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Making Sense of the MarTech Mess

By Brittany Feinson, VP, Communications, Marriott International [NASDAQ:MAR]

Brittany Feinson, VP, Communications, Marriott International [NASDAQ:MAR]

It’s Monday morning, I login to my email, I already have 20 messages awaiting my attention, and the day is only just beginning. Among these are three solicitations from vendors on how “they can revolutionize my marketing engine” or “give me returns beyond what I have ever seen before.”

Skimming through these emails, I can’t help but think that if these really are the silver bullets they claim to be, then wouldn’t everyone be doing the same? Can I really gain a competitive advantage? Surely, my competition would have already moved on them and they would soon become table stakes.

"The lines between marketing and IT continue to blur— for the best"

Trained as a traditional brand marketer, I understand how daunting it can be to get up-to-speed on the rapidly growing MarTech segment. I often hear from marketers that just when they think they get it, the landscape changes, making it challenging to identify the opportunities, the main players and the next bets to make. Scott Brinker, Editor of chiefmartec.com, estimates an increase of roughly 87 percent from 2015 to 2016 in the number of players in this space bringing the vendor count to around 3,500.

So how do you make sense of the MarTech mess? Well, here are 10 key learnings from a marketer’s point-of-view on navigating the MarTech murk, while aligning your organization and getting buy-in on the impact of the possible.

1. Let the Customer Lead

It is easy to get excited about new shiny technology, and yet hard to know what to prioritize. Capabilities are important, but understanding them in the context of how they improve the customer experience and drive your business forward is the key to focus on the right areas for growth and evolution.

2. Expand the Business Value

Delivering an end-to-end customer experience involves collaboration and execution from beyond just marketing. Your brand stories are being told in many places across the company including employees, investor relations, HR, legal, etc. When considering technology and its application, ask, “Is this just a marketing need or an enterprise one?” Thinking of the capability more broadly will create a more seamless experience and will give you the biggest return on your investment. Not all technologies are right for enterprise use, but systems like digital asset management or workflow management add value across functional departments.

3. Love Thy Neighbor

Bring the right expertise to the table by creating an integrated team with IT and Finance. Work together to define the roadmap, brainstorm new opportunities, challenge ideas and build a more holistic approach. Collaborating with finance helps them better understand the business opportunity and gains you a key partner to advocate with senior leadership when investment decisions are on the table. The lines between marketing and IT continue to blur— for the best. A close partnership enables a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges as you design your vision and helps avoid roadblocks later. Make use of the knowledge and skills of these partners to get an even better outcome for your marketing efforts.

4. Be Focused

In the midst of MarTech growth, know your strategic priorities, define a roadmap to help you stay focused and refresh that view regularly (around every 6 months) to keep up with the changing landscape. Understand what part of your ecosystem is your “secret sauce,” and ensure those technologies are proprietary and long-standing. Then create the ability to have point solutions that deliver specific and evolving capabilities, which can easily evolve as the market changes. When you can, start small to get some early wins, prove out the value and evolve your direction. As with many industries, I believe a consolidation will occur so make sure you set yourself up for success as the nature (and ownership) of your partnerships change. Think flexible and movable where you can.

5. Keep Learning

Get perspective from others both within and outside your organization. Find opportunities to network with others in roles similar to yours, to help you navigate this rapidly changing space, and to learn from their experiences. Create a trusted cabinet to bounce around ideas, to inquire about vendor experiences, to share best practices and to ask them “the stupid questions.” Finally, be a student of the space—always be listening, reading and learning.

6. Hire Purple Squirrels

Purple squirrels exist: a rare breed highly specialized in technology, but versed in marketing-speak. You cannot know everything about each new technology, but you do need to know when to acquire expert talent on your team. Identify the key roles that require specific expertise and advocate for the resources by showing the return that specialization will have on the business. Once hired, listen to these purple squirrels; be brave and trust them. And create a culture of forever learners—hire people who are curious, who want to learn about new things and new ways of working and aren’t afraid to advocate for innovation and evolution.

7. Dream Big

Dream, imagine and create a world beyond what is possible or known today. You may not be an expert in the minutia of MarTech but you can still paint a picture of how you think a new world might look. Then surround yourself with people who can help you stack the pieces and players together to create that reality. Find partners who can dream with you, who will help you define the vision and who will be a part of creating this new world with you as they develop their offerings. The increasing convergence in MarTech means vendor capabilities are overlapping and differentiation is diminishing which is placing greater importance on partnership and joint-innovation as defining skills. Define the dream, tell the story and begin building.

8. Bring along the Traditionalists

Leaders in MarTech have a great opportunity to help bridge the gap between “traditional marketing” and the digital age. We often speak about MarTech in the realm of CRM or digital experience without mentioning brand marketing. The reality is digital experience is not a distinct concept from brand marketing–there is power in tying the two together. Get your brand marketers involved; help them see how they can reach their goals by thinking and acting in new ways.

9. Stay in the Box

Be wary of the lure of customization. This can be challenging when you have a large number of stakeholders needs to meet. Understand the incremental value customization will truly bring to your business and to your customer and ask how they will be dealt with as the product grows. Make sure you can maintain your core without rework or expense. Find partners who are willing to grow and invest, and include your needs in their product roadmap.

10. Don’t be Afraid

This new world can be intimidating but it is an exciting time and the ability to reimagine marketing is upon us. Do not be afraid to disrupt your own world first. Surround yourself with smart, committed, knowledgeable people both within and outside your organization and challenge people to think differently about what is possible.

So join me and jump in with both feet, get comfortable with the uncomfortable and enjoy the opportunity to learn. It is not often you get to be a part of revolution, so buckle up.