After almost twenty years working on Enterprise Technology projects and spending ten years working closely on Marketing and Technology projects in complex environments, I have realized that despite the level of maturity and highly evolved landscape, many stakeholders, regardless of their experience, domain knowledge, role and industry, don't fully understand what MarTech is, let alone why MarTech even became a thing.
The so-called MarTech space still represents a black box for many. MarTech is a relatively immature practice area in the enterprise world that has grown organically over the past decade and a half.
Marketing has many complex layers, and MarTech can be so vast that attempting to define it in a few words could be quickly dated.
Instead, I approach MarTech as the composition of the many systems and capabilities that help organizations communicate with their audience.
Marketing as a system
I am not a marketer by trade, and my background is in Software Development, Information Systems and Enterprise Architecture. But working for more than ten years helping large organizations solve marketing challenges led me to a profound interest in understanding the core of marketing.
Marketing in any environment is a communication system, the process of encoding a message by the sender to be sent through a media or channel, which ultimately will be decoded by a receiver who will finally share feedback with the original sender to complete the loop.
Organizations aim to craft the best message possible to cut through the noise and reach their audience.
These messages aim to inform, induce or prompt the receiver to perform additional activities, such as clicking, reading, sign-up, downloading, buying, and ultimately engaging with the brand's products or services.
Types of Marketing
We can find hundreds of different types of marketing, which are classified at the highest level by the parts of the communication process, i.e. the sender, encoding, the media or channel, decoding, the receiver and the feedback.
For example, one of the many types of marketing is Email Marketing. In Email Marketing, the strategy is generally governed by the channel or media, in this case, the email.
Email works are reasonably straightforward; anyone can send a text-based message to any known receiver with a valid electronic mailbox. But that's only one part of the entire process.
Every marketer wants to measure the impact of the messages sent. They want to know how much change they are provoking and how effective their efforts are.
Now, imagine we increase the number of messages sent up to a few tens and the number of recipients to a few million. This is where marketing becomes complex. No matter what type of marketing we are discussing, enterprise marketing is a complex process at scale.
Marketing, as expected, it's a variety of processes. Marketing combines many approaches that synchronize to transform some input and resources and produce a result.
All marketing processes must act coordinately and consistently and be flexible enough to adapt and pivot to future needs.
Putting all this in an enterprise environment, where regulations, budgets and deadlines are constantly stress testing the system, clearly speaks of the complexity that originated in trying to drive a successful marketing practice in any organization.
Marketing faces many challenges, generally from the inner workings and the ever-changing nature of this business process that consistently competes for the scarcest resource in marketing land, the consumers' attention.
The scale at which most organizations perform their marketing activity also helps to increase the complexity, sending millions of messages, running multi-touch, omnichannel and always-on campaigns, managing conversations, doing social listening, data and sentiment analysis, reporting near real-time and real-time analytics, managing offers, content, teams.
Everything adds up, and it is not going to stop or revert.
Marketing is constantly challenged, and marketing has evolved and survived in the enterprise because of its most intrinsic working principle. Marketing is trial and error, test and learn, and an infinite loop of continuous learning and improvement.
What is Technology?
A formal definition of technology is the combination of skills, tools and knowledge that helps transform resources into something with more value.
Now, a complete description is the one that allows me to explain that technology is also the transformation of a set of inputs and resources, applying a set of technologies to produce a measurable result with added value. This is also what we can understand as Technology System.
Technology Systems for Marketing
Technology systems in modern marketing solve large-scale problems.
Managing communications at scale requires technology systems that support the entire communication cycle.
Over ten thousand known systems are currently classified into around a hundred categories.
Many of these systems don't solve just one problem, they solve many issues, but they only solve some issues.
Organizations generally require these systems to support their marketing operations and solve their marketing challenges.
Technology also comes with challenges
Technology can help to simplify the complexities of marketing, but managing all these technology systems can't be overlooked.
Technology can't be treated as a one-off exercise. Marketing technology implementation should follow a plan, a strategy, and a MarTech stack strategy.
Classification of Technologies
Many solutions have emerged to solve problems a wide range of issues. We have precise solutions that can work in standalone mode and comprehensive solutions that conform to entire ecosystems.
There are more than ten thousand existing solutions that vendors have created today, but this is without counting the unknown number of in-house solutions built by many organizations, which are also part of the picture.
Depending on their role within the stack, these systems or solutions may fall under the following classification: Experience, Social, Advertising, Commerce, Data and Management. There are sub-categories under this high-level classification broken down into more specific functions or roles of the technologies within the stack.
To explore these in detail categories, we can always refer to the best effort published so far into creating a comprehensive list of MarTech systems, created and maintained yearly by Scott Brinker and a group of contributors. In the latest version, Scott Brinker has created a breakdown that we can use to better explain the different systems and roles within MarTech.
This list is detailed and well thought through but only scratches the surface.
Many of these solutions have different features that make them more or less suitable for a particular use case, but ultimately what is common to all of them is that they must play together with the rest of the ecosystem. Therefore, a technology strategy is essential to keep the MarTech engine running effectively and efficiently.
Technology evolves rapidly
The marketing technology evolution is an interesting one. Many of the systems we have today didn't exist ten years ago or were in their early stages.
With the explosion of data generated in the past decade, the adoption of cloud computing and the increasing need of organizations to deliver better customer experiences at scale, another breed of solutions has emerged; the cloud suites.
But in between, more specific solutions have also bloomed, creating a highly dynamic, fast-changing ecosystem and continuously adapting to market needs.
To some, we're currently at the "end" of the first golden age of marketing technology, and we will traverse a few years where things will settle before we get to the next "golden age" in a couple of years.
But the transition from one stage to the other will be seamless, continuous, and almost imperceptible.
The evolution of different technologies will sometimes create new challenges and opportunities, and in other cases, will help optimize and consolidate and always help us evolve.
Indeed, there will be "value realization" periods, but the Test and Learn mode will always be on, at least for those seeking continuous improvement.
So, if you are immersed in MarTech, you have to understand that this will not stop; it will only become faster, better, and more efficient.
One of the most exciting things I see while working in Marketing and Technology is that it is a continuously changing environment.
However, navigating this type of change is daunting, and there must be an approach to it. There has got to be a strategy to help organizations and even individuals tackle these challenges and convert them into opportunities.
This strategy is not complex, but it is not easy to master either. The answer is available across multiple disciplines or areas of knowledge, such as Enterprise Architecture, Project Management, Software Engineering, Knowledge Management, Business Strategy, Customer Experience, and Marketing.
Starting with outside-in architectures or CX-Led Architectures, Lean Startup, Agile Delivery, Agile Project Management, Test & Learn, Human Centred Design and making all these "dots" come together in the organization context is where we can say this is why MarTech exists.
The purpose of MarTech lies behind the combination of all these elements to make communication effective and seamless, but ultimately to make change happen, to create opportunities to change to a better future state.
The Future of MarTech
Given the technology and marketing trends, we can expect that MarTech will always be a complex space.
Many things will contribute to this complexity. On the one hand, we'll see new channels and touchpoints emerging where brands will want to engage with their customers. On the other hand, the specialization of platforms will keep increasing, and though some natural attrition will happen, this will lead to a more fragmented landscape of technologies.
In this scenario, significant mega-trends such as automation, regulation, and data accessibility will keep challenging existing strategies and stimulate innovation, contributing to the perennial complexity we observe in the MarTech ecosystem.
One thing will remain intact, MarTech will be an exciting space to work in.