Tech Line

Has Digital Marketing Failed to Deliver? Consider Martech Ops

How is your martech stack working for you? For the uninitiated, a martech stack (or marketing technology stack) is the set of technologies that marketers use to perform various marketing activities. How you collect leads and nurture them along the path to becoming a customer are just some of the activities that are handled by a martech stack.

For many growing companies, the martech stack can be a frustrating conglomeration of different tools brought in as needs emerge, sometimes with overlapping and competing jobs and almost always disconnected from each other.

For growth-stage companies, there often isn’t the budget or the boardroom political capital to go all-in on a full-bore, enterprise-wide system. Their only option is to pick and choose tools as needs arise. Manage lists through one system. Output the lists to another system (with a brief stop in a spreadsheet). Import the list into another to do the mailing. . . and on and on.

And the grass might seem greener at larger enterprises, where logic says there would be the budget and the will to go all-in. But many enterprises have a harder time adopting the technology in toto. That’s because large enterprises are a series of small fiefdoms that often are performing similar marketing functions across different market or product areas.

And at larger companies, that’s where the will (and the budgets) often reside. For a large enterprise to take advantage of all the marketing stack systems have to offer requires the buy-in of people who are unlikely to risk their annual bonus (and maybe their jobs) on a centralized anything.

Hodge-podge or Holistic

To make matters worse, martech systems—whether a hodge-podge collection or a holistic system from one vendor—require marketing managers to take a giant step outside their zones of expertise to handle technology-management tasks. How much of a modern marketer’s life is spent on tech work depends on the company and the stack. But one thing’s for sure: Every minute spent on tech is at least one minute not spent on marketing.

The marketing face of these disparate tools proposes they can do it all, so senior management is loath to budget dedicated admin resources. The IT group is often equally unwilling to take on new systems. It’s left to marketers—face it, it’s a rare marketer who has the skills, much less the desire, to manage a tech stack—to learn and re-learn a variety of software interfaces and study documentation to assess capabilities that will serve their marketing plans. Oh, and that’s in addition to doing their day job of generating qualified leads.

Marketing or Middle Earth?

This might be why Gartner’s Marketing Technology survey (2020) shows that marketing organizations are only using 58 percent of the capabilities available through their martech stack. The result is often that, at both large companies and small, the marketing stack isn’t a portfolio tool from a single provider but rather a collection of tools. As a result, leads aren’t really nurtured so much as they are outright neutered.

The martech marketplace is a monster, too. The 2020 version of the martech landscape might as well be a map of Middle Earth. It shows 8,000 companies and products competing for your attention and monthly fee. That’s up nearly a thousand companies and products from the year before. Each of them powering up their own marketing budgets to influence the modern marketer to cast their fate—and budget—in their direction.

So how is a modern marketer supposed to make sense, much less make decisions, in this kind of turbulent environment? Which component of your marketing stack is among those that won’t be here next year? And, more to the point: what are you going to do about that?

The survey, “The Outlook on Marketing Technology 2022” (gated), by Ascend2, shows that 62 percent of marketers believe they will need to update some or all of their marketing stack to achieve their strategic goals. And this all comes at a pretty heady cost. According to the Ascend2 survey, one in five marketers say that marketing technology accounts for between 20 and 40 percent of their marketing budget.

A Gartner survey on CMO Spending concurs, saying that the average company spends just north of 26 percent of the overall marketing budget on their marketing stack . This is the single largest line item in the that budget—higher than paid media, higher than labor, and higher even than agency spend.

Enter ‘Marketing Ops’

This is where the idea of “Marketing Operations” comes in. What if there was a role responsible for making sure the martech stack was right for your strategy? Since it was first coined by marketing educator Gary Katz in 2005, marketing ops has blossomed into a full-throttle job so that companies can make the best use of the tangle of tools and systems available to them.

According to CMO and go-to-market growth advisor Scott Vaughan, the marketing operations role is critical for companies today. The way he sees it, marketing is being called on more and more to be accountable all the way through to customer acquisition. Technology, properly deployed, enables this. A marketing operations role—or team, depending on the size or the organization—orchestrates the marketing stack so that it can achieve a company’s strategic goals.

The marketing operations role has the know-how and market awareness to pick the tools that work together best and has an understanding for how to make them work together. Marketing operations can take advantage of the elusive API (Application Programming Interface) that often is provided by vendors to make disparate tools interact. At larger companies, the role can have even the authority to traverse departmental boundaries to architect and deploy the best universal stack that can serve the company’s needs.

Whether your martech stack is an assemblage of free tools skirting expiration dates or a marketing automation platform deployed enterprise-wide, the role of marketing operations is key to making sure the technology does what you need according to the strategy you have painstakingly crafted.

Michael Grover is a marketing and product consultant in Los Angeles, focused primarily on digital content products. He has served in marketing and product roles at Oracle, United Business Media, SilverPlatter Information, and several other companies.