How to Navigate the Treacherous Marketing Technology Landscape

If you're not overwhelmed by the exploding marketing technology marketplace, you're not paying attention. By's count, there are now more than 1,800 vendors competing in a sector that barely existed 5 years ago. Indeed, you've probably been contacted by one of their sales reps in the past week to learn more about the promises of his company's solution. Here's what you need to know to manage a successful marketing technology strategy.

Do use marketing technology to liberate yourself from IT. If you're routing website updates or email campaigns through an IT group, you're at a competitive disadvantage. The primary benefit of marketing technology is its ability to make the marketing group more nimble and self-sufficient. Meaningful adoption might require that you hire an IT-centric employee for the group-and change the group's culture-but it is well worth it. Indeed, if your marketing strategy lacks a heavy dose of technology, it could be time to sound the alarm.

Don't underestimate the sophistication of vendor sales and marketing tactics. Although most companies in the category are small, there are many well-funded entities with experienced executives who learned how to sell software at Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. So they spend a lot of money on brand building to gain mindshare with CEOs and CFOs in an attempt to do an end-run around the marketing executive-just as they did to CIOs during the 1990s and 2000s.

Do prepare to battle with finance and IT to get marketing technology, if you work at a large company. At smaller companies, senior managers are typically involved in multiple functional areas. For example, the CMO might manage inside sales and a human resources employee or two-and happily shift tasks among one another because resources are scarce. But this is not so at big companies, in which turfs are fiercely protected and used to build organizational power and careers. Marketing technology is a genuinely disruptive force, so senior marketers at large companies might need to be either knowingly subversive or unusually influential to make the adoption of this technology a reality.

Do plan to accommodate for a learning curve, testing period, and "hidden" costs. No doubt, the relatively low hard costs associated with most marketing technology are appealing-many are available for less than $100 per month. But as Todd Unger, chief digital officer at Daily Racing Form, says, "the cost of adding another tool isn't just the monthly fee-it's adding another person to run it." And there aren't a whole lot of people who are "experts" in this category-because it's so new-so they can be expensive.

Don't expect disparate marketing systems to integrate neatly with APIs. Yes, you'll be able to get most systems to integrate, but it's rarely plug-and-play, often requiring IT involvement to get it working properly. That means when you make a meaningful change or update to one system, it might require an IT resource to reconcile it.

Do revisit marketing technologies that are already in place and ensure optimization. It's easy to get lured by shiny new objects, but a recent article by McKinsey & Co. argues that companies "may be leaving as much as 20 to 30 percent of potential [digital advertising] returns on the table," and this is consistent with our experience too. You probably have copious amounts of data available to analyze in your older digital marketing functions, such as email and search, and therein gems can be discovered to guide improved performance.

Don't lose sight of the end goal. Because marketing is getting flooded with software, the field is attracting more and more technophiles. That's not a bad thing-and some tinkering is now part of the job description-but it also adds another potential diversion to the mix. It's now more important than ever for senior marketers to stay focused on the job at hand: Marketing is about selling more stuff to more people at a higher price, not building the holy grail of marketing operations.    

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