It’s all technology, and we love to hate it so much.
Over the last two months, I’ve been summarizing the content marketing trends to watch in 2016 as a way to first highlight what’s changed in our industry this year and second what will continue to evolve over the next 12 months. We’ve seen an enormous response from these posts, and I’m happy to conclude this series with a serious discussion about marketing technology.
You can get a refresh on the 6 content marketing trends to watch, and dive into content promotion, interactive storytelling, episodic content marketing, fringe social media platforms, and influence marketing, too.
Disruption can be both good and bad. When a co-worker pokes his head over his computer screen to ask you a question while you’re writing a blog post, that’s the bad kind. When you’re stuck in a never-ending conversation with your friend’s drunk boyfriend at a bar and the fire alarm goes off, that’s the good kind.
What about marketing technology—is that disrupting in a positive or negative way? It sort of depends…
According to Pan Communications, 38 percent of marketers envision the convergence of marketing and technology as the single biggest trend to watch. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), in collaboration with McKinsey and Co. and GfK, found that 83 percent of business professionals say that being able to make data-informed decisions is very important in responding to disruptions in their industries.
Consumers have come to expect personalized messaging from brand marketers, and with good reason. The volume of data being collected online grows at a staggering rate, and few organizations have clear strategies on how to make use of customer data from a marketing standpoint. This creates a lose-lose situation where brands continue to spend significantly on data collection without any return, and consumers grow wary of data-collection technology because they don’t see their information being used in a convenient way.
But, hey, marketers. It’s not totally your fault. The marketing technology ecosystem is in a state of ebb and flow. As this ecosystem expands, growing more diverse, complex, and imbalanced, the gap between those who understand how everything works and those who understand how nothing works grows wider. You may fall somewhere in the middle. Most people never find themselves in the top half.
In this post, we’ll cover three important aspects of technology adoption: identification, implementation, and budgeting for ROI.
We’ve all had this happen to us: We get a random email in our inbox one morning from a vendor who wants to show us a brand-new platform that promises to change the way we market forever. Sometimes we archive these messages immediately, while other times curiosity gets the best of us and we want we peak under the hood. What’s more, occasionally these random vendors turn out to have a pretty cool product offering. So it’s decision time: Is this something to invest in or is it better to wait a few years?
According to new research from HubSpot, 37 percent of B2Cs and 24 percent of B2Bs say their biggest challenge is in identifying the right technology for their needs. Respondents in the ANA report also noted that the pace of new technology remains the most disruptive trend in their markets, the highest rated (83 percent) disruptor in the report. Eighty-three percent said the complexity and fragmentation of marketing is their biggest challenge.
Marketers face a lot of new, emerging challenges each year. Even just last year, brands were still bullish on the state of TV advertising, but recent reports now prove the sharp decline in attention minutes by under 50 Americans. In the media industry, ad block technology was hardly a concern 12 months back, and now it’s the most-talked-about disruptor to date. To absolve the ad hoc-ness of technology evolution, marketers need to revert back to what they know best: process.
I’ve read dozens of reports that survey marketers on their challenges and eventual solution, part of which often includes investment in new technologies. What always amazes me is how misaligned strategy and technology investment seem to be even among enterprise marketers. Skyword has new research coming out this month that shows that marketers are investing heavily in design and social media software, while producing more video and text-based content in-house. They’re investing in technology that they aren’t staffed properly to support. Somewhere along the rush to adopt every platform imaginable, marketers fail to take a step back and ask themselves if this is what they really need to achieve their goals.
Before you make any first step toward researching or investing in new technology, look back at your marketing goals. Marketing automation may be the hottest new tech right now, but if your organization doesn’t have a measurement strategy in place or a way to drive people to conversion pages, then even the most robust Marketo implementation won’t be worthwhile. From there, try your hardest to filter out those one-off vendor emails. Those emails are like the candy your co-workers bring in during the holiday season—they’re there so you eat them, but honestly who actually likes candy corn? Then, turn to the trusted resources for evaluation:
These independent research firms regularly review and update annual vendor reports to guide enterprise-marketing investments. Even as a manager or director at your organization, reviewing these reports and remaining aware of the big players in a given market will help you make informed strategic decisions from a marketing and investment standpoint.
For some enterprise marketers, finding the right solutions poses the biggest risk. For many more, integrating and implementing new systems into legacy stacks trumps all. While some trouble arises when attempting to weave new, modern technologies into older systems, the bigger issue is with how marketers and IT departments have traditionally worked together. And by worked together, I mean not at all.
An April 2015 report from Harvey Nash (in association with KPMG) found that IT’s relationship with marketing was still the weakest among enterprise departments. A July 2015 report from Walker Sands echoes a similar sentiment: Approximately 42 percent of marketers say that the technology in place at their organizations is not up-to-date or sufficient for helping them do their job more effectively. Fifty percent say the complexity of integrating technologies often holds adoption back.
Marketers and technologists aren’t used to speaking the same language. When priorities are stacked side-by-side, neither group understands how one goal might affect another team’s need. Therefore, it’s essential that both parties learn how to communicate the value in new technology and work hand-in-hand to ensure seamless implementation. How can this be done?
“Get buy-in on your vision from an executive level from the start and use their influence to make a technical integration a top priority. Otherwise, your program could shift to the dreaded ‘middle of the pack’ and get stuck in a perpetual period where you are waiting for resources but you never get them—even if the integration is a simple one.” – Dan Baptiste, Vice President of Brand Partnerships
Before you make any technology investment, make sure leadership is bought into the idea or at least understands your strategy. Walking into a department and asking for immediate assistance without any context or runway to work with won’t help you achieve your goals. Dan’s advice to secure leadership support from the beginning requires that you bring in decision-makers from IT and tech into the decision-making process. Leaving those people out will only create new roadblocks down the line.
Eric Herman, Director of Brand Partnerships at Skyword, echoes Dan’s words, but also urges marketers to go beyond earning leadership support.
“When considering technical solutions purchases, involve your IT team early and often. Encourage them to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and participate throughout the entire selection process. Doing so empowers the IT team, validates their importance in strategic company decisions, and helps them understand all aspects of the integration process.”
While getting senior buy-in is crucial, the entire implementation process is easier when the people doing the actual work understand the strategy and help map out solutions from the start. There’s no better way to create synergy than by empowering team members across the organization to achieve a common goal.
Senior Content Strategist Jeff Puklin recommends getting any and all integration documentation upfront to help streamline the process once stakeholders are bought into the plan.
“Look for opportunities to get out ahead of the integration. If the vendor can provide you with documentation on its integration methods or primary use cases on how its technology is intended to integrate with clients in your industry, that’s a great place to start. There’s usually a lot of work you can do with a starter guide, even before you connect your team with the vendor’s technical team.”
Senior Content Strategist Justina Perro emphasizes the importance of having a marketing leader spearheading the entire integration process:
“Teams must express how essential integration is to the success of any marketing program. In order to do that well, teams need to identify who among them will spearhead the integration from a marketing standpoint. Who will ensure that the marketing needs and priorities are communicated effectively to IT? Otherwise, there will be too much back and forth with people who don’t understand the process and who aren’t as invested in the integration.”
The marketing technology industry continues to grow as brands drown in offerings and customer data. However, lack of budget, resources, and strategy, paired with an inability to prove ROI for these investments, turn marketing departments on their head.
According to Walker Sands, 39 percent of business respondents cite inadequate budgets and resources as holding back their adoption of new technology. Thirty-nine percent of respondents also cite lack of an effective strategy as derailing growth. HubSpot found similar results in its survey of B2B and B2C marketers: 52 percent of B2Cs and 51 percent of B2Bs say their ability to prove the ROI of marketing investments remain a top challenge.
But investment in new tech goes beyond client acquisition and retention. A report from Freedom Dynamics found that technology doesn’t deliver false promises. Survey respondents cited that tech contributed to customer satisfaction (49 percent) and workplace productivity (44 percent). So while it may be simpler to calculate the ROI of a marketing program and attribute that percentage to the technology investment, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Technology impacts how employees work, from start to finish, which can sometimes be difficult to calculate exactly. Therefore, when proving the ROI of a given software or platform you must also factor in qualitative information like hours saved, better team morale, customer satisfaction, fewer contracts with outside vendors, etc.
The standard ROI calculation does apply when focusing on the first half of earning buy-in, but to see technology throughout the organization, you need the voice of the people to echo loud and clear that work is being done inefficiently and that there is a better solution worth exploring.
A new global survey from CA Technologies dives deeper into the role software plays as a business-growth enabler. The report found that companies are depending on technology to transform important aspects of their business model into digital entities. CA Technologies says this, in turn, drives ROI.
The survey found that 55 percent of businesses have “digitally transformed” their companies already. Of those who have invested in technology as a way to improve internal processes, either in marketing, sales, or customer services, 45 percent of them have already seen an increase in customer retention and acquisition. Forty-four percent have seen an increase in revenue.
The report goes on to talk about the challenges in deciding what receives funding and what does not. The report reads: “Digital disrupters recognize these issues and suggest ways a company can estimate and prioritize investments. One of the big advantages of a digital disruptor is that stakeholders from both business and IT can look at the project pipeline, activity schedule, and associated metrics when making decisions.”
Marketing technology, in all of its various functions, will continue to change the way people do their jobs in 2016. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. So what’s the real trend we’re discussing here? It’s the formalization process of identifying, implementing, and proving the worth of technology investments that will disrupt—er, change—the way we work.
The further breakdown of silos, transformation of marketing departments, and establishment of cross-departmental business relationships will influence the direction we take our strategies. With a smoother integration runway, brand marketers will remove fear-based thinking and approach challenges with new perspectives. And this, more than any other trend discussed in this series, will change business as we know it. Because it’s not just about finding ways to implement new tech into legacy stacks—it’s that in order to integrate systems effectively, marketers must step out of their traditional roles and work across the business. This truly transformational change is what we should all look out for next year: technology as the gateway to an overhaul in business and true marketing transformation.
This is just one of the major trends impacting your 2016 marketing strategy. For information on the other five trends, don’t forget to check out the series round-up.