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Who’s Afraid of Marketing Technology?

by Matthew T. Grant

Who’s Afraid of Marketing Technology?

I’ll answer the question posed by the title right up front: I am.

What’s so scary about marketing technology? There’s so darn much of it! Just look at this “supergraphic” Scott Brinker published back in January:

Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2014) Thumbnail

That's well over a thousand different marketing technology solutions right there!

To be sure, Scott has been thoughtful enough to group these solutions into six separate categories, which is a little more manageable (though even those categories are further divided into some 40 sub-categories).

Nevertheless, the category in the upper left (Marketing Experiences) is huge and, at least in my role as Director of Content Strategy, that’s where I’m supposed to be most active. Help!

Face Your Fear

My guess is that I’m not alone in feeling, if not scared, then at least overwhelmed when contemplating the world of marketing technology.

For this reason, I thought it might be helpful to lay out exactly what causes me such anxiety. By naming and describing this anxiety, I am hoping to overcome it—“Face your fear, make it disappear” has long been one of my mantras—but I’m also hoping through this exercise to help others overcome their anxiety as well.

To that end, here are my top three scary thoughts with regards to the ever-expanding universe of marketing technology.

Scary Thought #1: I’m missing the boat!

When looking at something like the infographic above and realizing how few names I recognize (Rafflecopter? LotusJump? brandmuscle?), I immediately think, “I’m definitely missing something!”

And even though I or someone within my organization is probably using at least one tool in each individual sub-category, these sub-categories actually contain a number of products that do very different things.

Within “Marketing Apps,” for example, you’ll find SurveyMonkey, which we do use. But you’ll also find Offerpop, ViralSweep, and WizHive, all of which differ from SurveyMonkey and from each other in significant ways.

In other words, some inevitable overlap aside, each tool listed here represents something else that I could be doing (maybe should be doing) and, more vexing, something else I didn’t even know I could do in the first place!

Scary Thought #2: I don’t know where to start!

I’m thus confronted by two truths.

First, there are marketing technology tools out there that may be better than the tools I’m currently using (which, to be honest, could be more depressing than scary).

Second, there are tools out there that are unlike anything I’m currently using but which could potentially be very useful.

Which leads to the second scary thought: There are so many choices. If I not only want to upgrade my current tools but also want to try out new ones, where do I even start?

The reasonable approach in cases like this is to revisit your strategies and goals and based on that decide which types of tools are going to help you execute and accomplish them. If gamification isn’t really going to play a major role in selling your supply chain management system into global enterprises, for example, then you can safely ignore that stuff.

As reasonable as this approach may sound, however, elsewhere Scott points out that the relationship between strategy and technology is not simply linear (strategy first, then technology).

As he put it, “[T]echnological innovations change what kinds of strategies are possible. If you don’t let technology influence and inspire your strategy, you’re missing the opportunity to innovate your own business.”

In other words, you need to expose yourself to the evolving world of marketing technology so that your strategy is technologically informed.

What’s more, you really do need to make some investments so that you can experiment with new marketing technology—especially in the broad realm of creating and managing meaningful marketing experiences—and you need to let the results guide your future strategic decisions.

Scary Thought #3: I’m already doing a lot of stuff and all this technology means I’m going to have to do even more!

Fear of missing out, as annoying as it can be, is manageable. Frankly, anyone with kids or a Facebook page has already had to come to terms with it.

Freaking out because you don’t know where to start when it comes to taking advantage of new technology can at least be mitigated by the fact that you could strategize your fears away. “Sure, there’s all this cool stuff, but it isn’t really important to my business (or industry or customers).”

Unfortunately, given the reciprocal relationship between marketing strategy and marketing technology (the former relying on the latter and the latter influencing the former) there is a huge chance that you won’t be able to simply stay the course. You will need to invest and you will need to experiment.

And chances are also that you won’t be able to replace something you are currently doing with your new tactics and technology, but you will have to add that into the mix instead.

Which brings us to the sum of all fears of marketing technology: All these tools mean I’m going to have to do a ton more work!

This fear is justified. When your company invests in a blogging platform and launches a blog, you now have to write blog posts (probably forever. I launched Aquent's corporate blog in 2007!).

If you invest in a fancy marketing automation platform that allows you to create personalized nurturing emails, someone has to write all those emails as well as set up the program on the platform in the first place.

If you want to spice up your site with gamification or contests or interactive video or anything else, someone has to design, implement, and maintain all that stuff.

It never ends.

You're Going to Need Help

You could turn to agencies for help. Indeed, mastering the broad realm of marketing technology has become an absolutely necessary core competency at any agency worth its salt. As Scott writes, “Agencies that aren’t fluent with software are going to be a dying breed.”

But going the agency route may be more complicated than it first appears. You need to consider that taking advantage of marketing technology requires a high level of integration with your existing systems and its deployment needs to be skillfully woven into the overall customer experience.

This means that you need to find a partner whom you trust enough to allow them to work fairly closely with your organization’s systems and data. As Sheldon Monteiro, CTO at SapientNitro said in an interview with Scott, “The traditional model of outsourcing discrete projects and throwing deliverables over the wall is a recipe for suboptimal results and barely meeting consumer desires.”

Such a level of integration with an agency partner, as necessary as it might be, is certainly going to cost you. It will likewise cost you to add headcount to your existing organization to expand capacity (though, arguably, you could do that it a flexible way by using contingent staff tied to specific experimental initiatives).

Does this mean that, when it comes to selecting and employing new marketing technology solutions you either have to pay or take on infinitely more work?

The Rise of the Marketing Technologist

There is a third option: Rethinking your entire approach to marketing so that marrying the appropriate marketing tactics with the relevant technology isn’t an afterthought or something that gets done in addition to the normal marketing stuff; it IS the normal marketing stuff.

Granted, this option may be beyond your pay grade (how many people can opt to add a new type of VP or C-level exec to a department?) but it may just be the best response. In the end, marketing technology is only scary because you aren’t thinking about it all or most of the time. Instead, you think of it all of sudden (like when you stumble across an overwhelming supergraphic) and then you panic.

If you had someone who was thinking about marketing technology all the time, a chief marketing technologist for example, just think about how many fears could be allayed? Aside from the fact that you wouldn’t have to be surprised by the sheer quantity of marketing technology options, your organization would have a strategic perspective for evaluating emerging tools and, more importantly, for incorporating them into your marketing plans from the outset.

Does your company already have a (chief) marketing technologist? If so, how’s that going? If not, why the heck not?

Want to learn more about the role of chief marketing technologist? Tune into Scott Brinker’s American Marketing Association webcast on the topic September 16th!

Photo Credit (Creative Commons): Umberto Salvagnin

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