27th January 2019
I received a very odd telephone call last week. Someone rang up and asked me if I was interested in marketing technology (Martech) as a strategy for my business. Awkward silence on my end as I tried to figure out who this person was and what they wanted. Turned out (of course) that it was a sales call for an upcoming MarTech conference.
I don’t have an issue with being cold-called like this. Despite all the noise about cold-calling being ineffective, out-dated, and just downright WRONG in this digitally-focused era, it’s still an effective part of the marketing mix.
However, the person on the other end of that telephone better know what they’re talking about.
In their sales pitch, this particular caller kept on talking about MarTech as a B2B marketing strategy. Perhaps I’m quibbling over semantics here, but, for me, words matter. I’ve written before about how the language we use and the words we speak impact and influence how we think and behave. And this particular conversation summed up for me so much of what is at issue in B2B marketing these days.
You’re probably all familiar with Scott Brinker and his annual tracking of the marketing technology landscape, which I’ve published and commented on before. In addition to his 2018 chart, published in April of last year, it’s also worth reading his deeper analysis of the market , including the surprising low ‘churn’ of players and potential for further growth.
To fully appreciate the magnitude of this chart, the size of the 2018 MarTech landscape was equivalent to all of the marketing tech landscapes put together since Scott Brinker started tracking this in 2011. In 2011 there were just 150 Martech solutions on this chart. In April last year there were 6,829 marketing technology solutions from 6,242 unique marketing technology vendors.
I find this utterly mind-blowing. No wonder we think that technology is fundamentally changing the very foundations of B2B marketing! I use this chart in every presentation and workshop I do on marketing strategy. Because navigating our way through this landscape is one of the most daunting tasks we face as B2B marketers.
But – and this is a HUGE ‘But’ – technology itself is not our underlying challenge.
As my recent cold-caller suggests, marketing technology is vitally important to our businesses, enabling more efficient and (hopefully) more effective use of many of our resources, as well as giving us better insight into our customers. And our ‘stack’ of Martech may very well be amongst the primary or secondary tools we use to deliver our marketing strategy.
But make no mistake: Martech is not a strategy and does not improve our strategy. Strategy is independent of any tool and enabler out there, whether it’s tech-related or not. And this is THE big issue we face in B2B marketing at the moment – not the proliferation of tech, not the pressure to demonstrate ROI, not lead generation nor even brand building; the issue is our ongoing obsession with tactics and tools, and the technology behind them, without a proper marketing strategy to guide us.
How is it even possible to choose our tech stack if we don’t know what we want or need to achieve?
I know I bang on about this, but it’s a critical point. If we don’t have absolute clarity for our goals and objectives, how can we even begin to think about what needs to be done to help us get there? Without strategy, even all this very cool technology becomes just another random act of marketing.
If we develop our strategy starting with a tool – in this case a Martech solution – then every outcome we achieve will be predicated on what these tools can do (or claim to do), not on what we are trying to achieve for our businesses.
Strategy comes first. Strategy is the foundation for all that follows. Strategy is the touchstone against which we make every decision for our marketing activity, which in turn informs every choice we make for a particular technology or platform or media to deliver on that strategy.
So much of the hype out there would have us believe that the right Martech is the answer to all our B2B marketing woes. And without a doubt, technology is making our marketing lives both easier and much more complicated. Easier because – deployed well – it helps us with everything from automating routine activity to gathering the data that better informs the choices we make as marketers.
Yet it’s overwhelming us, and it’s distracting us as well. Too much choice is either enervating or invigorating. Either way, it takes far too much of our time and attention. As a result, we’ve been neglecting the marketing fundamentals, wrongly concluding that the sheer potential of all this new technology replaces everything we may have ever known or learned about marketing.
There will always be new technology that we’ll need to get to grips with over the course of our long careers. Technology changes, markets change, buyer behaviour changes (though I suspect not as much as we think it does). Yet no matter the external environment, the fundamental role of marketing does not change.
Marketing always has been and always will be about getting the right product to the right customer at the right time in the right place for the right price, with the right message.
This is the 4Ps pure and simple – or the 7Ps or 7Cs or whichever version you prefer – which are as relevant today as they have been for the past 50 years, despite the naysayers.
Because the best marketing is built on timeless truths: understanding the drivers for business growth; relentlessly focusing on the customer and delivering what’s of value to them; gaining relevant insight based on whatever data is available; and the creative thinking that results in new ideas as well as design. This is what makes great marketing and great marketers, no matter the technology.
Circling back to my cold-caller, I’ll likely attend this Martech conference. I’m certainly not an expert and I’m always interested in learning about and understanding what technology is out there and how it can help me be a better marketer. But we have to remember, these tech companies have an agenda, they’re all trying to sell us something and they know our trigger points. I know many marketers who’ve purchased an expensive Martech stack but are barely putting its capabilities to use. And they rationalise after the fact that it’s because there’s a talent shortage for this ‘digitally-transformed’ world, with a need for more data and tech skillsets in their teams.
This is a fundamental flaw in our thinking about Martech. It’s not the people or the technology at issue here, it’s our marketing strategy. Or rather the lack of it. Our Martech isn’t performing in the ways we hoped because we don’t take the time to understand just why we’re buying it in the first place. Thus, our marketing activity ends up in service to the technology, instead of vice versa.
Start with developing our B2B marketing strategy.
No matter how cool, if we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve – for marketing or for our business – the technology will never deliver it.
Want to talk more about developing and delivering your B2B marketing strategy? I run bespoke half- and full-day workshops for individuals and teams so get in touch.
You can also buy my book:
B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement is available from Kogan Page publishers and Amazon everywhere.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.