Digital Marketing Technology's Big Bang Theory


Whenever I think about today’s marketing technology environment, the opening line of the Big Bang Theory’s theme song comes to mind.  

Whether looking at the marketing technology landscape or listening to yet another request to add 10 more products to our technology directory, there it is again — “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state.”   

I decided to look at the rest of the lyrics to see if my association with the Barenaked Ladies song had any relevance.  

    First verse: Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
    Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…
    The Earth began to cool,
    The autotrophs began to drool,
    Neanderthals developed tools
    We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
    Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,
    That all started with the big bang!

Pretty much sums up the last 20 years in marketing technology, doesn’t it?

Marketing’s Big Bang

I launched my first website in 1995 and have leveraged an ever-increasing arsenal of digital tools ever since. 

The first digital tools we marketers embraced fundamentally changed the way we approached marketing. The internet created our own big bang: it brought immediacy, easy access to information and competitive intelligence. 

It quickly ended the days of standing in the mailroom on Monday morning waiting for the weekly trade journals to see who had announced what. Creative tools like the Adobe suite reduced cost and time to market for marketing materials, and the introduction of cloud-based CRM systems made it easier to track customer contacts and engagement.  

Those early days of digital were a fun time. Each new innovation brought new ways to engage customers.  

And then it got crazy. 

Our prospects and customers scattered across the digital universe, each creating their own unique digital footprint and becoming increasingly difficult to find and reach.  The more our audiences fragmented, the more tools appeared to help us reach and engage them until all of a sudden we were overwhelmed and drowning in technology with no easy way of understanding the impact of anything we were doing.   

Solutions to Early Digital Marketing Problems

And then came “Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries” and the solution to that problem with the introduction of analytics and behavioral targeting.  

Today, comprehensive performance analytics that show whether a tool is producing a benefit (driving traffic, lowering COA, increasing conversions) have become table stakes.  Long-term success will be driven by behavioral analytics and targeting, by understanding a company’s ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and their digital behavior, and leveraging that insight to deliver a personalized experience for each customer and prospect.  

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Lars Albright, CEO and founder of SessionM. His company’s platform integrates with marketing automation and CRM systems, leveraging their data to drive personalized customer experiences using behavioral analytics and triggers.  

SessionM is one of many companies in the technology categories of behavioral analytics, targeting and account-based management (ABM), that are working to help companies engage with customers and prospects in a highly personalized and targeted way.  

These are the early days for these product categories — stay tuned for a lot more innovation.

Beware the Marketing Dinosaurs Who Won’t Evolve

Moving on to the second verse:

    Since the dawn of man, is really not that long,
    As every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song.
    A fraction of a second and the elements were made.
    The bipeds stood up straight, the dinosaurs all met their fate,
    They tried to leap but they were late
    And they all died (they froze their asses off)

Now is a very good time to talk about dinosaurs.  

Our own digital marketing “Triassic period” (pre-digital) gave birth to the “Tradition-asaurus” — marketers who cling tight to their traditional marketing roots and resist the shift to digital. Many Tradition-asauruses hold CMO roles: they leverage technology they are comfortable with in a tactical, fragmented way — and often at an arms-length.   

Eventually these marketers retire rather than making the commitment to stay on top of technology trends and implementations. 

Evolved Tradition-asuarus’ however are becoming powerful marketing leaders. They bring their marketing strategy expertise to a newly digital environment and compensate for their own digital inexperience by partnering with their IT team or hiring a Chief Marketing Technologist or Marketing Operations Director to map the technology strategy to their marketing strategy. 

Many of these CMOs also leverage CMO peer groups to create a safe environment to ask their peers for advice about technology direction.

The digital marketing Jurassic period spawned the “Halfwaythere-asaurus,” a large group who call themselves digital marketers because they use tools. 

This group has no idea how to create a cohesive technology strategy that delivers the results the company needs. Frequently seen in large groups, you’ll find them with lots of dashboards but unable to derive actionable insights.  

Fortunately, many of this group are evolving rapidly by leveraging marketing conferences, vendor webinars and services from consulting and research firms. Those who evolve learn how to create business and marketing objectives, and map a technology strategy to those objectives. Those who don’t will be consigned to careers as tool administrators.

Marketing’s Own Chaos Theory

Moving on to our current environment, the digital marketing Cretaceous period and the rise of the “Lostcontrol-asaurus.” 

These digitally adept marketers operate in chaotic environments. These marketers openly acknowledge that no one has control or oversight of marketing technology purchases in their organization, while at the same time acquiring more.  

Also known as Notmyfault-asaurus, these marketers wear their organizational dysfunction as a badge of honor and take no responsibility for bringing order to chaos. 

As a CEO these dinosaurs are the ones I fear the most. I can’t imagine one of my departmental VPs telling me that they have no way to track their spending or the results from using the many tools the company has purchased. 

Yet we speak with marketing teams who tell us (sometimes proudly) that no one has any idea of who is buying what when it comes to marketing technology. Seriously? 

Today’s marketing environment is analogous to the sales environment before CRM. Remember when sales personnel tracked their contacts on sticky notes, in notebooks and with Excel spreadsheets?  When a sales person left a company, their contacts and account knowledge left with them. 

CRM systems made it easy for companies to gather all of their contact information and track contacts. Today those systems and the applications they integrate with are mission critical, and provide tremendous added value and information that enables businesses to accurately manage their pipeline, predict and analyze customer behavior and more effectively and personally engage with each customer. 

The Cusp of a New Digital Marketing Period

I believe that we are on the cusp of a new period. Survival in digital marketing mandates a new period and similar evolution. As the marketing budget shifts to digital and digital spend grows by tens of billions of dollars, companies that can’t track their digital expenses and deployments across the organization will not survive. 

Tracking is only the starting point. With a system in place to manage digital marketing technology deployments, companies will have the foundation to make rational decisions about technology spending, strategy and a structure to derive meaningful insights.

Move Past the Consolidation Conversation 

And on to the third verse:

    It’s expanding ever outward but one day
    It will cause the stars to go the other way,
    Collapsing ever inward, we won’t be here, it won’t be hurt
    Our best and brightest figure that it’ll make an even bigger bang!

Every day a new blog comes out about consolidation in marketing technology. We’ve catalogued close to 6,000 products across the MarTech, SalesTech and AdTech categories and more turn up every week.  

Consolidation will be inevitable as larger vendors seek to expand their portfolio offerings. Some companies will fail due to changing trends, lack of capital or poor product performance — as in any market.  

Are we at risk of this becoming a three-vendor industry (as one prospective investor who shall not be named, tried to tell me it would)? Not a chance!  

Wily customers and prospects are becoming increasingly difficult to reach as they ignore email, don’t answer their phone, employ ad blockers and find new specialized digital channels to inhabit. As marketers we will forever be looking for new ways to identify, reach and engage with those customers and to do this will require continual innovation.  

Who would have predicted five years ago we would be discussing how and when AI and Virtual Reality would become part of the marketing mix?  

Stop debating consolidation. Start talking about creating the right marketing technology infrastructure.  

Parsing the Science of the Marketing Stack

In the Telecoms world, where I spent a large part of my career, Telecom networks followed a seven layer OSI model. Layer one was the physical layer and layer seven was the application layer. What’s the equivalents for marketing stacks?

I’d love help thinking about what makes up the foundational layer of the stack — the infrastructure layer — that part of the stack that ultimately enables the ideal, end-to-end, personalized customer experience that everyone now sees as the desired state.  

What are the mandatory elements – CRM? Marketing automation? Behavioral Analytics? and Targeting? Marketing Analytics? How do they fit together? And does the basic infrastructure look the same for everyone? Is there value in acquiring all the infrastructure pieces from a single vendor? 

If you’d like to help me think about this, please drop me a line.

With any luck you will all now hear the Big Bang theme song in your head whenever thinking of our marketing world. Bazinga!

Title image by NASA

Anita Brearton is Founder/CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, the world’s largest MarTech marketplace and collaboration platform for marketers and marketing technology companies. Anita is a long time tech start-up marketer and has had the great fortune of driving marketing programs through the early stages of a startup all the way to IPO and acquisition.


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