How do marketers manage their tech stack?

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It wasn’t too many years ago that this would have been a silly question — if you drew a Venn diagram of marketing and technology, it would look like two circles that don’t ever touch. How times have changed! Back in 2012, Garner Group predicted that CMOs would outspend CIOs by 2017, but maybe were skeptical. The numbers for 2017 aren’t yet in, but last year, Gartner doubled down with data saying, “Yes, it is really going to happen in 2017.”

Regardless of the outcome of the great CMO vs. CIO spending spree, marketers are clearly significant tech spenders and they must have a strategy managing this new technology portfolio. In my work with clients, there are typically a few ways that this works:

  • Marketing and IT work together. Marketing has the budget but IT manages the work. This is the most common situation, but marketers in this situation tell me that they are often concerned that the IT group is not as familiar with marketing platforms as they are with other technologies that they have been managing for years, so maybe they haven’t chosen the right components.
  • Marketing does it alone. Marketing has the budget and spends it directly with vendors — often for cloud services that don’t require traditional IT. This is a less-common situation, but marketers in this situation tend to have a hodgepodge of components that don’t really work together well, or they have chosen one vendor (usually it is Adobe) that integrates everything, but for a very high price.
  • Mix and match. IT handles some components and marketing goes direct to vendors for others. Often this cuts along on-premises vs. cloud lines, and invariably leads to the hodgepodge situation described above.

You might have noticed that no matter what you do, you probably have one or more of these problems:

  • Poorly-chosen components
  • High costs
  • Poorly-integrated components

That’s because how you go about it doesn’t insulate you from problems. No matter how IT and marketing work (or don’t work) together, integrating a marketing technology stack is either expensive or problematic, or both. I am often brought in because the marketers don’t understand technology and the technologists don’t understand marketing. Because I understand both, I can translate and advise. And this is what I usually tell people:

  • You can’t fix everything at once. It’s better to focus on one thing at a time — maybe it is the easiest problem to fix or maybe it is the most important problem to fix, but working on improving just one thing lets you tackle problems at a size that they can be solved.
  • Analytics are not optional. No matter what part of the stack you attack, analytics are critical to sound operation and to integration with other components. In fact, inability to do end-to-end analytics is probably the problem I solve the most.
  • Fewer components might be better than lousy components. Each component costs money — usually money to a vendor, but even free or open source components need money for personnel to use and operate it. Sometimes it is better to do good job with a few critical components rather than spreading a too-small budget over everything. If you can live without a particular component for a while, then spend the money on others that matter more.

It’s hard for some marketers to cope with their new roles as tech experts. Let me know in the comments what your advice is. We’re all in this together.

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