When it comesto marketing technology, the landscape is rather vast. Every year, Scott Brinker of ChiefMarTec conducts his analysis of the marketing technology space (see a very small version of the supergraphic in Figure 1, and visit his website ChiefMarTec.com to see the full graphic every year as it is released), and since his supergraphic’s inception in 2011, the market has grown nearly eighteen fold. Eighteen times bigger! In just a few short years, the marketplace for marketing, sales and affiliate technology has grown to surprisingly great heights. With this seemingly endless and exponentially increasing expansion, it can make the average marketer feel as though keeping up with the technology landscape is an impossible task.
Frankly, unless your job title is Chief Marketing Technology Officer – a title that has been increasing in popularity as of late – it will be difficult to keep up with every new tool or technology available. Therefore, in order to stay up-to-date with the industry, there are a few useful practices that marketers can adopt. Before getting into these practices, a better understanding of some of the rising trends in the marketing technology industry would be useful.
Rising industry trends
There is no denying that technology changes quickly. In a very brief span of time, we’ve gone from simple customer relationship management (CRM) dashboards, to in-depth, complex marketing automation systems and natural language processing capabilities.
- Targeted marketing automation
As noted above, marketing automation is an area where we have seen tremendous strides. While simple email clients were among the first on the scene, marketers have witnessed a complete evolution to a point where every step of the funnel has become customized for the prospect at which the materials are targeted. This is music to any affiliate’s ear. Customizing the sales funnel with materials and offers that are most likely to see a conversion is an invaluable asset for any affiliate marketer. For a long time, standardized marketing materials were distributed to entire databases in the hopes of a somewhat decent conversion. Today, with some of the technologies that exist, informed affiliate marketers can expect significantly higher conversion rates thanks in large part to the customization of campaigns around the tastes and preferences exhibited by prospects in the funnel – and with a lot less effort involved.
- Machine learning
This is a big one. The tools we use are now becoming smarter. While there are those that see this as a terrifying new reality (just ask Elon Musk) on the marketer’s scale, it is an exciting development. From a business standpoint, what we are seeing is unprecedented. Recommendations are becoming more intuitive, and as more information is fed into products like CRMs and data mining tools, the better the results become. While we are still a way off from commercially available, universally affordable machine learning products for marketers, these kinds of capabilities are on the rise. It is worth keeping an eye on the market as it moves forward, as we can all be certain that this will be a crucial part of a campaign’s success in the (hopefully fairly near) future.
- Customer data
Data has been a rising trend (in all areas of marketing) for years now. One thing we have seen rise particularly quickly in the past year has been the expansion and value of customer data (both its availability and detail). With the advent of social media and its complete transcendence into everyday practices and activities, marketers are now given access to a wealth of data about the individual that serves as a means of creating highly targeted and customized initiatives, leading to significantly higherthan-average conversion rates. Today, consumers are willingly offering more information about themselves than any poll, questionnaire, survey or census has ever offered before. These public data help build the complete view of the customer, and in turn, relationships can be forged between brand and customer at a much more personal level.
- Community product expansion
The name of the game is now open source. The popularity of platforms such as Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store has led to marketing technologies opening new avenues through which their product offerings can expand. Take Marketo or Salesforce, for example. Both platforms are giants in their respective categories (marketing automation and CRM/ social, respectively). In order to expand the services being offered, Marketo offers Launchpoint (created in 2012) and Salesforce has its well-known AppExchange, which features over 200 marketing apps (as well as over 1,000 others focused on everything from sales to social). Creating communities and encouraging community members to be active has been a key point to these platforms’ success. The open source mentality is one that has helped these products (and the technology space in general) expand greatly, and community integrations and applications will certainly continue to see a rise in the near future.
Staying ahead with best practices
As noted, an understanding of the trends seen in the current environment is a crucial base on which marketers can strive to stay ahead of the technological curve. With that safely out of the way, we can start to look at some of these best practices.
- Prioritize your technological needs
With so much being offered, a first, crucial step is to prioritize what it is you are trying to achieve, then to outline where technology will be an asset to achieving these goals in the shortest timeframe possible. Though a lot of these tools are valuable assets, marketers need to remember that they are complements, not the entire solution. So determine where you are in the greatest need of assistance, and start looking for a technology in that area first.
- Avoid flash without substance
Tools do a great job of selling themselves. A lot of them feature impressive dashboards and, in several cases, fun, quirky features. While these might be enticing, you’ll want to dig a little deeper and ensure that the product you are considering will actually provide you with value (and a return on the investment you’re making into it). Even though a piece of technology might catch your eye, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be much more to it than what you see on the surface. Do your research.
- Regularly review new product integrations
As noted above, community aspects and application integrations are fast on the rise. In order to ensure that you are truly getting the most out of your current toolbox, review new integrations on a regular basis. You’ll also want to pay attention to marketplaces like the AppExchange and websites like Ian Cleary’s RazorSocial to keep in the know when it comes to new tools and technologies.
- Fluidity is key
Though these tools and technologies are designed to make your life easier, an overpacked toolbox can make your day-to-day management significantly more difficult. Once you’ve determined that a tool will help you in one aspect or another, you’ll want to ensure that it will integrate seamlessly with the other pieces of technology to which you’re subscribed. When tools don’t work together, managing an arsenal is just another task for which you might not have time.
- Try before you buy
Virtually every marketing technology offers a trial, a sample account or an interactive demo. One thing is for certain: If the option to play with the tool on your own before making an investment is part of the provider’s business model, take advantage of that opportunity. That said, when a trial does exist, take some time and see how the product might work into your day-to-day operations. If you can see the value there, then you can move onto running a cost-benefit analysis.
- Be mindful of investments
There are those expected investments – like monthly cost – that can be found right on the website of the tool you are considering. But the more taxing investments are those that can’t be seen; these include investments like human capital and time. Will you need several team members trained to use a tool properly? Will you get enough out of the product (based on monthly subscription costs) with the resources you currently have to allocate to it? These and other questions need to be answered (often with the help of a trial) before deciding on a new technology.
There are several best practices that marketers need to be aware of, but those listed here are certainly among the most important. The world of technology – particularly marketing technology – is rapidly expanding. In order to keep on top of what’s hot, what’s new and what’s worth your time and investment, these practices are going to be essential. Again, the key to remember is that technologies are complements, not the total solution. A strategy should be your starting point, and once you’re ready to integrate technologies, follow these pointers and this direction in order to ensure that you are making the right decisions to help you achieve your goals.
“Pay attention to marketplaces like the AppExchange and websites like Ian Cleary’s RazorSocial to keep in the know when it comes to new tools and technologies.”
“Though these tools and technologies are designed to make your life easier, an overpacked toolbox can make your day-to-day management significantly more difficult.”