Conferences and networking events provide the opportunity for professionals to gain powerful insights into how other brands are pursuing innovation. So when one CMO hears from no fewer than six of his peers at the conference about the new martech stacks they’re working on, the CMO is intrigued—and also alarmed. He’s been too preoccupied with everything else being thrown his way to really consider addressing their martech stack, and he doesn’t want to admit it.
So what does he do? He fakes his way through the conversation, trying to latch on to as many details as he can. Then, when the conversation ends, he walks away and whips out his phone. He’s worried his organization is falling behind the rest of the industry in terms of how they manage their technology.
What he learns, of course, is that the martech stack isn’t some new technology his company has failed to adopt. Instead, it’s a concept that views a company’s accumulated marketing tech as an ecosystem of separate machines that form something greater than the sum of their parts. Think of all the technologies that go into a single car, or a computer. You may know the names of all of these parts, but their value is defined by their relationship to the larger machine.
This is exactly how marketing technology functions in martech stacks. As Scott Brinker, founder of ChiefMarTec.com, points out, the growth of the “stack” concept is reflective of the current state of digital marketing.
“[The customers’] interactions with companies, they’re all happening because of these digital touchpoints,” Brinker says. “This is the ‘new now’ for brands: How well do [the martech stacks] work, and how is the narrative engaging consumers across touchpoints?”
Despite this trend, many companies haven’t even begun to adopt the “stack” concept. But as marketing technologies proliferate and play a more central role in company revenues, it’s a concept every company will eventually have to embrace.
Image attribution: William Iven
There’s no reason to be daunted by the task of building martech stacks, simply because your organization probably already has the stack in place.
That’s because the stack isn’t a technology itself, or a framework, or even a strategy to implement. Rather, it’s a concept that governs your view of your marketing technologies as a single collaborative unit, where individual parts depend on one another and contribute to a cohesive digital experience. The martech stack is a way of organizing these various parts and understanding how they interact with one another—and it also helps break down silos that can obstruct the system’s full potential.
“Strategically, you created silos for these technologies. You have the team that builds the web, the team that deals with social, and so on,” Brinker says. “While it’s perfectly rational why that happens, how do we move from that hierarchical structure to another organizational format? It’s the same thing with the technology: The technology has to share data.”
In other words, technology—and the teams making use of it—can’t operate in isolation. Teams should be working side-by-side and sharing the data, insights, and functionality of one martech. With more than 5,000 different companies currently occupying the martech space, the possible combinations of technology are practically countless. The only rule of governance is that you understand the ways in which these technologies can serve one another, building a better marketing strategy through collaboration.
How do you organize your own martech stack? It starts with the technology you already have in place. Most organizations already have the ingredients for a stack, they just haven’t conceptualized these parts as a single entity.
Eventually, you will map out all of your technologies and their relationships to one another. But first, you should identify your core technologies, which will function as “hubs” for your overall stack. A content management platform is one of these three central hubs, and may be paired with a digital asset management platform, especially if you’re using content in a number of different applications and need better control of where and how it gets is used.
The two other main hubs are your CRM solution and marketing automation solution. Since all three of these technologies will interact with many other softwares, it’s often easiest to start drawing your stack in relation to these three solutions. ChiefMarTec.com recently handed out awards for the best visual representations of enterprise martech stacks, and the winners illustrate just how diverse this organizational approach can be.
Image attribution: ChiefMarTech.com
Brinker says it isn’t necessary that you create a visual representation of this stack, but companies could do so if it helps everyone see and understand how the larger system functions. Particularly for team members working with only a limited set of technologies, it might be useful for them to see where their technologies intersect with other solutions.
Ultimately, the goal is that by the end of this process, you will have organized your technologies into a stack that your teams and employees can easily understand. The stack is most valuable as an educational and organizational concept, setting up your company to make better use of its marketing technologies. Once this structure is in place, you can begin the work of evolving and improving your stack.
Once you’ve organized and studied your stack, you’re likely to find gaps where new technologies could provide an important role. In fact, you’re likely to come up with a list of improvements you’d like to make.
Brinker has one warning: Take your improvements one step at a time.
“One of the worst things a company can do is trying to do too much at once,” he says. “It’s far better to do one thing at a time.”
Image attribution: Clem Onojeghuo
Instead of trying to tackle multiple changes at once, make tech upgrades one at a time to make sure the changes can effectively integrate with the platform. Once you’ve successfully installed a technology, you can look at taking the next step of this ongoing process.
While you continue to add new technologies, remember to give yourself the latitude to make changes down the road. TechTarget notes that companies should scrutinize third party vendors to make sure they have the best technology for their needs. Brinker recommends taking steps to ensure that a clean breakup is possible if performance or needs change down the road.
“Think of it a bit as a technology prenuptial: We love you, we think you’re going to be the perfect tool for us, but if two years from now you aren’t meeting our needs, what happens? How do we get our data, what are our contractual obligations?
“You want to be able to mitigate the constraints that come with these products, to adapt and evolve your stack over time.”
As new marketing technologies come to market, the organizational value of martech stacks will continue to prove itself over time, making it easier to integrate upgrades while maintaining efficiency throughout the system. Consider leading your company in a thought process that will make its marketing more agile and responsive to an ever-changing landscape.
Want more on martech stacks? McKesson shares their story of building a tech stack—and how you can build one too—at Forward 2017 on June 15 in Boston, MA.
Featured image attribution: Johnson Wang