A marketer’s view of martech

Beware of letting the tail wag the dog: technology is integral to modern marketing but tools are no replacement for strategy.


Marketing is now a technology-powered discipline because software is how marketing ‘sees’ and ‘touches’ customers in a digital world.

Anybody working in marketing today is dealing with marketing technology (martech), since digital by its very nature is technology-based. The customer and their adoption of digital – and particularly mobile – is one of the driving forces of this change.

The relevance of technology to high-tech Silicon Valley companies is obvious, but until recently, strategy ideas for consumer brands based on the capabilities of martech were not seen as being as relevant. For those who think martech is a fad or not applicable to consumer brands, it is worth understanding what forces have combined to create this unstoppable machine.

  • Cloud computing infrastructure from the likes of Amazon AWS has enabled tech-driven business to scale easily and cheaply.
  • Low-cost or almost free open-source software can now provide the building blocks of core martech tools – even data management platforms (DMPs) or marketing automation platforms (for example, Mautiq).
  • The collapse in cost and the democratisation of startups means that you can be a new martech vendor for just a few thousand pounds, using cloud computing and open source technology.
  • The application of distributed (again, often open-source) computing enables large-scale aggregation and crunching of data (for example, Hadoop) that can support advanced analytics including machine learning and predictive analytics.
  • Advertising spend has migrated to new digital channels.

And it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Silicon Valley is betting billions of dollars to create martech ‘unicorn’ companies.

The big vendors in this space are getting even bigger and the stock markets are betting on martech having a rosy future. Adobe acquired cloud marketing software firm Marketo and ecommerce platform Magento in 2018 and committed to growing its multibillion-dollar business by 20% year on year. Salesforce, meanwhile, had 80,000 people at its annual Dreamforce conference.

Note too, martech isn’t just software that marketers use. As Chiefmartec.com editor Scott Brinker points out: “It’s also software you create: web applications, widgets, Facebook apps, iPhone apps, Android apps, and interactive ads are now part of marketing’s realm.”

Finally, consumer adoption of new technologies is not going to slow down anytime soon. Indeed, while smartphone adoption may be mature in the UK, outside of Europe and the US, the increasing speed of mobile and other technology adoption by consumers will create a virtuous circle of opportunity for martech vendors. In fact, martech has probably barely started.

Given that a growing portion of the marketing budget is now allocated to technology, marketers have really got to understand how martech tools work. Not only that, we have to try to make sense of them for the team, for peers, and of course, the boss. Then there is the challenge of choice: how can we possibly choose from 5,000 vendors ranging from CRM platforms to content management, marketing automation as well specialised tools for social media?

It can be difficult to know what to give our attention to given the cacophony of noise that is often competing and definitely confusing. So how do we marketers navigate the complexity of a “fragmented and confusing digital marketing landscape”, as Gartner put it so well?

READ MORE: Navigating the martech maze – how to get started

The foundation concepts

There are a number of concepts to think about before diving head-first into martech.

As serial entrepreneur, investor and Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein says: “The first thing is that you need both marketing and technology departments ‘in the room’ and working together for this to stand a chance of working.”

The second decision to be made is whether you buy or build your own, and if you buy, do you go for the all-in-one platform or integrate best of breed solutions? There is no single answer here but it is very rarely a good idea to build your own tech – unless you have a great internal team.

Even when you buy in your martech, you still need to budget a lot more than you think for customisation and integration, even with supposed all-in-one solutions.

One of the hidden problems with martech is not the tech or tools, it is an orchestration challenge. You need to be able to understand the underlying data setup, orchestrate how that flows between various technology systems, and apply business logic across the various layers to keep everything working efficiently.

The final concept is that of a ‘marketing stack’ – basically the collection of all the technologies that you use in marketing (marketing automation, social media management, content management, CRM, advertising, SEO, etc).

However, you need to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all stack of marketing technologies that is guaranteed to work for your brand. This is implicit in the fact that consumer brands and B2B brands use different channels and techniques to acquire, convert and retain customers. In other words, the ‘best’ marketing technology isn’t necessarily what’s best for your brand.

It all starts with data

The name ‘big data’ speaks to the fact that we can now collect and analyse data in ways that were simply impossible even a few years ago. There are two reasons: the fact we have more data on everything and our improved ability to store and analyse data of any kind.

But data itself has no immediate value. It is like crude oil that needs to be refined before it can be put to good use. The refinement of this ‘crude’ data is achieved with analytics. We are seeing amazing advancements in the way we can analyse data.

To make martech work, marketers need to understand data architecture. How will this add to the end-to-end view, what will I learn and how do I connect it to the bigger picture?

Brian Corish, chief customer officer and director of marketing analytics for Bank of Ireland, says: “The rules of how brands grow still apply, but martech really works effectively if an organisation has a strong data and analytical function and segmentation model.”

Strategy is the foundation and starting point of any discussion about marketing technology. It’s not about buying the tech, and subsequently trying to fit it into your strategy. It’s the reverse: start with the strategy and look for the technology that can make the strategy happen. Buying martech is not a good way to figure out your strategy.

As Richard Nunn, head of e-strategy at Simply Health, says: “I think it’s incredibly simple: don’t let the martech tail wag the marketing dog.” In other words, tools are not stand-ins for a strategy. The real value marketing technology offers is the strategy and approach that it enables.

If you are panicking about martech, don’t worry. Marketing may be powered by technology but not everyone in marketing needs to be a technologist.

Marketing applications of martech

  • Gather customer data in real time as it happens – to enable better customer profiling, segmenting, targeting and analysis
  • Create better customer experiences and campaigns through delivering increased relevance and personalisation, for example creating content and messages that speak to each of your consumers on an individual level
  • Deliver co-ordinated campaigns across channels at scale, for example using marketing automation platforms to deliver email, landing pages and/or advertising to millions of customers at the push of a button
  • Use data to create predictive analytics to predict what will happen, and prescriptive analytics to suggest what we ought to do about it, instead of using diagnostic analytics (what happened in the past)
  • Understand the cost-per-acquisition for each marketing channel, and attribute the exact source where the customer started engaging with your brand or turned into a customer
  • Automate tasks that previously absorbed valuable time, freeing up resources that used to be applied to ‘grunt’ marketing work