Top 5 Takeaways from MarTech (or Why the Heart of MarTech Isn’t Tech)

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Now that I’ve been in marketing for nearly 15 years, I’m not afraid to admit that I just sort of fell into it. I arrived at college undeclared and hungry, pursuing everything from musicology to extraterrestrial-life exploration to economics. In the end, the subject I gravitated toward was English, a world of well-written stories — where the words and characters are so magical and memorable, they basically tuck themselves into your brain — calling to you, and comforting you, forever.

This literary passion first led me to amble upon a more editorial path, but I soon found myself twirling in the twinkling glamour of marketing. Here, stories reigned, too — only accompanying them were dizzying budgets, which meant our charge to ideate and create was all the more colossal. Even in the early 2000s — when digital was nascent (and Flash animation was still a thing) — the possibilities felt limitless.

So I’m a dreamy creative fancying wordplay and pretty pictures. But I’m also (mostly) a tech-friendly realist. Communication technology has been here for years (from word-of-mouth to print to radio/TV broadcast to online, etc.). And although “data-driven” is still an in vogue qualifier, it will soon be implicit, imbued in all that marketing does. So what do we mean by marketing technology? Well, according to Scott Brinker, founder of and chair of MarTech (a conference for the marketing- and tech-savvy), it’s a vast, nuanced space dotted with 3,874 marketing technology solutions (or some 3,500 companies). Click the image to enlarge.


As I attempted to absorb this massive universe of logos during last week’s MarTech opening keynote, I fully anticipated the presentations that followed to be all about technology. And yet, an unexpected thing began to reveal itself: The heart of MarTech isn’t technology at all; it’s people.

Here’s a recap of my observations from the two-day event:

  1. Innovation requires experimentation, practice, and measurement: Innovation happens at both the individual and organizational level, so carve out time for discovery and inspiration. For example, Christopher Penn, VP of marketing technology for SHIFT Communications, recommends dedicating 30 minutes at the start of your workday to peruse your favorite blogs. He advocates allowing yourself the flexibility to try out new things, and tempering it with the scientific method so you can identify, test, and analyze your ideas in a systematic way. This concept complements another prevalent event theme — agile marketing. Billed as the new name of the marketing game by Shubu Mitra (director of connection planning effectiveness & productivity, The Coca-Cola Company) and Jennifer Zeszut (CEO, Beckon), agile marketing echoes agile software development and champions fast, flexible response to change. Given that the digital landscape is constantly in flux, it’s harder to predict marketing program performance. So execute on plans, but reserve room for refinement. Then use data as your guide for quick, frequent course corrections. Forrester found that brands committed to agile marketing and measurement experienced a 12.7% lift in ROI (“Total Economic Impact of Beckon,” Forrester, 2016).
  2. True marketing/sales alignment is fueled by ongoing conversations and feedback: Despite sophisticated marketing automation tools that provide sales visibility into prospect behavior, regular communication between the two groups is imperative. Personally, in both small and large company environments, I’ve seen a substantial disconnect. Superficially, we get along well enough. We cheer each other on at trade shows or pull together last-minute deliverables at critical junctures in the sales cycle, but it’s so rare that marketing and sales collaborate in continuous harmony. Synced marketing automation and CRM tools help. However, the technology can’t do all the talking. Let’s chat regularly, match trajectories, and set clear expectations and goals. Joseph Puthussery, Cisco’s VP of digital marketing, discussed the importance of laying the right foundation. Key components in the framework are establishing a common language and building blocks for a holistic customer experience. Ultimately, it comes down to managing the business through the lens of shared goals — defining roles and responsibilities within objectives, assigning accountability/ownership, and then sharing results between teams and other stakeholders in the organization.
  3. Marketing/finance alignment demands a perception shift: It’s an age-old joke in marketing — there’s never enough budget for all we aspire to do (a topic that really warrants its own post). For now, suffice to say, finding favor with finance is important. But it’s generally a struggle. Pat LaPointe, chief growth officer at Growth Calculus, illustrated how differently the two lines of business view marketing’s role. Essentially, while marketing feels its impact is increasingly important, finance perceives the opposite. He summarized that (at least traditionally speaking) marketing dwells in a world of persuasion and optimism (e.g., doing x might boost sales), while finance is rooted in analysis and realism (e.g., doing y will keep the lights on). However, by putting things in finance’s terms, we can reshape the conversation. He recommends these three steps: First, redefine the role of marketing as driving shareholder value, so that data and analytics map to cash flow and asset growth. Second, shift from rigid “efficient execution” planning to fluid “information era” learning and iteration (see #1 above). Third, build credibility through collaboration. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Instead, use that as the starting point to develop a healthy learning agenda, whereupon growth-driving insights can flourish.
  4. Procurement is an ally to both marketing and external partners: Where once sourcing and procurement were solely focused on cost savings, they are now your strategic partner in bringing in new solutions or services — while negotiating the best deal possible. John Hardy, director of marketing sourcing at The Walt Disney Company, painted the picture of a large decentralized organization with several decision makers managing their own department’s needs and budgets. If you share your plans with procurement, they can identify common requirements across various teams and work with partners to develop enterprise-level deals that reduce your administrative hassle and provide peace of mind.
  5. Emotional connection remains paramount: Social strategist Bryan Kramer wrote a book called There is no B2B or B2C. It’s Human to Human: #H2H. Most MarTech presenters touched on that sentiment in some way. We can implement all the analytics and reporting tools in the world (not that one should!), but data lacks soul. The desire to create electrifying content and customer experiences is why we even bother with data in the first place. Shawn Goodin, director of marketing technology for The Clorox Company, talked about surveying data to understand the customer journey on a granular level — the “moments and channels that matter.” Chiming in from a public media perspective, KQED’s Tim Olson, VP of digital media and education, pointed out how powerful content is the difference between consumers of convenience (e.g., those who tune in during their commute) versus choice (e.g., those who proactively check in for new programming). In short, effective content builds lasting relationships.

Marketing is communicating. And while technology is an undeniable enabler, people are at its heart. Every day, we play our respective marketing roles to connect with prospects and customers — people we desperately seek to understand, but may never really know. In the process, unintentionally, we often end up neglecting our counterparts in the other lines of business who are just a phone call away. We can do better, and we should. Ultimately, we’re all working toward the same thing.

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