What the Dickens to Do About Marketing Tech

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There's no astute modern marketer who doesn't know the name Scott Brinker. In 2011 the CTO of ion interactive and author of the Chiefmartec.com blog produced his first Lumascape-esque logorama of marketing tech solutions. Digitally overwhelmed marketing executives glommed onto it like Web shoppers to free shipping offers. Brinker had boiled down the tech solution universe for them into 100 companies that could be printed out on a single sheet of 8x10 paper. Just four years later, 100 has blossomed into 1,876 and Brinker's neat, little guide sheet has metamorphosed into a graphic horror novel of sorts for marketers.

“Almost 2,000 logos,” marvels Mike Ballard, senior manager of digital marketing for Lenovo's commercial marketing division. “You look at that chart and you think this is a great time in our lives. But it's a double-edged sword. Every time you add something to the stack, you're adding complexity and budget and dedicated resources—and, if we're not careful, we can almost overwork ourselves and not use technology to its fullest capabilities.”

As rampant as the spread of technology are the demands from corporate chieftains for the 360-degree customer views and cross-channel marketing schemes these new tools promise to deliver. Yet study after study depicts a marketing community lagging in its fulfillment of the promise. A survey of 268 senior marketing executives conducted by The CMO Council found a mere 21% rating themselves above average in engaging customers via digital channels. Another survey, of 120 senior marketers by The CMO Club, had 55% admitting they had yet to launch cross-channel marketing strategies. More than half of CMO Club members polled said they were stymied by a lack of resources and an inability to make sense of data with existing technology.

“The world we look at right now is so complex, there are no blueprints for dealing with it,” says Monique Bonner, VP of global digital technology and innovation at Dell. “Go to anybody—vendors, service providers, strategic consulting companies—no one can tell you, ‘This is what we think you should do.' No one's done it. The problem has not been solved. We live in a world where the standard is not defined.”

It's hard to pin down a world spinning as fast as a top—one that has jumped off the table and scooted into the next room thanks to mobile. Not only are shoppers researching purchases on smartphones, they're increasingly using their devices to consummate them. Research company eMarketer forecasts mobile payments in-store will nearly triple next year to $27 billion. “The mobile thing terrifies me. You have to figure out how it cuts across social and other channels, not to mention known and unknown visitors. It adds more questions than it provides solutions,” says Liz Miller, SVP of marketing for The CMO Council. “So we're automating, and we end up going from a pistol to an automatic weapon. Often, all we end up with is automated random acts of marketing.”

And then there's the data. Integrating databases and arriving at the long-sought-after single view of the customer must be mastered before channel integration can be. “This is a huge point of frustration in the current tech landscape,” says George Corugedo, CTO of RedPoint Global, a data management company. “I have a friend in retail who's facing attribution issues and source issues but her company has a centralized data warehouse that's owned by IT and it's a battle to get to the data. The new siren call is from solutions providers who tell marketers, ‘Give us your customer data and we'll do it for you.' Then you go and do it and find that your data's trapped with them.”

Data is a word that conjures up visions of computer models and statisticians, yet for marketers faced with reinventing their businesses for a digital world, data is the clay from which they must build customer profiles. “Five years ago marketers were so excited to buy marketing automation and not go to IT for help. Now it's all about the data, and the data lives in a thousand different places,” says Debbie Qaqish, chief strategy officer of Pedowitz Group. “I was [visiting] one company and an executive handed me a piece of paper with, like, 35 different ideas about how to use data and asked me what I thought. I said I have no idea what to tell you, but if you redo this sheet of paper, draw a picture of the customer right in the middle of it.”

Thousands of marketing tech solutions to choose from, mobile customers expecting brands to be at the ready 24/7, data overload, soaring expectations from business leaders and customers alike: It's enough to make a marketer consider a career change. Fortunately, there are ways to manage through the madness and seize the opportunities that all this technology presents.

Strategy first
In a recent report from The CMO Club, “Building a Modern Marketing Association,” Plantronics CMO Marilyn Mersereau comments that “we shouldn't even call it marketing and sales anymore. We should just call it Go To Market and realize that there's a fluid transition between one to the other.” Indeed, there was consensus among those interviewed for this article that the sine qua non for conquering the 21st century tech challenge was establishing a go-to-market strategy that all stakeholders in a company could agree on.

“Any organization that doesn't have an innate conception of this is going to make tech investments that aren't going to provide ROI,” says Jonathan Burg, senior director of marketing and customer acquisition at Apperian, a company that designs security programs for internal business apps. “You may have an amazing tool for customer advocacy, for instance, but if your goals aren't aligned, the solution won't be appropriate. Discern what your goals are from your product teams and map your systems by that.”

The poster child for customer-centricity is Amazon. When thinking about the right way to fashion digital marketing and technology around customers, this rarely profitable but long ballyhooed purveyor of personalization and customer engagement is still the go-to case study, as far as Qaqish is concerned. “The CMO should not be talking about tech spend; he or she should be thinking about a new way to go to market that creates a competitive advantage, and these new technologies allow that new strategy to take root. If you don't have this approach, the tech is going to be sub-optimized,” she asserts.

Lenovo had this happen with a new video platform it had tested, only to find its resources limited it to using only about a fourth of its potential. “You have to have a go-to-market strategy, but one of the problems you face is a tendency to design your strategy around the technology,” Ballard says. Still, testing possible home-run solutions among the Terrifying Two Thousand is a game that Ballard, and most other marketers seeking digital transformation, are willing to play. Many vendors provide free, limited-time tests or short-run, low-cost contracts that allow companies to see if the solutions fit with their strategies. One test that did work out well for Ballard's commercial unit was with Eloqua.

Both the commercial and consumer businesses of the global seller of computers and electronics use Adobe Marketing Cloud as their primary marketing stack. Ballard and his digital marketing counterparts across the organization are free to add new technologies independently and then report results back through the network. “Purchasing Eloqua came entirely out of my organization's budget to start. It worked really well for us and we started to get a lot of inquiries from other geographies. As more people jumped on it became a shared budget item and our cost lowered.”

Mitchell Diamond, director of sales and marketing operations at
McKesson, a distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, is another tech experimenter who takes advantage of free trials to test what fits with his go-to-market strategy. Like most global enterprises, budgets at McKesson are locked down a year ahead of time, making agile reaction to new solutions a challenge—but one that's not insurmountable. “[We] would do a trial to evaluate a technology…if it was successful, we would develop a business case to implement it. If we find something like that midyear, we can reprioritize something else and rebudget,” Diamond says.

One advantage Diamond has in the age-old struggle between the sales and marketing departments is that his department manages marketing automation and Salesforce.com for both, making it easier to blend in new solutions. General database management also falls under his team's purview, as well as data analysis and exposition of metrics for the McKesson unit that sells business services to hospitals and physicians—often a six-month selling process. “The business segment owners are partners with us in obtaining new solutions,” he says. “If my department finds some tech we think might be interesting for them—whether its midyear or the beginning of the budget process—we work together to assess whether we want to spend that money.”

Test and learn
Of course, it's not just huge multinationals facing imperatives for digital transformation. Smaller companies and nonprofits do, too. At WGBH, the Boston PBS TV affiliate and producer of shows such as Downton Abbey,Masterpiece, and Nova, the martech blueprint was torn up and redrawn a few years ago when its fundraising operation switched platforms from Oracle to Salesforce. Several staffers departed for failure to adapt to the new technology, and Cate Twohill, managing partner for CRM services, went off in a new direction with a seven-person team mostly recruited right out of college.

“One of the benefits we have is that everybody here has so much exposure to what the organization is trying to accomplish,” Twohill says, adding that her young team is an added asset. “Being just out of school, tech is second nature to them. The combination of those two things makes them adapt quickly.”

Not saddled with an entrenched corporate bureaucracy, the team is free to investigate new solutions without interference from IT and make liberal use of free trials. Twohill led a six-person contingent to Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference this year to shop the solutions providers. “It's like drinking from a firehose. It's the best experience for a technologist ever,” she says. But team members are encouraged to be independent in their tech explorations. One of their most successful finds, in fact, was Redpoint Global.

Because WGBH supports membership recruitment efforts for several PBS stations across the country running their programming, the nonprofit's database is extensive and requires constant cleansing. Having single records for contributors—Redpoint's specialty—is crucial in not offending them with multiple appeals. “Knowing who people are is absolutely the most important thing for us,” Twohill says. “We had one donor who was getting six pieces of mail a month from us. He sent us $60 with a note saying that he'd send us $60 more if we started sending him just one [piece] a month.”

Champion the cause
It would be hard to imagine that a company battling back from the brink might have any advantage in the marketplace, but if it did, one might be a senior management commitment to technology as the fastest route to higher ground. In 2007 sandwich chain Quiznos had 5,000 outlets, but a suit by franchisees claiming that the chain overcharged for supplies and over-stored their market areas led to a Chapter 11 filing and the ousting of top management. The chain emerged from bankruptcy protection last year with a new CEO and just 1,500 stores still operating. Surviving CMO Susan Lintonsmith faces a tough road ahead, but she does so with the mandate to set the strategy for customer experience and digital transformation.

“Being in a turnaround situation, it's a necessity to be agile,” Lintonsmith says. “The senior executive team meets weekly on hardware and software issues and all of the technology decisions come down from the C-level.” One of the most recent of these was a move to a new POS system that will return data on the frequency of customer visits and what customers are ordering.

Also in Lintonsmith's corner is one of the most sought-after prizes in the marketing world: a code-writing innovation director with his own budget and agenda. He's the primary liaison between marketing and IT, sits in on high-level meetings, and has a free hand in investigating new solutions. “We tell him, ‘Go try, go play,'” she says. “He's done stuff with social monitoring, programmatic, beacons, geo-targeting. He's the point man on finding the things we need to do to reach millennials.”

One tech vendor who thinks such an innovation champion is crucial for marketing organizations taking on the tech monster is Scott Vaughan, CMO of Integrate, a demand marketing platform. “You have to put aside 10 percent of your budget for innovation and testing,” he says. “We've been told you can buy everything you need from the cloud, but that's not the reality. Maybe in five or six years it will be, but the fact is that you have to be your own systems integrator.”

The largest, most advanced companies appear to be doing their martech homework to turn innovative ideas into reality, according to Gartner analyst Todd Berkowitz. “They keep asking us, ‘What are my competitors doing with tech? What are the best practices? What channels should we be looking at?'” he says.

Those probing questions promise to keep coming Berkowitz's way for some years to come, as there seems to be every indication that the march of point solutions companies into the martech arena will continue unabated. Choosing the right ones won't get any easier. As Brinker's logo-crammed Marketing Technology Landscape patterns illustrate, the overabundance of martech has stitched its way into the fabric of the marketing life. Marketers who put customers first, choose marketing tech that supports their go-to-market strategy, and have a tech champion driving innovation will find it easier to weave the right tech tools into their marketing architecture.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Read the full cover story ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Marketing Tech Changes Everything

2016 will be a seminal year for marketers who are adjusting everything from budgets and processes to staffing and strategy as they aim to exploit technology

Part 1 > The Marketer and Her Sous Chef: Cuisinart's director of marketing communications may drive strategy, but it's her collaboration with the CIO that allows the brand to cook up true innovation.

Part 2 > What the Dickens to Do About Marketing Tech:  It's the best of times and the worst of times for marketers with unlimited possibilities and limited resources.

Part 3 > Technology-Driven, Must-Have Marketing Skills: The proliferation of marketing technology is changing how marketers work and the skills they need to succeed.

Part 4 > Buyer Beware: Marketers may not be asking the right questions to select the optimal marketing technology and then maximize it.



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