Common Martech Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

What leaders should consider when building their marketing technology stack

August 11, 2021
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Marketing technology is booming.

The $122 billion martech industry, which automates marketing tactics from customer communications to online commerce, grew 22 percent in just one year, according to data released a few months before the pandemic. A year into the pandemic, more than half of firms in The CMO Survey reported that marketing technology systems or platforms were among their digital investments in 2020.

And despite ongoing global business challenges due to the pandemic, more than two-thirds of marketers said their firms planned to ramp up investments in marketing technology in 2021, according to a report from The CMO Council.

Unfortunately, some firms aren’t getting their money’s worth, according to marketing professor Carl Mela of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Marketing leaders often invest in the wrong tools, collect data they can’t use, and fail to consider how new tools will be integrated with technology they already use, Mela said.

Mela, who described the common problem in a piece for Harvard Business Review, offered additional guidance to help marketing leaders choose the right tools.

What is the single biggest mistake you see marketing leaders making with technology?

Marketers tend to focus too much on a specific application and not enough on the strategic goals that drive the need for these applications. They get enamored with things they can do around certain tactics or strategies. That’s not a vision. A vision consists of trying to understand how I can reduce the time from initial contact to sale, how I can reach more customers, how I can do it at greater margins and less cost, how I can scale the influence of my organization, and how marketing technology can enable that.

Another common mistake is for decision makers to take tech recommendations from colleagues at other companies, or select vendors because they are customers. With so many dependencies within the martech stack, picking one piece in isolation often doesn’t work. All the components in the martech stack have to communicate because they are automated. Doing things at scale requires perspectives to expand beyond any particular application, and envision how all the pieces work in concert.

Some of these tools gather so much detailed information about a customer’s behavior. Is there such as thing as having too much data?

You can ask yourself the same question when you throw more and more stuff in your closet. It becomes harder to find what you need. If your ultimate goal is to present a certain image, it makes sense to have your closet organized. That’s the perfect analogy for what’s happening with data. People just collect data, throw it in their data closet and wind up with a ton of clutter.

The foundational question to ask when collecting customer information is, ‘What do I need to understand about the customer? Do I know how they obtain information about goods and services and how to connect with them?  Do I have the information that will enable me to understand their preferences and ensure that the services and products I deliver are aligned with those preferences?’ These tools can have gorgeous dashboards that have stunning colors and dazzling graphs and images, but that doesn’t mean the information is relevant to the business decisions firms need to make to create and capture customer value.

Say you have vetted the perfect tool. What do you need to do make it work for your organization?

One can think about marketing technology internally in the same way one thinks about marketing externally. When marketing any good or service, it’s not going to be purchased or used by people if it is not attentive to their needs. Firms also need to plan for training, or people are not going to use the technologies. Senior managers and lead users have to be behind it. With almost every innovation, some people are lead adopters – and they tend to be very influential. That positive word of mouth can inspire those who are slower to adopt. Anybody putting together a martech stack has to do internal marketing – good marketing – in the sense that they understand their customer and ensure they’re developing solutions that align with user needs and then promote the tools.

Are there marketing insights that only humans can produce, or are human marketers next in line to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI)?

I don’t think about technology as a substitute for people, I think about it as a complement. It’s not about replacing people. It’s enabling them to do what they do at scale, and getting rid of the drudgery that makes them inefficient. In fact, the industry is growing so fast, it’s creating a large number of well-paying jobs for people in marketing.

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