Or How to Make Sense of Your 2016 Technology Stack Buyer’s Guide
Against the backdrop of a digital world, marketing has become a digital profession.
– Scott Brinker, Hacking Marketing
Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated
– Mark Twain
This week at MarTech 2016 in San Francisco, Scott Brinker, editor at ChiefMarTech.com and co-founder of Ion Interactive, did something pretty significant. As you know, Brinker’s MarTech 2016 conference has become the definitive tradeshow for the marketing technology industry. But it wasn’t the conference or Brinker’s multiple keynote addresses that I thought were particularly significant. Of course, his sessions on Agile Marketing were insightful and will likely do more to contribute to change in the modern marketing department than anything else.
But what I felt was even more significant is the fact that Brinker quietly released the 2016 marketing technology landscape supergraphic during the show. You know, that little graphic that has become the bible/guide for the entire marketing technology industry. More than just a “who’s-who” graphic, it actually highlights the health of the industry, showcasing new martech categories, entrants, and exits as well as the size and growth of the industry as a whole. In fact, Brinker’s annual supergraphic has done much to validate marketing technology as a discrete industry, provide support for marketing departments looking to justify marketing spend, and serve as a mini buyer’s guide.
Based upon the new supergraphic, it’s pretty safe to assume that MarTech is not only alive and well, but actually thriving—growing even more rapidly than last year. Indeed, the 2016 supergraphic includes a whopping 3874 discrete martech vendors. Just think about that for a minute. When Brinker first published the original MarTech landscape supergraphic in 2011, there were only 150 vendors listed. Wow. What’s more, the 2016 installment showcases an almost 94% increase in vendors from 2015. That’s right—in the last year, the martech landscape almost doubled. Crazy. There were so many new entrants that Brinker claims he actually had to discard some general categories for the 2016 supergraphic because he needed more space. He literally couldn’t fit all the logos.
While the 2016 edition of the martech supergraphic highlights an astonishing industry growth, the real story for me wasn’t industry growth at all, but the fact that something critical was missing from it: the “stack” metaphor layout. Gone was the industry-standard stack metaphor, which traditionally featured infrastructure and platform systems at the bottom and experience and operations applications at the top. In its place, according to Brinker, is a multi-platform topology: “Instead of a platform-emphasized ‘stack’ metaphor, I decided to organize the landscape around 6 marketing technology capability clusters: (1) Advertising (2) Content & Experience (3) Social & Relationships (4) Commerce & Sales, (5) Data, and (6) Management.” Capability clusters? What?
As I tried to make sense of this new landscape, I spent more than a few minutes trying to locate my own company’s Event Automation technology. Where was it in this new landscape? It was no longer sitting on top of the “stack” in a ginormous bucket labeled “Marketing Experience,” but was now sitting in one of 6 independent silos under the “Social and Relationships” category. The supergraphic’s reorganization beautifully illustrated that general marketing technologies would no longer “coalesce” around a single platform topology in a given organization. More than anything else, publication of the 2016 supergraphic dashed the “one platform to rule them all” martech dream, replacing it with a new topology, which Brinker calls “clusters.” Yup, you read that correctly. Martech is going from a centralized stack configuration to decentralized clusters.
As I sat through session after session during MarTech 2016 on Agile Marketing and Cognitive Marketing and other new methodologies, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant. Had the overused marketing tech stack metaphor truly met a premature death? And how does this change in the martech topology affect the structure of the marketing organization itself? More importantly, if 85% of MarTech attendees were decision makers for marketing technology purchase, how will these organizations make marketing technology purchase decisions in the near future? How, in other words, does Martech reorient itself—make sense of the already dizzying landscape—without the proverbial “stack”?
How to Organize MarTech Capability Clusters
If I spent the bulk of MarTech 2016 pondering the premature death of the marketing stack, my concerns were allayed when I attended Travis Wright’s awesome session, “How to Build the Ultimate Marketing Technology Stack”, which was far and above the most practically useful session for me. If you attended MarTech 2016 and weren’t a sponsor, you probably came with a single goal—to make sense of the rapidly developing marketing technology ecosystem. At first, I assumed Wright hadn’t gotten the memo that there was a seismic shift in the marketing technology landscape. But then I realized that in many ways he had already been driving the conversation about this topological shift in collaboration with thought leaders like Brinker. So not only was his session really entertaining, it was also loaded with practical advice on how to surmount the single biggest challenge facing today’s digital marketing department: how to build your tech stack . . . er stacks . . . clusters?
The most important takeaway is that while Brinker organizes the 2016 supergraphic into independent siloes or clusters, Wright offers multiple topologies, which include a (1) Suite, (2) Platform, (3) Multi-Platform, and (4) Bus.
Wright’s diagram featured here is actually taken from Brinker’s post on integrated marketing stacks, which essentially posits a topological evolution from a closed suite to a platform, culminating in either a multi-platform topology or an open “Bus” architecture. As Brinker has suggested, because there has been an absence of an oligopoly of strong platforms as the foundation for marketing technology, companies have resorted to including multiple “specialist” platforms, producing a clustering effect.
For example, a major company might have 3 or more platforms in their environment, such as:
- A CRM platform
- A marketing automation platform
- A web experience platform
- A social relationship platform
- A data management platform supporting AdTech
Brinker predicts that as these specialist platforms “develop their own ISV ecosystems” the multi-platform topology will gain momentum, making it increasingly more difficult for a master platform to dominate—prefiguring the death of the proverbial martech stack. Brinker also presents the open “Bus” architecture in opposition to closed topologies, such as the suite, which are based on technologies by companies that specialize in managing the flow of data across multiple platforms. The major difference between a standard platform and a Bus architecture is the flow across heterogeneous components in a stack. It’s really just the difference between open and closed topologies. While multi-platform and Bus topologies in some ways make an already complex landscape more complex, the single biggest benefit is that they offer marketers more flexibility.
10 Marketing Technologies to Build the Ultimate Marketing Technology Stack(s)
As I stated at the start of this post, the martech landscape is growing rapidly and becoming more complex, making buying and managing marketing technology even more difficult than before. The MarTech 2016 conference only solidified how complex and vast the martech ecosystem really is.
Lucky for us, Travis Wright is here to help us all reorient ourselves. While Wright presents all four topologies like Brinker as options, he makes a compelling case for “building” an open Bus architecture martech topology and what follows are his essential recommendations for how to build an optimal open architecture stack:
- Analytics & Tracking: Next you want to select an analytics and tracking platform. If you’re a marketer these days, you’re already pretty familiar with google analytics. Analytics and tracking solutions track and report website traffic. They are the backbone of a data-driven marketing organization, helping us all to make “smarter and more informed decisions.” As Wright suggests, they not only help you ask and answer the right questions, but also help you to target “your audience, personalize the customer journey, and create a better user experience.”
- Mobile Optimization: Yup, the next technology you want to plug into your open Bus architecture is mobile optimization software. We are now living in a mobile first world, which means mobile is no longer an afterthought but our first priority.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Next in line is your CRM. There is nothing new here, and most marketers are familiar with CRM and leverage it frequently. CRM helps marketing and sales teams to aggregate, track, and analyze data about a customer’s history with a company to improve relationships with them.
- Marketing Automation (MAP) & Event Automation (EA): Once you have your CRM in place, you’ll want to select event and marketing automation platforms. Marketing automation is essentially software and technology that helps marketing organizations market on multiple online channels while automating high-touch repetitive tasks. Marketing automation originally focused on email marketing, but now encompasses a broad array of automation tools for marketing. Basically, marketing automation is what you need to plan, coordinate, manage and measure campaigns. Although Wright includes Email Marketing software as a separate item, I’m just going to consider it included in MAP. Marketing Automation integrates with a multitude of technologies, including event automation platforms. Event Automation is critical for transforming physical body language at in-person events into digital buying signals you can later leverage for cross-channel campaigns in marketing automation.
- Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO): While many of the technologies on Wright’s list are no surprise, Conversion Rate Optimization technology may be new for some marketers. So what exactly is CRO technology? What we now know is that it is more cost-effective and more productive to increase conversions for existing traffic than to attract new visitors to a website. So CRO is an umbrella term for testing and visualization tools marketers use to improve website experience and thereby improve conversions. Many marketers are familiar with the de facto CRO tool –A/B Testing platforms, where you test different variations of website pages. CRO technology integrates with digital analytics and tracking tools.
- Data Management Platform (DMP): Less exciting than other technologies in our architecture is Data Management. It’s a centralized platform that aggregates first and third-party audience data from your cross-channel marketing efforts. But Wright has a much simpler definition: “a cross between ad servers and customer relationship management platforms. It’s basically Data + Ad Networks.” Among other things, DMP allows marketers to automate real-time bidding.
- Search Engine Marketing: Not much to say here except that SEO is hard and marketers need help with this. Search Engine Marketing technology helps marketers, specifically Search Engine Marketers, to improve their company’s SERPs (Search Engine Rank Pages) and visibility in search, ultimately improving the quantity and quality of traffic to your website content. If you have an inbound or content marketing strategy, Search Engine Marketing technology helps your content get found.
- Social Media Tools: Last, but not least, Wright recommends that you include Social Media tools. Again, social media is now pretty much mainstream marketing, but the problem is that if you review the new supergraphic, social media is one of the fast growing categories in martech making it especially difficult to discover the best technology for your needs.
While it’s too early to claim the death of the martech stack, it is helpful to think of the martech space as continuously evolving, and its newest iteration is a series of interconnected clusters. Instead of one type of technology stacking on top another, martech is a rich ecosystem with complementary products that help fuel the marketer’s pipeline. It’s important for marketers not to think of each martech solution in isolation, but how each intersects and helps build off existing technologies. How can social media tools help funnel more leads into your pipeline, and how is that tracked by analytics? How does event technology integrate with your marketing automation platform? These types of questions enable data-driven marketers to be one step ahead of the martech curve, in a space that can sometimes feel overwhelming with options.
So, the message is not to kill your stack, but to evolve your stack. To think about ways that 10 essential marketing technologies can not only create the ultimate marketing stack, but also work together to help you to attract prospects, increase attendee engagement at events, convert attendees into qualified leads, and drive revenue to help feed your event lifecycle and marketing pipeline. By evolving the way you think about your stack, you can take advantage of marketing technologies as they too evolve to help separate your company from the stack pack.