Martech is marketing: a wide spectrum of possibilities

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Martech Is Marketing: A Spectrum

“Martech is marketing.”

The MarTech conference recently updated its tagline to that phrase, evolving beyond our original motto, “Marketing. Technology. Management.” It’s not that the conference itself changed. But since we launched the event five years ago, the context in which it operates — the profession of marketing — sure has.

Over that time, the landscape of marketing technology has grown from around 1,000 vendors to over 7,000. But that’s more of an expression of the industry’s transformation than the cause.



Marketing technologists have become a mainstream profession with increasingly well-defined budgets and job responsibilities, managing ever more sophisticated marketing stacks. Patterns of marketing technology & operations leadership have emerged.

This is closer to the real change that marketing has undergone.

It was only a few years ago that Ad Age, arguably the flagship publication of the marketing world, declared martech is boring, ancillary to the real business of senior marketers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a CMO today who would use that adjective to describe it. Complex and challenging, for sure. Exciting and empowering for many. But definitely not boring.

Martech is marketing now.

But even that phrase has a range of interpretations, as illustrated in the graph above:

  • Marketing is ASSISTED by martech. Martech qualifies as a part of the marketing universe, but it’s adjacent to its primary operations.
  • Martech is EMBEDDED in marketing. It’s recognized as an essential component of the marketing organization, and it supports almost all marketing activities around it.
  • Martech is ABSORBED by marketing. Not only is martech a crucial pillar of the marketing organization, its capabilities have been assimilated by the entire marketing team, who use it as an integral part of their jobs.
  • Marketing is DOMINATED by martech. The technology drives nearly everything in the successful practice of marketing.

Where are we in that spectrum today?

It depends on the individual organization. Some are still back at the left side of that scale, treating martech as a point solution for specific tasks. But most major companies are now at least at the EMBEDDED stage, and some — including almost all “digitally native” companies — have progressed into the ABSORBED stage. Martech is deeply entwined in how they operate.

I labeled the scale on this spectrum as “time,” as this progression does seem chronologically linear.

The last stage on the far right, DOMINATED, may strike many marketers as a dystopian future. I expressly included the word “successful” in its description above, as letting technology dictate your marketing before that approach can truly deliver excellent outcomes would be foolish.



Across marketing as a whole, I don’t know if we’ll ever reach that stage. Maybe someday when AI gives us the singularity. Maybe sooner. There are examples of marketing activities today, especially in local optimization, where algorithms tend to outperform more manual methods. But overall, marketing still seems best suited to harness martech today, not the other way around.

Where is your company at along this continuum?

P.S. Because martech is marketing — wherever you believe it sits along that spectrum — you should seriously consider attending the next MarTech conference in Boston, September 16-18. Here’s a snapshot of the agenda and a chance to take advantage of our early bird “alpha” ticket prices before July 13.

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