your agenda:

  • Define what disruption is — and isn’t — and how it can drive growth.
  • Identify and prioritize the right disruptive growth moves — and align the organization around them.
  • Understand how leaders must show up differently when pursuing a disruption strategy.
  • Instill disruption into a status-quo culture.

This is the big picture for marketing technology and operations leadership.

Mitch Joel, Founder, Six Pixels Group

Mitch Joel, an icon of 21st century marketing and digital business, will be our closing keynote. His blog, Six Pixels of Separation, has been a source of inspiration, innovation, and insight for over a decade.

Mitch is passionate about helping companies embrace a culture of change — teaching them how to “disrupt disruption.”

He’ll share new (and dramatic) realities that are forcing organizations to rethink commonly held beliefs about what works in business today, what the future may look like — and what you can do about it. In his view, this is less about the evolution of technology and more about how customers continue to become more efficient in how they buy.

Bring an open mind, because the world continues to change and challenge brands like never before — and you’ll leave ready to disrupt disruption in your business.

Don’t miss these keynotes and dozens of other top-notch presentations at the intersection of marketing, technology, and management. Register for MarTech today for an early bird discount.

The post 4 amazing keynotes you won’t want to miss at MarTech in Boston this fall appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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Thousands and thousands of entrepreneurial vendors.

A few giants that have consolidated portfolios of dozens of their own “best-of-breed” options, so a buyer could theoretically get everything they need from one source.

A dizzying array of choices for buyers. Yet choices that many become quite passionate about. They enjoy discovering new ones that are special to them and enthusiastically telling their peers about them.

A massive landscape graphic that maps it out from a blogger who deeply loves the space.

I’m talking, of course, about beer.

Michael Tonsmeire, known as The Mad Fermentationist, is apparently as obsessive about beer as I am about marketing technology.

It’s a pretty impressive brewery landscape he’s assembled. Although I will note that the 20,000+ independent craft breweries only get represented with a relatively small sample on his graphic.

(Believe me, I can appreciate the insanity that would be involved in trying to assemble labels from all of those on a slide. At some point, you throw up your hands and say, “Want to go grab a beer?”)

I emailed Michael to ask his permission to share his graphic, showing him the martech landscape and noting how I thought my readers would find the analogy amusing. (Did you?)

He replied, “Granted! Seems like most industries are going in the same direction.”

Most industries are going in the same direction. There’s wisdom there. Thinking about the dynamics of the beer universe — of which, I only have experience as an end user — there are fascinating parallels. The knowledge and equipment to launch a craft beer has become highly democratized through the Internet. As has the ability to promote through digital marketing and engage in ecommerce, even subscription models. (Yes, BaaS — beer-as-a-service.)

No barriers to entry. Democratized tools for creation. Open platforms for promotion and distribution. Beer and martech actually have a lot in common. I’m sure the executives at the major breweries spend a lot of time discussing the need to consolidate their industry. But for consumers, I’m not sure that the benefits of consolidation are as clear.

Food for thought. Or, um, beverage for thought.

But I confess I did have a pang of regret when I saw Michael’s map. Should I have chosen a different industry other than martech to obsessively map? Is it too late to switch over to the Chief Wine Experience blog and spend my days mapping out the universe of vineyards and wineries in the world?

P.S. If you’re looking for an opportunity to mix martech and beer, or the social beverage of your choice, early bird registration for our next MarTech conference in Boston, September 16-18, is now open. For two evenings in a row, we’ll have cool networking receptions with well-stocked bars and well-staffed martech vendor exhibits. A perfect combination?

The post If the martech landscape is driving you to drink, maybe this will help appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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Back in the early days of martech, there was an apocryphal statistic that most marketers only used about 15% of the capabilities of their marketing automation systems. (I heard this stat thrown about for years, but googling suggests that SiriusDecisions published it officially in 2013.) Marketers would buy these sophisticated tools, but then just keep pumping out the same old batch-and-blast emails to their entire list.

A research study in 2015 showed that, even years later, the majority of marketers felt they didn’t fully utilize the tools they had in their expanding martech stack.

I used to think this was unequivocally a bad thing, to have “utilization” of martech products be so low. The implications, slightly oversimplified, were one of two things:

  1. Marketers didn’t know how to use the martech they purchased.
  2. Marketers purchased martech they didn’t need.

The solutions seemed obvious:

  1. Marketers: learn how to use your tools. And martech vendors: make your tools easier to use. (Insert “DAM tools” joke here.)
  2. Don’t buy more tools until you fully use the ones you have first. (As mom said, “Finish what’s on your plate before you help yourself to more!”)

Simple, right? Martech utilization will soar and everyone can grab a pint at the pub.

Fast forward to the present day. Now, many companies have developed, hired, or outsourced martech skills. The principle of rationalizing your martech stack — pruning out tools that don’t contribute net value to your business — has become a best practice. Yet still the question of martech stack utilization comes up.

But it struck me recently that utilization can be a misleading metric.

As shown in the Venn diagram at the top of this post, let’s consider three overlapping aspects of martech:

  • FEATURES — what is technically possible with our martech stack
  • SKILLS — what we know how to do
  • VALUE — what will improve our business

In a perfect world, these circles would overlap entirely. In practice, they don’t.

Just consider the explosion of features in martech products. They’ve become incredibly sophisticated. Which means most martech professionals are constantly having to upgrade their skills to learn how to use them. But while every feature (ideally) is likely valuable to some businesses, not all of them are valuable to all businesses.

I can almost guarantee you that there’s only a subset of features in your current martech stack that, if utilized, would deliver net positive value to your business today. Maybe that subset is large, maybe it’s small. The exact subset worth utilizing will undoubtedly change over time, as your business, customers, and stack evolve.

But utilization by itself doesn’t matter much. Value is what really matters.

It would be kind of like measuring whether your subscription to Spotify is worth it based on the percentage of their 35 million songs that you listen to. All that matters is if they give you the songs that you enjoy listening to — even if it’s but a tiny fraction of their massive overall catalog.

The only two reasons to care about utilization:

  1. Are there opportunities to learn new skills with unused features of our martech stack that would be valuable to our business? I’ll bet the answer is almost certainly, “Yes.”
  2. Are there products in our martech stack that we’re not getting value from that we should jettison? Or perhaps downgrade to a less expensive tier for the subset of functionality that we are productively harnessing?

Unused features that don’t correspond to one of those reasons are irrelevant.

And just because we have the skills to use certain features in our martech stack, doesn’t mean we should use them, unless we know we’re getting value from them. Everything we do costs something in time, effort, resources, complexity, and/or impact on customers. So if it’s not adding value, it’s at the very least an opportunity cost on other value creation activities we could be investing in.

One last point about this utilization view of martech stacks: this helps justify why acquiring new martech products can be a good thing — even if we aren’t fully utilizing the features of the products in our current martech stack.

If a new tool will let us deliver net positive value to our business — and it’s something that the tools in our existing martech stack, despite their ever-expanding plethora of features, aren’t able to provide — then, by all means, add the new tool.

Thinking about utilization is helpful as a path towards advancing our skills and bringing new value to our business. But utilization for its own sake is a fool’s errand.

The post Martech stack utilization is a misguided metric (when it’s disconnected from value) appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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In my never-ending quest to bring martech nerdiness to new heights — or depths — I played around with a few of these “adaptations” of Shakespeare on LinkedIn and Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Not exactly in iambic pentameter, I’m afraid.

Enough people seemed amused that I decided to post them here. My apologies to the Bard. (And to you, dear reader.)

(Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about platforms and integrations in martech lately.)

If this is your brand of nerdiness, feel free to riff your own #MarTech #ShakespeareSunday verse in the comments below.

The post #ShakespeareSunday #MarTech Edition appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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Christopher Douglas runs the Triangle Marketing Club, an energetic community of marketers (and students planning to become marketers) in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s one of those dynamic “connectors,” always bringing people together and enthusiastically plumbing helpful intersections between them.

Last year, he invited me to speak to their group about the 5 disruptions to marketing that I believe are changing marketing as we know it — and to partake in some absolutely delicious fried chicken. (Martech conversations over fried chicken? Does it get any better than that?)

The event was held in a groovy space in downtown Raleigh that felt very intimate — more like engaging with a graduate class than presenting from afar on a stage.

Christopher recorded the whole thing on video and then spliced in direct snaps of my slides. I thought it captured the spirit of the evening, and so with his permission I’m sharing it here. Fair warning, it’s over an hour with my talk and Q&A. But maybe if you find yourself relaxing with a beer or glass of wine or cup of tea, you’ll find it a fun discussion to slip into the room for, albeit virtually and after the fact.

You can find more videos of other talks at the Triangle Marketing Club here.

The post An intimate evening discussion about five marketing disruptions (video) appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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Disclosure: This is one of those rare articles on this blog that’s entangled with my work as VP Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot. While it’s not specific to HubSpot — this is an issue and a framework that I believe are broadly applicable across all SaaS platforms — I want to be transparent that I do have a stake in how these dynamics play out in our industry.

According to a recent study by the market research firm Ascend2, “integrating disparate systems” is the greatest barrier to success with marketing technology for 52% of marketers.

But why?

After all, we live in the so-called API economy. Nearly every SaaS product has APIs, and nearly all the major marketing platforms have “app marketplaces” where customers can choose apps from a wide pool of certified technology partners.

There’s even an entire category of products — integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) tools — that exist solely to connect disparate systems together. Some have made it so easy for non-technical people to do this that Gartner refers to their users as “citizen integrators.” One of the more popular ones, Zapier, integrates a whopping 1,300 different apps with each other.

For pretty much every pair of popular cloud-based products, there’s some off-the-shelf way to connect them. So why is integration a barrier at all? Haven’t we checked that box by now?

Not All Integrations Are Created Equal

“Does X integrate with Y?” is a deceptively oversimplified yes/no question. In the cloud, the answer is almost always “yes.” It’s kind of like calling a restaurant and asking if they combine ingredients together. Sure they do. But how tasty is the meal? How attentive is the service? How reasonable is the price?

If X integrates with Y, follow-up questions should peel back exactly how deep that integration is:

  • What are the use cases of the products working together?
  • What data is shared between them? Is it bidirectional?
  • What is the flow and user experience like between them?
  • What is the experience like for the admins who manage them?

Ideally, the bar we should hold integrations to is: what makes apps better together?

When you start digging more into those details, you appreciate that the capabilities and user experience of integrations can vary significantly. As the average number of SaaS subscriptions per business continues to grow, the “stack debt” incurred from insufficiently deep integrations can mushroom, dragging down our efficiency and effectiveness across the digital toolbox we’ve assembled.

So how might we quantitatively compare apps across the spectrum of possible integration?

The Four Layers of App Integrations Framework

I’d like to propose a framework for evaluating the depth of an integration between an app and a cloud platform as follows:

This model considers integrations on four levels, starting at the bottom with integrating data and working our way up to governing the collection of apps being integrated:

  1. Data: passing fields, records, or other packets of information between systems. This is the most common kind of integration between cloud services. How each system interacts with the data is often undefined at this level.
  2. Workflow: standardizing or automating the flow of data and activity between people and systems. The most common pattern is an event in one system triggering a sequence of predetermined actions across others.
  3. UI/UX: embedding elements of the integrated app — or the entire app itself — in the user interface/user experience of the platform. This gives platform users visibility into and the ability to interact with integrated apps, without continually switching between different systems and interfaces. (See “The One Window Test.”)
  4. Governance: establishing and enforcing rules and standards across all approved apps in the platform’s ecosystem. This makes it easier and safer for users to adopt and manage apps built by different vendors with greater consistency and control.

As we go up the y-axis of the above diagram, we advance to higher levels of cognition in the integration. Exchanging data is a relatively rote, mechanical process. Workflow incorporates dynamic behaviors. User experience is how we comprehend and interact with the combined products. Governance is how the collection of apps that we’ve integrated are managed.

Thinking of Integrated Systems as a Digital Language

Here’s a non-technical metaphor to distinguish what’s happening at these different levels:

  • data –> nouns
  • workflow –> verbs
  • UI/UX –> language
  • governance –> grammar

Data are nouns, the fundamental objects we work with, and workflows are verbs, the actions we take on or with those objects.

UI/UX is a common language for communicating with those nouns and verbs. Do integrated apps speak the same language, like two collaborators both talking in English? Or is it like a Tower of Babel, where different systems present things very differently — even when they’re talking about the same underlying objects and actions?

Governance is the grammar of the language. Anyone can string words together in a language, but are they combined together as proper sentences that make sense? Good grammar assures us of a certain level of coherence to avoid gobbledygook. So does good governance of apps on a platform.

There’s a wide range of depth and elegance in how different platforms implement these four layers. Shallow integrations give you Dr. Seuss. Deep integrations give you Shakespeare.

The Extent of Integrations Can Vary Significantly at Each Layer

Let’s examine the degree to which apps can be integrated at each of these levels.

For instance, consider the extent to which an app can be integrated at the data layer. A light data integration would simply sling data in one direction, from an app to the platform, with no concern about what happens to it down the line.

Did the data overwrite or conflict with an existing record? Was it in the right format? Did it maintain relational integrity with other data fields? What if the same data is updated later by some other app on the platform? Will the original app get notified of the change? What happens if a problem occurs? Does it ignore, alert, or retry?

A light data integration blithely answers: don’t know, don’t care.

Richer data integrations, on the other hand, can sync data bidirectionally, intelligently resolve conflicts and collisions, enforce data quality and integrity, normalize key fields such as identity, notify related apps when the data changes, recover gracefully when problems occur, and more.

A rich data integration exerts an opinion on how information is modeled and maintained.

Similarly, a light workflow integration may operate by automatically triggering a simple action in response to a well-defined event. A visitor fills out a form on a landing page, and you enroll them in a list in your marketing automation platform. It’s useful, but limited to relatively basic if-this-then-that sequences.

Richer workflow integrations support conditional logic that triggers different actions depending on the details of an event or the context in which it occurred. More advanced workflows can combine automated and manual steps, for processing requests that require human reviews or approvals. More sophisticated workflows can incorporate custom algorithms, maybe even AI functionality, to dynamically route and respond to events.

Integrations at the UI/UX level have even greater variance. A light UI integration might only have a read-only spot in the platform’s interface where an app may surface limited information about its own data or activity. It may offer a link back to the app, but clicking on it just opens a new window that drops the user in a completely different interface with little or no context.

Richer UI integrations, in contrast, keep more — or even all — of the user experience inside the platform’s interface. Apps can be embedded right in the platform, so users don’t have to jump out to different windows to interact with them. A common, flexible UI “canvas” lets third-party developers build apps that look and feel like they’re native to the platform.

The continuity of rich UI/UX integrations can make it much easier for users to adopt apps, since they don’t have to learn a new interface for each one. They already have their bearings and can quickly focus their attention on the new functionality the app gives them.

The governance layer of integration has a wide range of possibilities too. Light governance might only ask an app to be briefly reviewed before being listed in a platform’s app directory. How the app is sold and supported is completely up to each app developer. It’s a laissez-faire approach to the ecosystem.

Richer governance models impose stricter requirements for an app to be certified. Apps can be sold through the platform’s marketplace, which simplifies installation and billing. A centralized subscription management system gives users greater control over their entire stack of apps on the platform. The platform can monitor and enforce compliance with data privacy regulations, performance SLAs, and security practices. It can authenticate app ratings and reviews from real users to prevent astroturfing.

The more responsibility the platform takes for governing the apps in its ecosystem, the less risk there is for users to adopt them. Since trust is arguably the most valuable asset in any platform ecosystem, good governance can create significant value for all of its stakeholders.

Comparing Different Platform Integrations

“Does X integrate with Y?” clearly deserves better than a yes/no answer.

Using the framework just described, we can now compare the extent of different integrations on each of these four levels. As an example, consider three hypothetical options for connecting a webinar app with a CRM platform:

Option A represents a simple, iPaaS-style integration. A form filled out on a registration page in the webinar app triggers a new contact record to be created in the CRM. If the contact has the same email address as an existing record, the CRM simply overwrites the other fields with the new data that’s passed in. There’s no UI/UX integration between them and no governance. The CRM platform company may be completely unaware of the webinar app vendor if there is an actual iPaaS in between them. Caveat integrator.

Option B illustrates a more direct integration between the webinar app and the CRM. Data is exchanged bi-directionally, adding registrants to the CRM and augmenting the webinar app’s profile of attendees to deliver a more personalized experience. A user can determine whether the webinar app or the CRM takes precedent when data fields are being updated. When a registrant attends the webinar, a note with details — e.g., duration watched, questions asked — is added to the contact’s timeline with a link to the recorded webinar. The webinar app was reviewed and certified by the CRM platform company, but still purchased independently.

Option C depicts a deep integration between the webinar app and the CRM. It takes Option B much further. The entire process of setting up a webinar and promoting it is done in the CRM platform’s interface, with contributions and approvals managed through a structured workflow process. Sequences can be automatically triggered by micro-events during the webinar, such as an attendee staying past the halfway point, submitting a question along the way, or rating the content at the end. The webinar app was purchased in the platform’s marketplace for certified apps, based on verified reviews from other users. The platform continually monitors the app’s performance and compliance with GDPR rules and requests.

These three options offer very different integration experiences.

While an Option A approach is better than nothing if you need to connect two independent cloud services together, it leaves much of the work and responsibility on the shoulders of the user to figure out how to manage the integration. An Option C approach relieves the user of that burden, delivering a qualitatively smoother and safer integration.

Option A is a little like duct tape. Option C is a more like Lego pieces snapping together.

Martech Integrations Can Grow Better

To be certain, building a platform and apps that integrate deeply with each other requires more design effort by the developers on both sides. But that investment can pay off in reduced effort required by users to connect those products and getting them to work better together. When that’s multiplied across thousands or millions of users, and hundreds or thousands of apps, its value grows exponentially.

Because of the real value that can deliver to marketers — and ultimately their customers — I believe that the martech industry will see significant improvements in the depth of integrations between apps and platforms in the years ahead.

Integrations are not black-or-white propositions. But shallow integrations versus deeper ones can be night and day experiences.

The post Not all integrations are created equal: 4 layers of app integrations with SaaS platforms appeared first on Chief Marketing Technologist.

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