Technology is just a tool… but are you skilled with it?

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“Technology is just a tool.”

This is a popular refrain in discussions around marketing technology. Marketers invoke it as a way to emphasize the marketing over the technology. And IT invokes it as a way to categorize marketing technology as the same as any other kind of technology. Since marketing and IT are both a little uneasy about the explosion of marketing software, it’s a nice bromide.

I agree that technology is just a tool.

But there are two implications of that statement. The first, which is what’s usually meant by it, is that technology by itself doesn’t produce brilliant marketing.

Just because you go out and buy the latest-and-greatest marketing automation system, doesn’t mean that it will suddenly improve your marketing. If you don’t have a compelling vision that you’re driving towards — or intuition about the pieces that are required to execute to that vision — the best tools in the world aren’t going to help. The marketing applied to marketing technology is more important.

That’s completely true in my opinion. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why I’m skeptical of IT playing too dominant of a role in the management of marketing technology — they might understand the technical mechanics of the tools, but not have any real sense of how that relates to marketing, branding, and customer experiences.

But there’s another implication of this technology-as-a-tool meme that’s just as important, but less frequently acknowledged. As any craftsman will tell you: you need the right tool for the right job — and know how to wield it proficiently.

If you don’t think that’s true, I suggest you try carving wood with your teeth. (“Leave it to Beaver.”) Or, at a larger scale, try building a state-of-the-art skyscraper without the right heavy equipment: bulldozers, cranes, pile drivers.

In our construction analogy, to be sure, the architect is the seed of the vision. That’s more important than the particular crane used to assemble the frame of the skyscraper. A bad architect dooms a project from the start.

But it’s also true that a superb architectural vision is wasted, if the right materials and equipment — and the necessarily skilled people to leverage them, from structural engineers to machine operators — aren’t brought together. When it comes to turning the dream into reality, you can’t separate the technology from the implementation. They’re inherently entwined in execution.

In fact, the interdependency with technology usually starts much earlier in the process — most truly adept architects happily embrace new technologies in their work because they enable new possibilities and inspire qualitatively different designs. The technology and their talent become entwined as well.

So it is with marketing technology.

By no means are the tools a panacea. But if you aren’t proactively looking to understand how these technologies can advance the possibilities of marketing — or you aren’t developing technology competency within your marketing organization to deliver on the promise of those possibilities — you’re kind of like an architect who believes that bricks and mortar are sufficient.

For some projects, they may be. But you probably won’t be building any skyscrapers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker is the president & CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He writes the Conversion Science column on Search Engine Land and frequently speaks at industry events such as SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He chairs the marketing track at the Semantic Technology Conference. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist.

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