How to build your martech stack
The number of Marketing Technology or MarTech solutions is growing. More specialised and more focused applications are regularly emerging to help out with almost any marketing activities you can think of.
Michael Titshall has led a number of businesses around the world through digital transformation projects, using a variety of technologies. He’s now VP, Managing Director of Australia at international marketing agency R/GA, and a member of RMIT’s Advertising Industry Advisory Committee.
“Five years ago, it felt like everyone was going on the Adobe stack. Prior to that, it felt like Sitecore was kind of a key component in people's tech stack,” says Titshall. “Now people are being more selective in terms of getting what they require and not just going for mass popularity.”
And with Titshall’s insights, you can too.
If you’re struggling with choosing the right marketing software to lead a digital transformation in your organisation, or just planning for your future as a marketing professional, we’ll walk you through how to build your martech stack.
How do you build a strategic martech stack?
“First of all, define what success looks like. What benefits are you hoping to get out of it? And be as specific as possible,” says Titshall.
Before you trial any software, make sure you model the commercial benefit that you expect from your marketing tech stack. Doing this will ensure you select the right technologies that will deliver the functions you require.
With an understanding of the commercial benefit, you can then determine how much to invest in a marketing technology stack.
“The investment's two-fold - there's the initial investment to implement the tech stack, but then there's the ongoing investment to extract value out of it.”
Failing to factor in the ongoing costs of a martech stack at the planning stage is a common mistake that Titshall’s seen many businesses make.
“There is going to be additional headcount, additional training, additional technology fees once it's all been implemented,” says Titshall.
Here are four key factors to consider while building your martech stack.
Choose technology based on your marketing strategy first
As an experienced marketing professional, you’ll be pleased to hear that marketing technology does not replace the need for a marketing strategy.
“The tech stack is just an enabler for our marketing strategy,” Titshall says.
“So, unless you've got a well-defined marketing strategy, you shouldn't even be looking at the tech stack yet.”
Identify what technology you already have
While it depends on the size of the business, building an all-in-one martech stack from scratch can easily take up to two years.
“Things are moving so quickly, not just from a technology perspective, but also consumer behaviour, technology habits, and competition coming from other industries,” says Titshall.
“What you define now as to what you need and start building is probably going to change in two years’ time.”
A better approach is to identify what technology you already have, then add to it to fill the gaps that threaten your ability to meet your commercial benefit.
“Decouple the technologies within them, make them more modular so you can constantly build and add to it incrementally,” Titshall says.
“You can get things to market quicker, albeit maybe at a smaller scale, reap the benefits of that and then continue to modify that tech stack.”
And don’t stop there. Titshall recommends making it a project that never ends to modify, apply, review, repeat for a constantly evolving martech stack.
Digital marketing tools often promise to optimise your offering and give every customer a personalised experience.
It’s not easy, and in many cases, it’s not even necessary.
“Optimisation is very beneficial in lots of instances, but it can only go so far,” says Titshall.
“Optimisation through A/B testing and those kinds of things are useful when you're doing it at scale with a wide test base.”
Fashion retailer The Iconic is one of the industry masters of optimisation. With an enormous test base, they’ve identified customer segments and cohorts that show similar patterns of behaviour.
The Iconic describes its customer relationship management (CRM) strategy as ‘very deep’ and uses it to optimise for micro-segments of up to 50 people through a customer data platform.
Titshall warns the cost/benefit ratio can blow out if you try to optimise for individuals without the right data sets and automation.
“When you're trying to optimise to a really granular detail, I think the effort and investment required to do that usually doesn't yield the results to give you a positive benefit.”
Similarly, McDonalds made a mistake when the fast-food restaurant tried to achieve a one-to-one consumer experience through a CRM. It turns out that mass marketing campaigns for hungry market segments were more economical.
Put customer experience at the centre
As the McDonalds example demonstrated, putting the customer experience at the centre means more than just pointing a martech stack at them.
“If you don't understand the experience that you're trying to create for people, then you could be investing in technology that doesn't deliver what you need it to,” says Titshall.
Fundamental marketing strategies have always focused on bringing value to customers. Martech doesn’t change that focus; it just provides more tools to do it effectively.
Once again, traditional marketing know-how is required to develop the customer experience before the martech stack is implemented.
“Getting an idea of the desired experience upfront is absolutely critical to define the functionality you need and therefore selecting the right tech stack.”
Essentials you should consider in your martech stack now
When building a martech stack, the important thing is that every business defines its own marketing efforts. Not all martech elements will be required.
“The biggest observation that I've had over the last few years is the over-investment in marketing stacks,” says Titshall.
“When you go into the depth of understanding how much investment it takes to operate that tech stack and the actual benefit to your business – then those functions should be more specific to your needs.”
For example, small businesses working B2B would have less to gain from marketing automation tools than a marketing team with a large B2C retailer.
Aligning marketing strategies with a collection of tools is part of the role that marketing professionals like Titshall perform.
“Having an understanding of a lot of technologies and all their different capabilities and being able to pick the best ones to achieve that specific task at hand is where we put our focus.”
While you may not use every element of the stack, marketing professionals should have a broad range of marketing skills and a deep understanding of these MarTech essentials.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search Engine Optimisation is a variety of activities that drive internet traffic to a business’s website from search engines.
Marketing platforms that can assist with SEO include SEMrush, AHRefs and Google Analytics.
Some of the everyday tasks that these apps perform include keyword research, website analytics, and revealing what your competitors are doing to beat you in SEO.
Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)
At the heart of CRM software is a profile of each of your customers and everything you know about them.
On top of this glorified contact book is often a marketing management tool like Marketo, which can streamline workflows such as lead generation, automated emails and driving inbound customers through the sales pipeline.
Marketing technologies that can assist with CRM include Salesforce, Hubspot and Zendesk.
Social Media Marketing (SMM)
As the name suggests, Social Media Marketing is the practice of using social media to support marketing operations.
Marketing technologies that can assist with SMM and social media management include Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social.
Content Management System (CMS)
CMS applications enable marketing professionals to build websites without coding while collaborating with team members, other business units or stakeholders.
Marketing technologies that can assist with CMS include Wordpress, Sitecore and Magento.
What’s next in martech?
It’s fair to say that the only thing constant in martech is change and sometimes those changes are bigger than others.
Google is killing the cookie upon which a lot of martech is built, and Apple has blocked similar tracking tools on apps and emails.
While these changes may seem monumental in marketing technology, they haven’t brought marketing professionals to their knees. Instead, they are reinforcing the classic principles of marketing which still hold true.
“I've always believed, and I think those changes just make it even more so – you need to be capturing first-party data through a value exchange,” says Titshall.
“You've got to think not just about the technology that delivers the communication or the experience to someone - but what is the value for them in that communication?
“That message, that experience, that moment – that's going to be more powerful than optimising or being really personalised with a message that doesn't resonate with that person emotionally.”
So, rather than trying to know all marketing technologies at a deep level, focus on foundational thinking and marketing strategy.
“Just think about martech as another marketing channel. The core strategy for marketing that was true 10 years ago - that was true 20 years ago - still stands true.”
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