Is martech in the trough of disillusionment? I hope so

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Martech in the Trough of Disillusionment?

You’re familiar with Gartner’s iconic hype cycle, right?

Pretty much every technology follows the same pattern of unrealistic hype in its early stages, followed by a crash of disappointment when those lofty aspirations fail to materialize. But then it steadily climbs up the “slope of enlightenment,” where reality and reasonable expectations eventually converge.

I’ve heard many people say that martech has entered the “trough of disillusionment” stage of the hype cycle this year. After buying — or being sold, if you want to foist the blame on vendors — stacks of marketing technology, senior executives are asking, with increasing impatience, “Where’s the beef ROI?”

Alas, marketing automation doesn’t automatically do brilliant marketing for you.

It’s a little like me going to Home Depot and buying a whole bunch of fancy power tools — skip over to my overextended metaphor about how martech is marketing, kind of like fixing things is home ownership to appreciate the absurdity in that analogy. The moral of the stories: buying tools doesn’t inherently buy you outcomes.

So when people suggest that martech is entering the trough of disillusionment, my reaction is: that’s great news!

Usually that surprises them. Shouldn’t I be upset by martech falling precipitously off its peak? But the thing is, we’re not talking about a drop in martech’s actual impact. It’s the hype that’s finally taking a plunge. And that’s a good thing for two reasons:

  1. The relationship between hype and reality inverts. The reality of the technology — the green line of “advancing technology” in the graph above — rises above expectations. Granted, that’s because those expectations have sunk low. But the delight achieved in underpromised and overdelivered is so much better than the chagrin of the inverse.
  2. There’s opportunity — the green shading between those two lines — for practitioners to harness that potential and deliver results that exceed expectations. And actually get credit for it, because people no longer assume that that the technology is magically doing all the heavy lifting for you. Real skills and talents around the technology are recognized and appreciated. That’s part of the “enlightenment” in the slope of enlightenment.

See, that is the one thing that everybody forgets about Gartner’s hype cycle: the underlying technology — and practices developed around it — continue to steadily advance.

So if you’re a marketing technologist, a marketing ops leader, or a marketing executive, you too should celebrate martech’s dive into the trough.

Now things are getting real.

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